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Bringing Back Black

Why phantom baits continually catch fish

Bringing Back Black

Not long ago, I wrote a piece on clear-colored baits and why/when transparent presentations often excel.

Along the same lines, another presentation niche comprises black or dark baits, which, like clear/transparent baits, don’t necessarily get the attention they deserve.

Ask bait manufacturers and they’ll tell you that black baits just don’t disappear quick enough from bait shop pegs. For whatever reason, most anglers just aren’t attracted to black baits. Sure, there’s a cult of fishermen out there who cast or troll black lures at night, but beyond that, they see only marginal use. Seems consumers would rather buy armloads of Wonderbread and “custom” colors.

I talked with a few experts on the subject—Rapala’s Dan Quinn; veteran guide Brian “Bro” Brosdahl; professional angler/guide, Johnnie Candle; and walleye tournament phenom Tom Huynh, who were happy to offer their thoughts on the subject.

The Word From Rapala

Rapala’s Dan Quinn has decades under his belt contributing to lure design and working with notable pros and guides—besides fishing the globe himself. Turns out, Quinn is personally a big fan of black baits.

“Many anglers have experienced what black baits can do, and not just night fishing. Long ago, I learned from my dad that bullheads make up a huge part of a bass’s diet, especially big bass. So, you see black and blue jigs catching more big bass than just about anything,” noted Quinn.

Rapala Shadow Rap
While this bait isn’t completely black, it sure creates a solid silhouette, which is the power of black baits.

“And solid black swimbaits are amazing fish-catchers up on Mille Lacs Lake, but guys don’t throw all black that much except for black and blue jigs and worms. Fishing solid black lures is kind of limited to an in-the-know few.”


With regards to hard baits, considering only minimal sales, Quinn said black has been a tough option for Rapala to offer. “Black just doesn’t sell very well at retail. Otherwise, you’d see more black baits on the shelves.”

“We do offer a color called ‘carbon’ in some of our jerkbaits—Shadow Raps, the Rip Stop, and BX Minnow—that is a very dark, black color. It sold well in the beginning but kind of died down. It definitely catches fish—but fishermen? Not so much. Still, there are enough black options for guys who need them and catch fish on them. But for a lure company, baits have to sell, too. Unfortunately, sometimes great fish-catching lures go away—and that’s often been the case with black baits from a lot of lure manufacturers.”




Why Fish Like Black Baits

Late last year I called up Brian “Bro” Brosdahl to pick his brain on the topic after getting out-fished 3-to-1 by a river-rat buddy who fishes black lead-head jigs and fatheads for Mississippi River walleyes 90% of the time, eschewing the greens and chartreuse tones I favor. I couldn’t quite put my finger on his catch rate. Sure, John’s a better walleye jig fisherman than I am, but I couldn’t quite understand the allure of black in water with visibility sometimes no more than six inches.

“It all comes down to silhouette,” said Bro. “Even in dark river waters, walleyes bellied into the bottom are looking upward for food and black casts the best profile and silhouette of something to eat.”

ITEMNAME
Black lures are visually appealing to feeding fish because of the shadow they create.

I later heard the same thing from other highly skilled walleye and bass anglers I queried. The reason black produces so well, again, is that it casts a more pronounced silhouette in the water and fish (both bass and walleyes) can visually key into the presentation easier.

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For example, multi-tournament-winning walleye angler, Tom Huynh, is another strong believer in the efficacy of black baits.

ITEMNAME
Sometimes when nothing else will work, a black-colored presentation is the ticket to success.

“Since I started my pro walleye tournament career I’ve relied almost solely on black jigheads,” said Huynh.

“In fact, every single fish I’ve caught casting in a tournament so far this year has been on a solid black Northland Tungsten Jig. Not one fish has come on anything else. Lately, I’ve been pairing a black Tungsten Jig with a black Northland Fishing Tackle Eye Candy Grub and it’s been working great. I even used it back in March at the NWT tournament on the Illinois River where the water visibility was basically zero. You’d think a bright color would produce better in those conditions—and that’s what most anglers were using—but I caught all my fish black-on-black, even in the muddy river run-off. There’s definitely something to it. I don’t argue with the fish.”

The Northland Eye Candy Grub in black
The Northland Eye Candy Grub in black is an attractive presentation.

Veteran tournament angler and Devils Lake guide Johnnie Candle hums a similar tune.

“Over many years fishing tournaments and guiding I’ve discovered that sometimes black catches fish when other colors fail. It may seem strange, but even in stained water, black casts a better silhouette for visually feeding fish,” said Candle.

“The other thing is depth. Depending on how deep you’re fishing, light might not penetrate very well to where the fish are holding so black becomes a good bait color choice—again, because of its silhouette and pronounced profile in what little light is available.”

Candle said you’ll find a lot of bass anglers throwing black, but typically in color combinations with blue, purple, or junebug—as in black-and-blue jigs, worms, etc. But straight black is just starting to come into its own, especially in the realm of walleye fishing.

“I keep black baits on the ready, whether that means paddle tails, grubs, cranks, or jigs. There are definitely times when black performs, and other colors don’t. But every situation is different,” Candle said.

The other thing? There is a forage connection. Walleyes and bass both eat bullheads (as Quinn noted above), willow-cats, leeches, dark minnows or young-of-the-year gamefish, and other black-colored critters—including insect hatches, which are largely overlooked by anglers.

“When we get bug hatches out here at Devils Lake, North Dakota, the stuff that floats to the water’s surface is black, whether that’s dragonfly larvae or actual dragonflies and any of the other bug hatches we experience throughout the season. When I clean clients’ walleyes at the end of the day sometimes the stomachs are literally swollen with these bugs so they’re definitely keying into these black critters as a food source,” Candle said.

Parting Words

Have a Crayola box of different-colored baits in your boat? Do yourself a favor and pick out the black ones and put ‘em in a separate box and spend some time fishing them this season. You might just be surprised at the results.

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