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The Color Debate

The Color Debate

Old Man Winter kept us at bay many days during the late winter and early spring, which allowed members of the Finesse News Network to ponder and debate about the colors of lures that we use.

It commenced when Mike Poe of Siler City, North Carolina, wrote: "I am lazy and use only a few colors and do not experiment. I primarily use a green-pumpkin hue in the dingy to moderately colored waters that I usually fish. And I am wondering what the thoughts of the Finesse News Network's members are on the Midwest finesse baits that they use."

Around the same time that Poe asked his question, several other anglers wonder what Midwest finesse anglers thought about glitter or flakes. And if glitter is effective on baits like Z-Man fishing Products' Hula StickZ, Finesse WormZ, Finesse ShadZ and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ. For example, does glitter provoke strikes on cloudy days more than sunny ones or vice a versa?

Below are the thoughts, insights and experiences of 16 Finesse News Network anglers about colors and glitter. At the end of these 16 observations, Mike Poe added a 25-word summary.

Dave Reeves of Lansing, Kansas, said: "I think a lot depends on the type of lake, clarity, and the skies.

"I have even seen a change of flake color make a lot of difference at Table Rock. For instance, a watermelon-pepper soft-plastic bait can be more fruitful when clouds rolled out and skies brightened up than a watermelon-red soft-plastic bait. Likewise, a plain smoke or milky smoke soft-plastic bait will be better with high skies and clear water than a smoke-red-flake or smoke-copper-flake bait. I poured some homemade stickbaits to match a Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits' color called natural shad for a friend at Table Rock Lake; it is smoke with a tiny bit of gold, black, and hologram flakes, and my friend swore that it made a significant difference compared to other smoke colors, and he gets paid to fish. To match Table Rock's crayfish throughout the year, we use either green pumpkin with orange flakes or watermelon with red flakes highlighted with some orange dye.

"I carry way too many colors, but probably use these four more often than not in the clear waters of the Ozark reservoirs: (1) watermelon and red flake, (2) PB&J, (3) green pumpkin, and (4) smoke pepper. In shallow and dirty water, I opt for the five colors: (1) black/red flake, (2) Black with a blue tail or claw, (3) electric blue or blue fleck, (4) green pumpkin with a touch of chartreuse dye, and (5) red shad laminated.

"What did we ever do before watermelon and green pumpkin? I am pretty sure we caught bass somehow.

"In regard to Z-Man Fishing Products ElaZtech baits, especially those with high salt content, the flakes may be less important than the base colors. Those baits (especially the ZinkerZ in green pumpkin) have lower clarity, causing less light to penetrate the bodies to activate the effects of the flakes. The same phenomenon occurred with Berkley's original Power Baits. But flakes can render some rather remarkable color effects with the translucent nature of some of the traditional plastisol baits. I am still waiting for a smoke pepper or smoke and purple-flake ZinkerZ from Z-Man, or even a milky salt and pepper."

Burton Bosley of Sutton, West Virginia, said: "Like all fishermen I am experimenting with color constantly. Every few years I will go back to solid black or solid white. I'm always impressed how effective basic black has been for me. I am now fishing deep, clear, and difficult lakes. And black is as good as any color I've tried. I know this goes against some research, but my pitiful attempts at research have come to this depressing (when I look at the color wheel of plastics I've amassed) conclusion. I've far too much money in other colors not to fish them but if I had only one choice it would be black."

Rich Zaleski of Stevenson, Connecticut, said: "Just poking my nose into this discussion from the east coast. I have never (as in never) found a body of water where smoke, motor oil, green pumpkin and black were not productive colors in soft plastics. Clear water, dirty water, tea stained or algae stained. Deep, shallow, in between. Moving or still. Weedy, timber-filled or naked bottom. If I have appropriate size lures in those four colors, I'm good to go."

Jeff McMillen of Independence, Missouri, said: "It seems perhaps the best way to compare colors is when the fish are biting well. Switch colors and compare your success rate. If the bite slows using the second color, go back to the original color and see if the bite picks back up again. If it does, that second color should be eliminated under those conditions.


"I tend to get stuck in the rut of switching colors when the fish are not biting. That's a bit like chasing ghosts.

"Chartreuse is definitely the best color in the spring. When the fishing is difficult, I follow put on a smoke colored grub and fish low and slow. I have mixed results with other colors and tend to dislike multiple color combinations unless black or red is the second color.

"My wife was taught by her grandpa to use an orange Rooster Tail and she consistently catches some fish. She likes to say all those color combinations are just to catch fishermen in the store."

Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, addressed the issue of flakes of glitter. He said: "I seem to do better with glitter anytime the sun is out. In other words black with blue glitter seems to work better for me in a skirted jig and trailer on sunny days, while green pumpkin is better on cloudy days. For smallmouth bass, we used green pumpkin and red glitter on sunny days and green pumpkin on cloudy days. Glitter works even when the water is stained with heavy algae blooms."

Casey Kidder of Topeka, Kansas, said: "I've been reading some responses and thinking about my usual color selection. You hear so many times in bass magazines and such that color doesn't make that big of a difference. But yet I can think of many times where a slight color change just loaded the boat. Not that we couldn't catch fish on other colors, but a certain color was clearly preferable.

"If I'm fishing Midwest finesse, using a ZinkerZ or Finesse WormZ, I typically look at whether I expect the bass to be feeding on shad, crayfish or invertebrates. If it's shad, I'm going with my usual clear/silver flake ZinkerZ, which turns milky white. If it's a crayfish bite, I'll usually start with a green pumpkin or green pumpkin/red. If the water's dirty, I might start with a Junebug instead. Though there have been times again where a Junebug worked better in clearer water. At Greers Ferry Lake, Arkansas, which is generally crystal-clear, a black/blue jig is a consistent producer. Obviously that's not your typical clear-water color, but it works time and time again.

"I don't fish watermelon colors as much, but I can remember one outing here in Kansas where switching from a green-pumpkin-and-red-flake tube to a watermelon-and-red flake tube made a significant difference. Another time, Travis Perret of Overland Park, Kansas, and I were fishing. I was using a 2 ½-inch green-pumpkin-and-red flake ZinkerZ and Travis was using a 2 ½-inch watermelon pepper ZinkerZ, and his watermelon pepper was catching everything. I switched to a watermelon-and-red-flake ZinkerZ and started catching a few, but the watermelon pepper was clearly the preferred color that day.

"In other words, you never know till the fish tell you what they want. I've got some general starting points, but what ultimately produces remains up to the fish. So I try not to be too confined in the box with color. The fish have proved to me too many times that what should work isn't always what they want. Finding the fish is first and foremost of course, but once I find them, it usually takes some fine-tuning with color."

Gord Pyzer of Kenora, Ontario, said: "I recently read an interview with David Dudley of Lynchburg, Virginia, in which he was asked about his favorite bass colors, and he said, 'In clear water I use green pumpkin, whereas in dirty water, I use green pumpkin. In stained water, on the other hand, I use green pumpkin!'

"I have fished several times with Kevin Van Dam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, who is adamant about using red hooks. I remember one time he opened up his tackle box for me and every hook - even his tube jig hooks - were red.

"And Al Lindner of Brainerd, Minnesota, told me once, when he emceed In-Fisherman's Professional Walleye Tournaments on the final weigh-ins, it was common for the third-place finisher to come up on stage and say, 'I tried every blade color in the tackle box and the only one that would work was purple.' Then the second-place angler would weigh in and say, 'Man, jigs were the ticket but the jig had to be chartreuse.' Finally, the winner would come to the stage, and say, 'Crankbaits were the key, and I tried every color crank, but the only one they'd bite was orange.'

"As In-Fisherman has always preached, nothing precludes (1) depth control, (2) speed control, (3) size, (4) profile, and (5) vibration. Get those down five items down pat, and then color becomes a fine tuning item."

Chris Rohr of Overland Park, Kansas, said: "In my experience, I have three colors or color combinations that work for me about 90 percent of the time. They are white, silver and chartreuse, and any combination of the three -- whether finesse or power fishing --seem to produce under most circumstances. But if these don't work, I will jump to a black-and-blue combo or a Junebug color for the remaining 10 percent of the time.

"Back in 1999 I received an invite to join the late Virgil Ward in fishing strip pits that we both had access to. I was shocked when he opened his tackle box and every single lure had chartreuse on it somewhere. Every jig, crankbait, spinnerbait, topwater, and soft-plastic bait. I remember him telling me "if they don't hit something with chartreuse, they ain't biting.' It was a message I have never forgotten as he knew a thing or two about catching fish."

Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Kansas, said: "We are continually dealing with different water clarity in the reservoirs in northeastern Kansas. Depending upon the time of year and water clarity, the clients, whom I guide, work with a variety of colors of Z-Man's soft-plastic finesse baits, and they primarily use PB&J, black and blue, dirt, green pumpkin, pearl, pumpkin-chartreuse, and purple haze. These baits are affixed to jig heads that are painted black, blue, chartreuse, orange, red and white. As they experiment with this various color combinations, they eventually discover the most effective color, which may change and usually does change throughout the day -- especially in the spring.

"In addition to determining the best color, my clients also have to determine the most effective retrieve.

"In regard to glitter, I have so specific thoughts. But when some of our fish are foraging on gizzard shad, the head of jigs will be adorned with glitter. But most of our fish in northeastern Kansas waterways feed upon invertebrates rather than gizzard shad."

Ron Yeomans of Overland Park, Kansas, said: "In my eyes, it depends on the situation. I'm a strip-pit fisherman. My only three trips in February and March were to a strip pit with lots of rocks along the shoreline, which means crayfish. My fishing buddy and I have caught a lot of bass on the PB&J ZinkerZ and Hula StickZ. We kept a few small largemouth bass to eat and checked the stomachs. All except two of these largemouth bass with stomach contents had small crayfish with colors similar to the PB&J pattern. But we have caught a few largemouth bass on pearl ZinkerZ, purple-haze ZinkerZ, and green-pumpkin ZinkerZ, as well as Z-Man's MinnowZ in their baby bass hue. Most of the time these baits are attached to a red 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig with a No. 2 hook, and we have found that a bigger jig catches fewer bass than the 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. When replicating a crayfish, we use a slow, bottom-bouncing retrieve. Besides the 6 ½-pounder, we have caught some four-pounders, 3 ½-pounders and three-pounders.

Brian Waldman of Coatesville, Indiana, said: "I've fished extensively with light jigs tied directly to all kinds of braided line colors, including white, smoke, green, red and yellow/flame green. In all cases, I have never found a difference in the amount or size of bass I've caught relative to what color braided lines I used or whether I tied direct to the braided line or used a leader.

"So, if bass could care less what color braid you are using and tying direct to your bait, then why would they care what color bait you are using? Can bait color really matter if line color doesn't? So, put me in the camp of I have a few tried and true favorite colors I use a lot, for whatever reason, and I really spend very little time switching and experimenting with color myself. I tend to focus my time and efforts on location and presentation. I'm not saying color never makes a difference. I'm sure it probably does on some waters, at some times, but most times you can probably get by with a few basic colors of your choice."

Dave Schmidtlein of Topeka, Kansas, said: "In Kansas, we have success on any color as long as it's chartreuse. Seriously, more than 75 percent of the baits in my tackle boxes for crappie, walleye, and white bass are chartreuse or a chartreuse combination, such as black and chartreuse, orange and chartreuse, blue and chartreuse, red and chartreuse, white and chartreuse, pink and chartreuse, pumpkin and chartreuse, silver and chartreuse, etc. The rest is comprised of black and orange, blue and white, or pink and black. During low-light conditions, we use  black-and-chartreuse. In my largemouth and smallmouth bass tackle boxes, there are more single-color hues, such as pumpkin and watermelon."

George Kramer of Lake Elsinore, California, said: "Dr. Loren Hill's findings (at his home lab) were badly utilized by the fishing industry, selling the info as some magic remedy. But in fact, Hill could measure the fish's ability to discern colors, in varying water clarities and light intensities. It's popular now for scientists to debunk his work, saying fish barely see gray. However, it doesn't matter what name we give to any hue, the fish Hill studied responded consistently because the fish could tell the differences. What spoils it for some anglers is that there can be a grouping of maybe four colors that were more visible or identifiable under any combination of light and clarity. But yes, there was always one that was most identifiable or visible in any specific situation.

"As Midwest finessers would likely agree, the presentation and the activity level of the fish often have a larger role in getting the fish to bite, than just the color. But color is more fun to talk about.

"Only postulate I would add is, not all productive soft -plastic colors work in all sizes of worms, lizards, etc. I've had great success on four-inchers (such as the Bonzai nightcrawler, which was an amber layer over-poured with a neon-blue with micro red flake) that didn't catch diddly in a 7- or 9-inch size."

Paul Finn of Olathe, Kansas, said: "I use basically five colors of plastics for all fishing finesse and power: green pumpkin, watermelon red, Junebug, PB&J and bama craw. On my Midwest finesse rig in clear water and murky, I use chartreuse jig heads all time; water clarity is not a factor. I think confidence is the best color in your tackle box. In the last 30 plus years of fishing, I can honestly say I think color only mattered three or four times. When I a skirted jig and trailer, I use only three colors: PB&J, black and blue, and black and chartreuse. When I crankbait fish I use fire-tiger patterns 80 percent of the time. I use shad and crawfish colors the rest of the time. I fish fire-tiger crankbaits in clear water most of the time. In short, I use what I have confidence in."

Glenn Young of Blythewood, South Carolina, said, "Caitlin says blue." To understand what he means, please read this blog:

Nathan Parker of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said: "I find myself catching the most fish on various smokes, purples, and greens. I'll go lighter in clear water (smoke or watermelon, possibly with violet mixed in) and darker in dirty water (green pumpkin, Junebug, and black). I like glitter on sunny days and no glitter on cloudy days. I think these options represent the most natural looking presentation for the conditions-- underwater things tend not to flash when there isn't sun; hence, I use no glitter on cloudy days. They tend to flash in sunlight; hence I use glitter on sunny days. Colors tend to be dark and muted in dirty water and on cloudy days, hence I use darker colors. In clear water, I want my baits to resemble natural forage colors; hence I use a lot of smoke and light-green colors in clear water. I rarely venture far outside those color combinations."

After Mike Poe examined and pondered the comments of these 16 anglers, he said: "It looks to me like color is just a matter of preference and confidence. All these guys catch fish and their approaches are vastly different."

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