Over the years, I consistently am asked one question over and over from viewers and students. “What lure color should I choose”? In my opinion, there is truly no one homogenized answer to this relatively simple question. Of course, most anglers roll with the consensus, that light colors work in clear water while darker colors tend to fair better in off-color water conditions. But, I tend to answer this question with a little more in-depth perspective.
I generally consider five pieces of criterion when trying to determine lure color; target species, preferred seasonal forage of target species, water clarity and temperature, plus light penetration. Naturally, different geographic regions tend to have “tried & true” color favorites that have been popularized by guides and lure manufacturers over time but that thought process can be a counter productive on occasion if anglers don’t factor in all variables.
Your target species will play a significant role in choosing lure color because species such as Sea Trout and Snook tend to be more visually oriented predators that ambush prey and take advantage of low light scenarios. So with that in mind, colors that silhouette or contrast (two tone baits for example) might be solid choices at dawn and dusk. Whereas, Redfish likely utilize olfactory and lateral line senses to a greater degree and feed with their eyes looking into the sea bottom. That makes earthy organic colors more preferable especially during daylight hours for “forage rooting” redfish. This mindset lets you play to the strength of these target species when lure color matters!
When I’m speaking of the preferred seasonal forage, I’m actually inferring to the “match the hatch” theory. Throughout the year, there are going to be periods when shrimp are overly abundant or a major baitfish hatch has taken place. These natural phenomenons may dictate lure color choices because gamefish get locked in to a particular color tone and profile during these periods. An example, might be an area where the fiddler crab population is relatively dense. The redfish that feed in that same zone should respond positively to lures that incorporate colors like New Penny or Rootbeer Gold because they (the redfish) associate those color hues as a primary food source.
Water clarity is the one common denominator that most anglers can agree on when making lure color decisions. It’s long been accepted that clear water has most inshore anglers reaching for natural or translucent colors. Meanwhile, turbid or tannin water often bring fluorescent or darker colors out of tackle bags. But there is another factor to contemplate in the water clarity equation… such as water temperature. When the water chills down over the flats most of the bait fish evacuate the shallows, leaving only crustaceans and creatures that live near the bottom for fish to feed on… darker colors prevail here regardless of clarity in these scenarios. The inverse is true, in regards to warmer water temperatures, that frequently flood many shallow flats and bays with thousands of baitfish. This rise in water temperature and presence of minnow bait, by and large,means that lighter colored lures,such as white, silver or bone, are more likely to incite strikes over darker choices. But,predominantly water clarity is still the principal element when selecting lure color!
Another essential consideration is available light. Light penetration is dependent on several components like the angle of the sun, cloud cover, water clarity, depth, and even wind! It’s typical and wise for anglers to select darker, fluorescent or two-tone colored lures when available light is very low, or in choppier sea conditions that diminish light penetration. And on those days when the sun is high and the sky is blue, which is often the case in post front conditions; it’s then more conforming to tie on natural colored or translucent baits in smaller profiles to ensure success. The role “light penetration” plays in fishing also has an effect on feeding behaviors of certain species. Many predators are able to adjust visually to changing light conditions much faster than their prey; this happens primarily at dawn & dusk and gives predators such as “gator trout”a tactical advantage.
It may seem like an awful lot of circumstances and information to interpret just to choose the perceived correct lure color. But, for those anglers willing to educate and adapt to conditions where color can leverage an advantage… it’s worth the time invested!
Just another great tip from Flats Class and please remember to keep conservation and ethics in your future fishing adventures…
By Capt. C.A. Richardson