We hadn’t been on the water more than 10 minutes when my buddy Art Hamley set the hook. A few moments later our first smallmouth bass of the year was in the boat.
The scene was the Allegheny River in central Venango County. The bait Art was using was a Galida’s Grubz, a twister-tail-type grub. Likely due to its wafer-thin tail and heavily ribbed body, Grubz seem to consistently outperform other baits of similar profile. In this case the color was “top secret,” a pattern, along with “golden shiner,” that often excels on the slightly stained water of the Allegheny.
During the five-hour session we boated a dozen big smallmouth bass, and twice that many walleyes that were sharing the same basic locations. Experimentation with various colors of Grubz showed us that the fish were responding best to the top secret pattern.
Color is a factor in lure choice that is often given too much weight by anglers. Most days there are more important considerations, ones such as depth, profile, action and size. Pick the right bait for the given fishing situation, based on these factors, and there might be several productive colors. That said, there are those days, such as the one Art and I experienced late last week, when a certain color is hot.
It’s generally accepted that in clear-water situations it’s best to go with more natural colors. Conversely, when the water’s dingy, brighter colors typically shine, or dark ones that provide a more distinctive silhouette. Over the years I’ve found these guidelines to ring mostly true.
For instance, on Keystone Lake, which typically features clear water, it’s been my experience that suspending jerkbaits in natural, more-subdued colors, will outproduce ones of “louder” hues. The same is true on the Allegheny River, which during the summertime often runs quite clear.
Now take a stained body of water, like Lake Arthur or Crooked Creek Lake. Odds are that to be successful you’re better off with something that stands out, like a dark-skirted jig, or similar-skirted spinnerbait with a gold or copper blades.
Then you have some colors that, in the bass fishing world, seem to be kind of universally productive. Like a Texas-rigged Junebug plastic worm or a green pumpkinseed Senko. These colors might not be the best for a given lake, but odds are you can catch some fish on them. When you’re fishing an unfamiliar lake, exploring, and trying to work out the mysteries of where the bass are and what they will eat, it’s comforting to cast something you feel confident in. You can fine tune things later.
Certain fish species are known to respond well to particular colors. Walleyes have long been associated with liking chartreuse, lime green and orange, so you’ll find these colors well-represented in a typical walleye anglers jig box. I find that latter especially productive when the water is muddy. Native brook trout like bright colors. Flies that include plenty of red, pink or chartreuse often dupe these remarkable fish. Stocked rainbow trout also have an affinity for brighter colors, ones often shown in some type of egg pattern.
“Matching the hatch” is also something to consider as it relates to the forage species you’re trying to suggest. It always makes good sense to know what the fish eat in the water you’re fishing. Looking again to Keystone Lake, if you’re fishing along a weedbed, where largemouth bass will likely be foraging on juvenile bluegills, soft jerkbaits in watermelon green might be a good choice. If you’re bumping a tube jig along a rocky bottom for smallmouth bass, a color pick that represents a crawfish would be a good place to start.
But if it’s walleyes you’re after, and you’re planning to troll for them after the sun sets, you might want to pick a hard bait that mimics rainbow smelt or emerald shiners, as that’s probably what the ’eyes will be keying on.
Color is just another of the many factors needed to be worked out during a day’s fishing, one of the many challenges that keeps the sport so interesting.