March 06, 2023
By Jim Edlund
Over the past decade or so, anglers have been inundated with a veritable Crayola box of crankbait colors. Open up the current Rapala catalog and you’ll find the various sizes of the venerable balsa Shad Rap now available in a total of 52 colors, including numerous custom-looking and UV patterns. Similarly, the photo-realistic finish trend that started with bass anglers in Japan is now in full swing stateside. Baits have never looked more like the real thing.
Depending on the fishing conditions, sometimes simplicity is key—muted colors like white, bone or subtle “ghost” patterns are often go-to pro picks. Some situations even call for clear crankbaits—baits that look like they fell off the production line on their way to the paint booth. Fact is, unfinished baits are a tool in the arsenal of savvy bass anglers across the country, who know why, when, where and how to fish them. Some anglers have even resorted to removing the finish of their favorite crank profiles not available in colorless versions.
2013 Bassmaster Classic Champion/2019 MLF Bass Pro Tour Stage Eight Winner, Mississippi-based pro bass angler Cliff Pace, says colorless cranks can be the ticket in difficult fishing situations.</>
“It’s really environmentally based. I’ve found that colorless crankbaits perform in situations where bass receive a lot of pressure or the water is incredibly clear—or both,” Pace said. “Give me a sunny, dead-calm day on a clear-water lake with a lot of pressure and you’ve described the perfect environment for clear crankbaits.”
Rapala pro Jacob Wheeler is another big believer in translucent baits for succeeding at the professional level.
Why Clear? The Biology Behind It
Biologists tell us that bass rely on sight more than any of their senses for feeding in clear water, so you’d think that photo-realistic shad and crayfish finishes might be key in these situations.
But Berkley Fishing’s resident biologist, Dr. Keith Jones, author of Knowing Bass, writes “color must be used with care in cases where bass are known to feed heavily on preferred prey species” and “to conditioned bass, the right color pattern might be as different from the color pattern that’s almost right as light is from lightning.”
So, perhaps the reason clear crankbaits excel in clear water is that they remove the possibility of using the wrong color. In the case of bass feeding on shad, maybe baits without the obligatory spot and other physiological features more closely resemble shad because of their subdued flash, produced by the bait’s metal components and glossy, transparent finish.
“Keep in mind transparent does not translate to invisible,” Dr. Jones said. “Depending on the angle that light hits a transparent bait, its surface will shine and shimmer, creating flash, bright spots and areas of contrast that provide simple visual cues to bass that trigger strikes.”
I chatted with Rapala’s Director of Field Promotions, Dan Quinn, on the subject of transparent baits and he had a lot to share.
“The majority of what we’ve done with clear and translucent baits relates to jerkbaits,” Quinn said. “But we include clear and translucent options across most of our plastic bait families—and the current direction is definitely moving toward even more variations. Bass pros are asking for subtle hues that match baitfish; for example, translucent bodies with light brown or light green backs.”
This growing translucent hard-bait trend originated with western bass anglers years ago who took a page from Japanese bass anglers successfully tapping bites on clear and highly pressured waters like Lake Biwa with translucent presentations.
Quinn added: “In Western bass waters translucent finishes can definitely be the key to getting bit. Those waters are clear and receive a lot of pressure. Now that trend has spread across the country, especially with waters clearing due to invasive species like zebra mussels.”
“And more anglers are fishing than ever before, which started with COVID,” he said. “There’s also been a push with bass tournaments, from high school, to college, to semi-professional and professional events across the nation. In short, bass are seeing a lot of baits and getting conditioned to classic, go-to bass presentations.”
Then add forward-facing sonar to the mix and you’ve got an entire new world of bass fishing.
“Forward-facing sonar makes finding and dialing into fish that much quicker,” he said. “Fish are getting pressured in areas where they’ve never received much pressure. That’s another reason why translucent baits are really starting to take off.”
As Dr. Jones pointed out, the reason clear and translucent baits work so well is they draw reaction strikes without the fish getting too good of a look at the bait.
“The efficacy of these baits has been proven on forward-facing sonar,” he continued. “Now you can watch fish response in real-time. A lot of days, bass are definitely more prone to strike a clear or translucent bait over an opaque-colored lure.”
When it comes to finding clear and translucent baits, pretty much every plastic jerkbait, topwater, and crankbait Rapala makes is available in a clear or translucent finish. Berkley and Megabass also have a ton of clear and translucent baits to choose from.
“Rapala sells countless clear Husky Jerk Glass Minnow baits to bass anglers,” he said. “At least for now, there’s not quite the emphasis on clear baits in walleye fishing. And when it comes to topwaters, our most popular color is Bone Chrome, which has a prism bottom and a subtle bone color above.”
At the end of the day, keeping some clear and translucent baits is probably a good idea, especially if you’re fishing clear or pressured waters. Bass pros are definitely on that train.
“When you get down to it,” Quinn said, “clear and translucent baits are just another tool in the bass fishing toolbox. Do they work all the time? No. But there are definitely more applications than ever for them today.”