On today's sophisticated fishing scene, attention to presentation details usually separates great anglers from good anglers. In this regard, in many situations, working through the puzzle of finding just the right lure color combination is the key to catching more fish. The great anglers, I'm telling you, have a plan and are willing to work through the color puzzle, fine-tuning as they go. Most anglers give lip service to the process, but aren't willing to deal with the details.
First, of course, an angler has to be on fish. Overall, at this point, identifying the right lure speed and maintaining proper depth control are much more important than color. If those factors aren't in order, color has little to do with the equation. Actually, if those factors aren't in order, little else makes any difference; the angler's only hope is to stumble on fish in a feeding frenzy.
Once fundamental factors are in order, it's time for attention to detail. Finding the right vibration pattern (I think of it as an aura that surrounds a lure) also is part of getting down to details. Lures may or may not vibrate as a factor of their design. Vibration also is controlled by the chosen retrieve, another part of the presentation package, especially with lures like tubes and soft jerkbaits--lures that don't have a lot of inherent movement.
It's at this point that color often becomes not just important, but crucial--the difference between five fish and one on a tough day; the difference in adding a kicker big fish to an otherwise average bag on an otherwise average day . . . especially in shallow waters where fish usually see well. Especially, in ultraclear water where fish see well, even in deeper water. Even in dingier water, where fish scrutinize what they eat at ultraclose range before they commit. Color's usually a factor, perhaps even in dim light and at night (factors we'll be reporting on this coming year).
I take several factors into consideration in working through this puzzle. On one hand, I like to know what fish are feeding on. Particular baitfish project prominent general color patterns. Shad are silvery with a modestly darker back. Then, though, look beyond such a general pattern to consider subtle holographic hues that also play a role. In the case of shad, subtle greens, blues, purples, and golds often play forth in the right light.
I'm not saying that "matching the hatch" is critical; I'm saying that knowing what the "hatch" is usually plays a role in the working equation and in the final working solution. Often it works well to match most of the hatch, then to add a subtle touch of contrasting color like a chartreuse, a red, or an orange to modestly (and at other times overwhelmingly) heighten the overall contrast and visibility of the package. Such a touch of color may also play on a fish's curiosity, just enough to get them to sample a lure--a tentative bite.
Next, in my estimation it's vital to factor in the colors each fish species sees well. Our best scientific evidence suggests, for example, that bass see best the colors in the red-orange and green portion of the spectrum, although they also can see all the other colors we see. So, bass can be discriminating in the red-orange and green portion of the spectrum. They can tell pumpkin from pumpkin-red from watermelon-red. They can tell smoke from smoke with red flakes from smoke with silver flakes.
This suggests just how intricate the final part of the presentation equation can be for anglers who have progressed well beyond the basics. Even most astute anglers, though, dismiss this part of the game. Too many details. Too much work. They don't, because of their own lack of experimentation, believe fish can become so discriminating. To me, this part of the on-going experiment makes the puzzle that is fishing so much more challenging and fun.
Another overall factor is exactly what spectral colors actually are transmitted to what depths in certain water colors. Red, for example, transmits well in the type of moderately clear water that predominates in most fishing areas across the country. So, too, orange and green. In clearer waters, on the other hand, red is quickly filtered out and appears as black. In clearer waters, greens and especially blues transmit well, especially into deeper water.
As you know, some general color patterns predominate in certain regions, for the reasons we're discussing. "Rayburn red" works for bass well beyond Sam Rayburn Country, Texas, because, as I've said, red transmits well and can be seen well in the types of moderately clear water that predominates across most of North America.
On the other hand, various smoke patterns excel in clearer waters, with the astute angler adding various other colors to fine-tune the package down to exactly what some bass are looking for at a particular time of day and time of year, given the predominant forage, and the mood of the fish at that time. For bass, the astute angler might temper the fundamental smoke by adding silver, red, or green flakes. Or by adding a touch of overall tinting in some combination of one or several of those colors.
Pumpkin and watermelon also are universally productive colors in all but the clearest waters. It's common for great anglers in many parts of the country to begin with those fundamental colors and work the equation by tempering those colors by adding various reds, greens, and oranges.
One other problem in talking colors today, however, is that standards don't exist from company to company for exactly what constitutes a specific color. Pumpkin and motor oil might be the most universally standard colors of all, along with pearl, chartreuse, and yellow (a particularly overlooked color for smallmouths). Watermelon often varies from company to company. So, too, especially today, smoke.
Finally, only the most entrepreneurial companies offer enough various colors in any one lure type to allow the astute angler to do all that may be required to work a color equation to its best conclusion. It's hard to fine-tune beyond pumpkin, if pumpkin's the only pumpkinlike color offered. Often, therefore, it's necessary to have colors on hand from various companies to fill in gaps.
Granted, other presentation factors are fundamentally more important than color. Granted, too, that color may not always be an important factor, and that sometimes several colors may work equally well in some situations. Still, there's almost always one best (or better) color for the situation at hand. Whether the target species is muskies, stripers, bass, or crappies, over the course of a long season and a lot of tough fishing situations, identifying the right color combination is one factor that serves to separate the best anglers from their average counterparts.