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Capture Crappie Attention

Matching the right jig color to the water conditions is critical to crappie success.

Capture Crappie Attention

Crappies are very color oriented at times, knowing when to swap colors is a key component to successful crappie angling. 

The phrase goes: "Seeing is believing,” but for Texas crappie crusher Wally Marshall, seeing is biting.

If that sounds obvious, consider that the man known as Mr. Crappie has logged countless hours studying and chasing these tasty fish. So, what does that mean? Certainly more than we could fairly cover in one sitting; but we can, however, focus on a key element of Marshall’s strategy—visibility.

“They have to see it to bite it,” Marshall quipped.

Now, that’s a topic with page-filling potential. Lots of ways to approach this and everyone has their favorites, their go-to’s. For user-friendly simplicity, Marshall broke down a handful of color principles that have guided his nearly half a century of crappie catching.

Color Code

Where to begin. So many variables, but like a Jedi Master giving a crash course on “How to Use a Lightsaber,” Marshall keeps it manageable with foundational insights from which to build specific game plans.

yellow jig in crappie mouth
Understanding how different colors appear in various water conditions is the first step to selecting the right color.

“If someone asks me, ‘Wally, what color should we use today?’, it starts out with early morning, low light conditions when you’ll want to use darker colors like blacks or blues,” Marshall said. “Then, as the sun gets up, you’ll switch to you brighter colors.”

With those darker baits, Marshall points out the crappie’s preference for contrasting bait colors—maybe a black body with a chartreuse head and tail. Especially beneficial in stained water, that’s also a good bet for the tea-colored tannic areas common to southern swamps and backwaters.

Along with those black/chartreuse baits, Marshall’s leading dark-water picks include blue/black, orange/chartreuse, and black/orange. In Florida, where tannin-staining is the norm, his top producer is a black bait with an opaque chartreuse tail — as he explained, it’s kind of an old-school fluorescent yellow vibe.

“Back in the day, before there was chartreuse, there was yellow,” he said. “This color is good for that type of water.”

In sunny conditions with good visibility, Marshall said you don’t want to be bashful with the eye-poppers.

“Crappie like vibrant colors, rather than dull colors,” he said. “That’s why you see a lot of baits that are hot pinks and vibrant chartreuses.”

Meal Prep

Marshall’s also quick to point out the way most forage species adapt to various water conditions.

Recommended


yellow jig with red eye in crappie mouth
Sunlight affets how lures appear to fish, especially crappies. Sometimes reflections and shadows will draw a crappie in close.

Keep this in mind when selecting baits, but while standing out may be the dominant strategy, you’ll also find that authenticity’s a serious needle-mover.

“In clear conditions, when the sun reflects off of a baitfish, that’s how crappie (initially) locate it,” Marshall said. “A lot of times, in really clear water, minnows or small shiners become clear. When they’re in darker water, they become darker.”

In those lakes where high visibility makes the sharp-eyed crappie particularly picky, offering them something in the more natural looking vein often does the trick. Here, Marshall likes the light blue, glimmer blue, silver and translucent baits.

Notably, this scenario prompted Marshall and Strike King to develop a new color for his Mr. Crappie lineup. Set for an ICAST release, the new offering called Prism will put some twinkle in your crappie presentations.

Backside Booster: When the fish sour on a previously productive bait, adding a pop of color to the tail often triggers the bite. Could be a simple change in sunlight—maybe clouds roll in and dim the day—and you don’t necessarily need a wholesale bait change. That’s where a quick trip to the makeup room can deliver the impact.

To this end, he recently partnered with Spike-It to develop his signature line of crappie bait color accents. Available in dips and marker pens—both enhanced with a blend of natural oils and baitfish extract—the lineup includes such attention-getters as Chartreuse Shiner, Red Rooster, and Monkey Blood.

“I spent a week at the Spike-It plant and worked with their chemists to develop some really vibrant colors,” he said. “They had a blue color, but it wasn’t it vibrant enough for me, so I enhanced that color to make it pop better on a soft plastic.”

Presentation Tips

Strategic color selection is never a bad thing, but on pressured waters and in scenarios of high clarity, he knows it’s absolutely critical. In such scenarios, it comes down to windows of opportunity.

crappiecolor-05
Picking the right colors based on current water conditions and when paired with the right electronics will increase your succuess rate.

“I’ve been watching them on forward facing sonar and I’ve had fish come up 4 feet; just shoot up and hit a bait as soon as I cast it in there,” Marshall said. “A lot of times, the water is so clear, we can’t sit on top of these fish, so you have to cast to them with a weighted float.

“The clearer the water, the more you have to stay back off the fish and cast—sometimes, up to 80 feet—because you can spook them really easily. But as that bait’s falling and it catches their eye, come right out of that brush pile and get it.”

To that point, Marshall complements his bait color tips with this advice: Whether he’s reaching out with a 14-foot pole to vertically drop on fish he’s monitoring on forward facing sonar, or he’s making those long casts to shallower fish that won’t tolerate company, his biggest concern is wind direction.

“A lot of these fish will move from boat slap,” Marshall said. “When it’s blowing, it’s going to be best for you to cast to these fish, instead of trying to put it on their nose with a long rod.”




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