Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed the X-factor in bass fishing, how it’s made champions of some and proved evasive to others, and how slight modifications in fishing approach occasionally result in phenomenal catches. Today’s final installment on the subject goes one step further.
For generations, bass fishermen have been obsessed with lure color. Likely one of the earliest public statements on the subject came when Bill Dance, dominator of many early bass tournaments and later turned TV show host, was famously quoted on plastic worm appeal: “Any color worm is good,” Dance said, “as long as it’s blue.”
Since those days of tournament infancy, the bass fishing industry has exploded, and with it has come an ever-expanding selection of tackle. The last time I checked, plastic mega-manufacturer Zoom offered over 350 colors in their lineup. But why? Does color really matter?
In 2015, researchers attempted to find out. A group from Canada’s Carleton University ran several tests on bass caught using Senko-style baits. Lures were divided into three categories of natural, bright and dark shades. Baits were fished similarly – primarily with a slow, lift-and-drop retrieve – and catch rates were determined over dozens of hours of trials.
In addition, hooking mortality was considered through observations of “deep vs. shallow-hooked” bass, and overall size structure for fish caught on each color category was recorded.
In the end, the researchers were not able to prove through scientific method that any one color, or color category, of lure produced any better than the rest. Sure, there were variations in the data, but as a whole, black was as good as blue, which was as good as white, orange and all the others.
In addition, the study found no correlation between deep-hooked fish and lure color, but did see an overall increase in size of bass caught using bright lures rather dark or natural baits.
What does all of this mean? Maybe nothing, or maybe quite a bit. Perhaps it further proves our previously discussed idea that personal ability, both inside and out, is as important as anything in bass fishing.
Another case in point: while recently interviewing Kevin VanDam for a Plano piece, I couldn’t help but throw in a few questions about lures. As previously mentioned here, I’m always mystified by VanDam’s ability to rapidly master nearly every bass fishing technique. We discussed crankbaits, hooks and plastic, and he again awed me with his intricate understanding of subtle characteristics. When I asked him about lure color, it was one of the few times I’ve heard him admit to mediocrity. “I just carry the basics,” he said “Green-pumpkin, black and blue – stuff like that.”
It appears that even VanDam fits the mold of many of the world’s best: focusing more on location, lure category and retrieve speed than lure color.
So why are there so many colors available to bass fishermen? Do such slight modifications make any difference at all? Science says no …
Think back to your early years in bass fishing, and how important lure color was. If you’re anything like me, you quickly realized that such things, often considered vital to novice fishermen, really pale in importance to other factors, as we mentioned. Today, like so many others, I find myself throwing about three colors of baits, whether soft-plastics or plugs.
But then again …
Umpteen years ago, Erie legend Steve Clapper and I were fishing an obscure hump far offshore of Ontario’s Pelee Island. It was a spot we had both visited regularly, but one held close to the vest due to our success in catching giant smallmouth there. The year prior, Clapper and I had visited the spot in a team tournament, and I had caught a key fish on an ugly, slime-green colored tube-jig.
Fast forward one season, and Clapper and I were again in contention to win a bass tournament, casting at the same small rockpile 36 feet below our feet. We had spent about 20 minutes on the pile, each throwing a dark tube jig, and each repeatedly hitting the sweet spot with precision casts. Reiterating our success from the year prior, Clapper decided to break out the money bait. Switching from his watermelon tube to the slime-green model, Clapper hooked and landed a giant on his first cast, winning us both the tournament and the big-bass award.
So was it the lure color that brought the bite? Remember, the color switch was from dark green to lighter green, and the lure was drug on the bottom in 36 feet of water. With clarity of about 3 feet, science will tell you the presence of color is completely absent at that depth.
Or is it?
On another note, just a few short days ago, I lucked into some phenomenal jig fishing for shallow largemouths. I had simply tied on a jig and plastic combo to test a new rod, but was astonished when bass started bashing the combo. My chosen trailer was a super-plastic beaver-type made by Z-Man. Trying a similar lure on another rod yielded no fish, but every time I picked up the Z-man-adorned jig, I scored.
A quick dip of my lures near the boat yielded my answer. The bright flakes in the super-plastic shined, literally, in the water, whereas a “normal” trailer had a much subtler hue. Surely that was the explanation.
Or was it?
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)