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Picking Lure Colors for Bass
written by Wade Bourne

Since lures are sold in every shade and combination imaginable, fishermen need some criteria for deciding which one to tie on.
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BASSMASTER Editor Dave Precht
When bass are chasing shad in the fall, a chrome or shad-colored lure is a logical choice.


The Color-C-Lector took the bass fishing world by storm a few years back.  Many anglers stocked their tackleboxes with lures in wild colors they'd never seen before, much less used.  Then they spent more time reading their meters and changing baits than they did casting and reeling.  In retrospect, nobody was ever really sure how reliable this system was, and the bass couldn't tell us.  Nevertheless, for awhile lure color was the hottest topic in the sport.

Today, though, if you took a poll of leading bass pros, you'd find they place far less emphasis on color than on other factors. They know it's more important to learn fish's location and mood (active or inactive), then to pick a bait with the right size, shape and action.  Then, finally, comes choosing lure color.  Its priority in this selection process is indicative of its importance, or lack of it.

Still, since lures are sold in every shade and combination imaginable, fishermen need some criteria for deciding which one to tie on.  Experience shows that some colors are indeed more effective than others.  Following are basic guidelines many pros use in choosing lure color for the broad spectrum of locations and water conditions.  

Extreme Rattle Shad
There are no hard-and-fast rules in selecting lure colors; confidence may be the most important factor in this process. 


The most fundamental rule is to fish brightly colored baits in dingy or muddy water and light, subtle colors in clear water.  The logic here is that a bass' visibility is hampered by silt, and colors like chartreuse, yellow and orange are easier to see than bone, pumpkinseed and smoke.  On the other hand, when water is clear and the fish can get an unobstructed look at the bait, it's best to go with softer, more natural colors.  

For instance, when water clarity is poor (visibility a foot or less), many pros use spinnerbaits with chartreuse or yellow skirts or crankbaits in a "fire tiger" pattern -- orange belly, chartreuse sides, dark green back.  Conversely, in clear water, white or white/blue spinnerbaits are favorites, as are crankbaits in chrome, bone and various natural finishes (crawfish, shad, sunfish, etc.).

The same principle applies with soft plastics -- worms, lizards, grubs, and tubes.  In dingy water, dense colors are the rule, and two-color worms with bright tails offer added visibility.  Examples are grape, black or blue baits with chartreuse, red or orange tails.  But in clear water, lighter, more translucent colors seem to work best.  Favored colors here include pumpkinseed, motor oil, strawberry and smoke.  Also, bits of metalflake molded into these see-through worms provide extra flash and attraction to bass in high-vis situations.

The jig-and-pig is a standard bait for flipping, pitching or casting.  In clear water, preferred color combinations are a black jig/blue trailer (either a pork chunk or plastic crawfish), black/brown and pumpkin pepper/green; in stained water,  black/yellow and black/chartreuse are perennial producers.

Alabama spotted bass
In clear water, lighter, more translucent colors seem to work best.
 

 

Besides water clarity, time of year and preferred forage should also be considered in choosing lure color.  For instance, crawfish are a main menu item on many Southern lakes in the pre-spawn, and unless the water is muddy, a crawfish-pattern crankbait or a brown/brown jig-and-pig emulate this natural prey.  In the post-spawn, many bass feed on small bluegills, and sunfish-colored lures are effective.  When bass are schooling in summer or chasing shad in bays in the fall, a chrome or shad-colored lure is a logical choice.

Two particular fishing situations call for special color considerations:  Night fishing and topwater fishing.  Most expert night fishermen use black or dark blue lures.  The theory is that these colors provide a more distinct profile when silhouetted against the lighter background of the water's surface.  Thus, a dark lure is easier for bass to see and strike accurately at night.  

Most topwater specialists prefer dark-colored baits early and late in the day when visibility is poor, and light-colored baits during bright periods.  They are quick to note, however, that a surface lure's action and noise are far more important in triggering strikes than its color.

In conclusion, there are no hard-and-fast rules in selecting lure colors, and confidence may be the most important factor in this process.  Beginning bass anglers should follow the above guidelines and experiment with different colors and combinations to discover which ones work best on their home waters.  Then they should stock their tackleboxes with just a few basic colors and forget about the dozens of others they don't have.

This is what the pros do.  They carry only a few shades in worms, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, etc.  They know each color works in a particular water clarity/forage situation, and when they encounter it, they can tie on the matching lure with assurance.  This way they avoid confusion, and they can worry more about catching bass than fumbling through the tacklebox searching for the magic color. 

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