Lure color may be one of the most misunderstood variables in fishing. Many anglers' first question at a lakeside bait shop or in quizzing buddies is, "What color are they hitting?"
I won't pretend here that I understand lure color selection any better than any other fisherman. But I've made a lot of observations over the past 20 years as a serious student of the game and have come to a conclusion of sorts about color selection.
Notice that I qualify my statement -- a "conclusion of sorts." That's because there really are so few hard and fast facts in fishing; anyone who says he or she knows for sure that fish will respond in a 100 percent predictable fashion is simply bragging.
Yes, it is true certain colors tend to produce better than others. Lake Erie walleye anglers may prefer chrome spoons with purple highlights to drag behind their downriggers. Or a bass angler may chose a junebug-colored plastic worm to pitch to shady hiding places.
One recent bass tournament on Lake Erie saw the top finishers all fishing different colored tubes for the big smallmouth bass that hang around the off-shore rock piles. Some picked watermelon, others went with mustard and a few settled on smoke.
Somebody won, of course, so the argument can be made that he picked the right color. Or was it that he simply got his bait in front of bigger hungry smallies? Did the rest of the competitors miss fish because they had the wrong color lure?
Location, location, location
More important than worrying about color is whether an angler puts the lure in a spot where the fish will see it and then works the bait effectively.
I simply cannot fathom the possibility that a crappie hanging around a brush pile will fin its nose at a chartreuse jig because it's only eating pink ones that day. What's more important is whether the jig drops into the fish's strike zone.
A fish that sees (or hears or feels) a lure that looks like food will try to eat the offering if it's in the mood to feed.
In my opinion, the lure's job is to mimic something that is alive. It should look like a shad, crawfish, creek chub, shiner, alewife, goby, grasshopper, dragon fly, cicada, mayfly, mouse, snake, worm or any number of other creatures that live or tumble into the water.
A quarter century ago, bass anglers' staple plastic worm colors were purple and black. Look in a tackle pack today and you'll see far more shades of green. The fish certainly didn't change their diets.
Bait makers are smart folks who understand the basics of marketing. One way to sell more lures is to offer more options. And anglers can't stand the thought they might be caught on the water without the "right" color.
Going with your gut
Color selection actually isn't as complex as some make it out to be.
Anglers should choose based on what they suspect the fish are eating, the clarity or stain of the water and the depth at which their lures will be running.
If the walleyes or bass are feeding on shad in relatively clear water, a baitfish-colored lure will get the job done. If the water has a stain, a dash of chartreuse or other hot color will enable the fish to see the lure better and generate a strike response.
In stained water deeper than 10 feet, lure color probably doesn't matter much at all, considering the extremely limited amount of light that penetrates to that depth.
Bass anglers often believe the fish are hitting chartreuse crankbaits when, in reality, they are chasing them down simply because they can see them in the murky water that anglers often find them.
Professional angler Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pa., told me in a recent interview that his father taught him well many years ago when he said, "Remember, the baitfish don't change color." Lefebre limits the colors he throws to those that resemble the forage in the lake he's fishing.
Color indeed may be misunderstood. But when it's all said and done, the most important thing usually boils down to whether the fisherman believes a fish will strike his bait.
Pick a color, work it with confidence and you likely will catch your share of fish.