lure colors

WaterLine photo by Capt. Josh Olive

Same bait, different colors. Which do you choose?

One of the major dilemmas faced by any angler using artificial baits is what color to choose. We’re told there are rules — light colors in clear water, dark colors in tinted waters, try to match the hatch by imitating the bait that is around.

Here’s the thing: Nobody ever explains those rules to the fish, so they don’t always follow them. So sometimes we can be successful even if we don’t know the rules or ignore them.

All the same, having a general idea of what colors work best and why we believe that might be (because we can never really know, unless you learn to speak fish) won’t hurt you any. Therefore, let’s take a look at the top five colors for lures in Southwest Florida.

White

This is the hands-down top color out there. The results speak for themselves. Why? Well … um … uh … OK, almost every fish has a white or whitish belly. If a small fish is showing its belly, it’s probably in trouble. Therefore, that flash of white could be a sign of something easy to catch. That’s what every predator really wants.

Also, white stands out. Albino animals hardly ever survive long in the wild because they have no natural camouflage and are easy for hunters to spot.

Is that enough to explain why white is the hottest color going? Maybe, but it doesn’t explain why white sometimes goes from “on fire” to “total dud” overnight. That remains a mystery — one that I don’t even have a guess at.

By the way, don’t assume that all white is the same. There’s pearl white, white with a blue sheen, glow, white with a red head, white with chartreuse and so on ad nauseum. Treat each as a different color.

Gold

If this were a clear water area, we’d be talking about silver instead of gold. But since most of our waters are tinted yellow to brown by river flow, most silvery fish get a bit of gold tone to them. Besides, gold reflects more light under dim conditions.

Ideally, your gold should have some shine to it: A gold spoon, a reflective gold hard bait, a soft plastic with glitter molded in. Non-reflective gold (i.e., brown or mustard-yellow) works too, but fish have to be closer to spot it. Shiny things will catch a fish’s eye from a greater distance.

Root beer

This is brown with gold glitter, and it’s productive for the same reason as gold. However, the darker tone seems to do a better job of imitating non-fish prey species such as crabs and shrimp. When fish are hot after the crustaceans (late fall to early spring), root beer is often the better option.

Watermelon

Some manufacturers have different names for this, DOA calls it avocado. Some others call it mangrove red. Basically, it’s a deep green with red glitter. This color pattern is a killer for largemouth bass almost anywhere they’ve been stocked, from California to Thailand, and it’s also great for our saltwater gamefish.

Again, we want to know why, and again, I can only make guesses. There is nothing out there in the wild that has coloration anything like this, so my assumption is that the fish are seeing something beyond what we’re seeing. Perhaps the red/green combination has a hypnotic effect. Maybe it works for them like the red/yellow combination works for us (yes, that’s why fast food restaurants use those colors).

Natural baitfish

Pearly or silvery with a dark back and maybe a light belly does a great job of imitating a baitfish. Well, duh. If it looks like food, it’s easy to mistake it for food. The strangest part about this pattern is that it’s not always the top choice. After all, baitfish are always baitfish-colored. It’s sort of bizarre that fish are willing to eat something that is any other color.

All of these colors will catch fish year round, and they’ll work in any color water. I would suggest that of the lures in your bag, about two-thirds should be in these colors.

There are some great also-rans. Chartreuse is an awesome color for certain species, especially trout and ladyfish. Pink often is highly attractive to pompano and flounder. Blue and purple tones can be great, especially around the river mouths. In the fall, orange can be a big hit around the mangroves when the killifish are in their breeding colors.

Really, the truth is that any color might work at any time for any fish. Ultimately, that’s a major reason why there are so many colors available in your favorite lures. It’s so you have the opportunity to experiment. When old reliable isn’t working, switch it up. And remember, the fish don’t know the rules.

Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.

Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.

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