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“Of the Outdoors” What is the Right Color Crankbait

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

October 18, 2018

“Of the Outdoors” What is the Right Color Crankbait

by | Oct 18, 2018 | Gary’s Thoughts from the Field

  If there is one thing that anglers disagree on, it is the subject of lure color; some swear that you can catch any species of fish on only one color, while others say that color makes no difference.

  There are times when the fish will be suicidal and bite on anything.  In my opinion, this is when about any bait will take them and color is not a big factor

  At other times, when water clarity, light and weather conditions make it tough for fish to see, are the times when lure color becomes very important.

  I have a couple of rules I follow when it comes to choosing the right color crankbait.

  The first thing you will want to know is what the dominant baitfish in the body of water you are fishing.  This information is generally available from the DNR or Game, Fish and Parks officials in the area or on their web sites.   Another place you will want to check out when coming to a new lake would be the bait & tackle shops. They know what the dominant baitfish is in their area and you will want to match your crankbait size and color to that baitfish

  In the upper Midwest, we have Gizzard Shad, Smelt, River Shiners and Alewife, all of these bait fish have a silver body.  Therefore, in most cases, I will start baits that resemble these species.

  As a scuba diver, I have seen how fish react to different color lures at different depths.  Fish react differently when looking for a meal in clear water than they do in dark or stained water.

  In clear water, a bright color: clown, fire tiger or bright chartreuse may spook fish, while in clear water I go with more subtle, natural patterns like a shad or perch color.

  In turbid, darker water, I tend to go with the brighter fluorescent color, those that hold their color better in low light conditions.

When fishing dirtier water or shorelines with a Mud line, brighter, more florescent baits will help you to catch more fish. Team Member Scott Ulrich took this fish from a mud line in Devils Lake, North Dakota.

  On the Missouri River, the water clarity changes the farther you go downriver.  In the Pierre area, the water is very clear and the visibility is excellent.  As you move downstream, the water quality begins to decrease; this is especially true when a river or creek enters the main river.  When you hit the area where the Niobrara River enters the Missouri River, it changes drastically because of all the sand and soil being flushed from the Niobrara as there very little light penetration, and it gradually worsens as you go downstream towards Yankton.

  There are times when even the clearest water will become muddied or turbid.   On Lake Oahe, Sharpe and Francis Case on the Missouri River system, the wind can pick up quickly with the waves pounding into the shoreline, creating a mud line as the waves hitting the shoreline picking up soil and taking it back out into the deeper water.

  This muddied water rides on the top layer of the water cutting the lights presentation, allowing the light sensitive walleyes to move shallow to feed on a day when the sun is high and bright.   

  Therefore, depending on where you are fishing where the water clarity may have a lot to do with what color bait you want to use.

   If I am fishing up river or on a lake in the clearer water, I use a more natural color, especially when fishing shallow and when fishing deeper, where there is little sunlight presentation, I go with a more visible florescent colored lure.

   If I see this muddy water coming up against clearer water, where muddies creeks or rivers enter the larger river, I use baits that will be visible not only in the dirtier water, yet not scare those fish that are working along the edge of both with baits similar to  Fire-tiger, which is a good choice when fishing these conditions.

  If I am fishing muddied water or going deep, I will go to a gaudy fluorescent color as they hold their color in deeper water in low light conditions.

  In clear water, depending on the main baitfish on that body of water you are fishing, I would use baits that resemble Gizzard Shad, Smelt, River Shiners, Alewife, Perch, Bluegill, Crawdad or a crankbait that resemble baitfish in that body of water.

  When it comes to fishing in lakes and rivers with dirty or stained water, some good choices seem to be Fire Tiger, Fire Craw, Clown, Chartreuse, Fluorescent Orange, Fluorescent Yellow or some other brightly colored bait. 

   Everyone has his or her own ideas when it comes to crankbait color.  If it works for you, use it!

  Just do not get in the rut using only one color lure , no matter what the water condition is, because you could be in for a lot of trolling, cranking, and very little catching.

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