With a rainbow of lure colors available, how do you choose the correct one?
Sometime in the late 1960s my aunt had the first color TV in the neighborhood. All the kids would gather around to watch shows in “living color.”
It was truly amazing to finally see sporting events in orange and blue and crimson and white. Our world was never the same after that.
Color is a major part of our society today. From shoes to lip gloss, cars to trucks—even our camouflage—color can rule our decisions.
Anglers find a myriad of colors, hues and shades from which to choose. A majority of the time, our lure color selection is based on our personal perception and not that of the fish.
Light Up My World
Fish do see color but not in the same way we humans do. Many factors can affect the way a fish, let’s say a bass, sees and perceives color.
. “In clear water, some colors don’t look natural and turn off the fish.”
Water clarity and depth affects how colors appear to a bass. These two factors determine how much light is penetrating the water to illuminate the colors on a lure.
“Certain lure colors can be seen deeper than other colors,” mentions B.A.S.S. Elite pro Mark Davis of Arkansas. “In clear water, some colors don’t look natural and turn off the fish.”
First let’s look at some basic physics of light. White light is made up of many different colors or wavelengths. When light strikes an object, certain wavelengths are absorbed and others are reflected.
The reflected wavelengths form the object reaching our eye is what we see as color. Objects that reflect all of the wavelengths of visible light will appear to us as white.
The amount of light reaching the lure has a lot to do with the color the bass may see. In the color spectrum, reds and yellows have long wavelengths. Blues and violets have shorter wave lengths. As sunlight passes through the water column, longer wavelengths are absorbed first. If the water is clear, reds and yellows may be visible to around five feet or more.
As the lure goes deeper, less light is reflected and certain colors can begin to fade. Also, the color of the water or turbidity affects light penetration and thus affects the visible color.
As a red lure dives deeper, the color can begin to appear as gray. Blues and violets tend to hold their color at deeper depths.
Deciphering Color Selection
Walk into any tackle store and immediately you are bombarded with hundreds of lure colors. Some color names for lures don’t truly portray the actual color.
Take green pumpkin as an example. At first thought, the color should be a bright green. But most lure companies have green pumpkin as a dull green with some black flakes.
“A basic rule is in clear water use a more natural color,” Davis advises. “Colors like watermelon seed, pepper flake, crawfish and translucent colors.”
Davis says that, once in the water, lure colors change hues and appear different to a bass. Sometimes, a subtle change in lure color can be a big difference to the fish.
As the sun gets higher in the sky on clearwater lakes, more natural color lures are a better choice. On cloudy days or dark water, brighter colors such as orange and chartreuse, or even dark colors like purple and black, will be more visible to the fish.
One key in choosing lure color is contrasting the lure to the underwater surroundings. Green- colored lures may seem like a logical choice in clear water around vegetation. However, the green can blend in and make the lure more difficult for the bass to see. In this situation, a two-toned colored lure would be a good choice.
Bass and other fish species associate certain colors to common food around their part of the lake. Crawfish, bluegill and shad can take on certain colors or hues. There may be only subtle color changes from one section of the lake to another. But the fish have learned to key on certain colors when feeding.
In some cases anglers have discovered some of the slight color or hue changes in the forage on certain parts of specific lakes. In one area on Logan Martin Lake, the crawfish have a bit of red on their legs and side. Using a red-colored bait or a portion of the lure with a touch of red will trigger lots of strikes.
“Sometimes a small change in color is not a big deal to us, but to the bass the hue has changed dramatically,” Davis says. “Realizing a change is needed is easier than knowing what to change about the color.”
Color Changes Confidence
Oftentimes, anglers will hear about the fish being caught on a specific color. “They’re tearing up that red tomato worm,” an old fisherman will say. The probable reason the fish are biting that specific color is that it’s the color a majority of anglers are using.
Davis says fish can become conditioned to a specific color and stop reacting to that color. He believes prolonged exposure to a certain hue can cause the bass to shut down.
This is especially true in schooling fish. A minor change in color or hue can start the fish biting again. A change as small as the color of the flakes in a worm, or dying the tail orange or chartreuse is all it takes to get the school fired up again.
“Water clarity and sky conditions are the key factors in a color change,” says Davis. ‘A subtle change in lure colors is all that’s needed.”
Anglers can become conditioned to certain colors for certain types of baits. We all use spinner baits in white or chartreuse, except at night. In soft plastic lures, it’s usually green pumpkin, watermelon seed or some variation thereof. Crankbaits are either crawfish or shad-colored or a combination.
Being aware of the light conditions throughout the day means anglers can make adjustments in the color selection of their lures. Silver- and gold-sided lures work well on bright days because they are reflecting light.
However, the lures can barely be seen on darker days and will appear gray to the fish. This is due to the reflection of the darkness around them.
An old football coach once said, “you got to dance with who brung ya’,” meaning stick with what got you where you are.
Davis says confidence in a lure color is a major factor for many anglers. Knowing a certain color has worked in the past is a good starting point. Over the course of a fishing day, making subtle changes to the lure color will keep the fish biting.
A final tip on color selection by Davis is to keep things simple. He says watch the sky and water conditions and stick with basic or natural colors.