Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Does Color REALLY Matter

One person told me. “Color theory is disproven. FACT.” To them the idea that color made any difference was superstitious fiction. Before I go on to explain what I think they said and why I agree or disagree with their observations let me just say this. I think color does make a difference… atleast sometimes.

In the past I said color doesn’t really matter much, but I meant it more that nuances rarely have much impact, and just because somebody is slaying them on one color that doesn’t mean you can’t catch anything on another color. I didn’t mean that red shad won’t out perform pea soup in pea soup green water. It doesn’t mean that certain spectrums of color don’t show better in deep water due to light penetration filtering. It doesn’t mean that. It means picking just exactly the perfect color probably isn’t going to make or break your day.

In the conversation basically calling anybody who believed color made any difference superstitious liars the person making the claim did have some basis for their claim. They posted tons of heat discolored mostly clear plastics in the mouths of a lot of fish. The plastic was yellowed or browned from various numbers of reheats and reuse or perhaps overheating, but it was mostly pale clear/translucent with a yellowed tint. They called it no color at all. I don’t, but I can see the reasoning behind the claim. What wasn’t clear (pun intended) was that in other conversations they had indicated they fished a lot of waters that other people don’t or can’t. They caught mostly smaller fish (admittedly with a few decent ones). They were fishing with mostly smaller baits.

Less pressured fish are easier to catch. Smaller baits tend to catch more fish but many of them are smaller. His test was flawed, or rather what he shared of his “test” was flawed in that he didn’t show pictures of equal numbers fish caught on identical baits on the same days with a variety of other color baits.

None of that says he is wrong. It just my way of explaining why he wasn’t necessarily proven right. I do want to make it clear that there is atleast one person who thinks my point of view is totally wrong, and they made that claim with some self proclaimed evidence and authority.

In that conversation nobody who responded on the actual claim he made agreed that color doesn’t matter at all. Some posted anecdotes that indicated why they didn’t agree. Anecdotes don’t prove anything, but a preponderance of anecdotes shows there is at least something there to look at.

My personal experiences have shown a switch from one color to a similar color rarely makes any difference and two guys fishing together throwing different color baits often don’t catch all that many more or less fish than the other. It could mean they are both using a less than optimal color or it could mean on that day in those conditions it doesn’t make much difference. A few times a switch from one color to a clearly different color has made a big difference. My first two examples below are straight up about color making the difference.

When fish are keyed in on a particular primary bait.

Bass fishing with a buddy of mine one day we got on a topwater bite. I have a few poppers I really like in a store brand and many days I outperform guys using premium brand names with them. I was using my bait my way and catching a few fish. If I had been fishing alone I might have thought I was doing pretty good. My buddy was out fishing me 4 to 1. Easily. maybe even 5 or 6 to 1. Finally I put on the same color bait he was throwing and I started matching him fish for fish. It was fast furious and explosive. Two guys fishing together out of the same boat throwing the same type of bait in different colors, and then the same colors. It was clear before and after the switch the color made the difference. That’s just one anecdote. By itself it doesn’t prove anything, but on that day color did seem to make a direct difference.

Another time fishing with the same buddy mentioned above we were whacking some fat blue gill and redear drop shotting 1.5 inch curly tail grubs. We were using a variety of colors and we caught fish on all of them. We had our rods rigged up double with hooks about a foot apart so we could fish two baits at a time until we figured out which ones were best. Among the brim we also caught a few bass here and there. We used yellow, white, smoke sparkle and watermelon, and we caught some fish on every color. It might seem from that statement color didn’t matter. However, we both noticed that smoke sparkle outperformed 2 or 3 to 1 for the red ear and blue gill, while almost all the bass hit the watermelon color grub. If we had just had any one of those colors we would have caught some fish and had a good day on the water, but smoke sparkle and watermelon seemed to clearly outperform other colors by a wide margin. This is with two guys fishing the same baits the same way out of the same boat at the same time. If we hadn’t been fishing different colors we might not have known they made any difference. At one point I started noticing some red eggs of some kind stuck on the tulie stems. I’ve since been told those had to be snail eggs. Some time previously I had tried to match the color of the red dye used in Paustki Fireball salmon egg bait that you might buy at the tackle store. I didn’t get it quite right, but when I dug out my box of curly tails I could see they were a pretty good match to those gobs of egges stuck to the stems. I rigged one up and the biggest red ear I’d seen up to that point came racing out of nowhere to hit it before my sinker hit the bottom. A couple more like that and we were both fishing that weird red curly tail. The bite had been good before, but it was off the hook after that and we were catching bigger fish. One thing I didn’t really notice at the time, but realized later. We did not catch one single bass on the red grub. The difference between some colors didn’t seem to make much difference, but between other certainly did. It even made a difference in species.

Sometimes a general tendency seems to appear.

On a late season outing with my dad I was deliberately targeting panfish with curly tail grubs. I rigged my dad up with smoke sparkle and watermelon. I had two drop shot hooks on some light clear line and set him at it. I went through a variety of colors with out much success while my dad picked off a pan fish or a bass here and there. I told him that the gills and ears tended to like the smoke sparkle and the little bass liked the watermelon. He noticed in his catches that was mostly true, he did catch a couple bass on the smoke sparkle. I know I sometimes do well for bass with larger smoke sparkle grubs, and one of the biggest bass I’ve caught on a curly tail came on one of those tiny ones in smoke sparkle. Its not a hard and fast rule. But ever many outings its shown to be pretty consistent. If I am fishing those tiny curly tails the pan fish tend to hit the smoke and the bass tend to hit the melon. After sunset I heard my dad exclaim and saw him proudly holding up a double catch. One fish on each hook. A bluegill with a smoke sparkle grub hanging out of its mouth and a bass on the hook that’d had the melon grub.

They told me big bait big fish. I say go small or go home.
Is it "big bait big fish," or "go small or go home?"

In particular conditions

I’ve noticed in the later afternoon and early evening I tend to do better on light color topwater baits until it starts to get what I call noticeably dark. Then I tend to do better on dark colors and black baits. Its happened often enough that if I go out just to fish the evening photo period I have both colors pre tied ready to go on different rods so I don’t have to retie in low light conditions. This also allows me to switch back and forth, “just to check.”

In pea soup green zero visibility water in broad daylight I don’t get bit on much. One of the arguments for color theory being fiction is that fish “see with their lateral line” (feel vibrations) more than they see colors. I do not disagree that fish “hear” some way or another and feel vibrations. I’ve seen fish come busting through the tulies after a bait that I know they can’t have seen. However in that mid day pea soup green water I mentioned I noticed that for some reason I caught a lot more fish on a color called red shad worm than on watermelon green. I had both colors in the exact same bait. The red shad got bit and the watermelon didn’t. Consistently in one pocket or hole after another on more than one occasion.

Generally I do not do well at all in muddy water. For the few fish I have caught vibration and sound certainly must have been a big factor, but colors that contrast with that mud brown water like black and blue seem to get bit when light colors like smoke and watermelon don’t get a nibble.

Pressured fish and re-fishing the same water.

Stick worms are one of the most infamous bass baits of this century so far. Nearly every major bait company and hundreds if not thousands of garage and basement shops make one in a variety of sizes. You would think that fish would quit biting them, but they still work. I’m not going to get into a lot of the ways they can be rigged and fished. I’ve already written a short bit on that if you care to read it. I can say I’ve entered a back water following another boat with a couple guys throwing stick worms and seen them catching fish. I consistently catch more fish fishing behind them if I can recognize what color they are throwing and throw a different color. No particular color may have been better than another color (atleast of those used) than the other, but I caught more fish by using a different color than they did. I think I even caught some of the same fish they released.

What The Heck Is A Stick Worm

I’m going to give another stick worm example. Many a time I’ll find a small backwater lake on the river that makes up my home waters. I circle the back water and catch a fair number of fish. Half dozen. Dozen. Sometimes more. If I circle the same lake again using the same color stick worm I will consistently catch a lot fewer fish than the first time. If I change colors that number will almost universally increase. Usually not to the same numbers as the first trip around the back water, but quite a lot more than if I keep using the same color.

More than once using a crank bait I’ve caught a bass on the deep side of a grass bed with several followers. Often I’ll only catch one or two more, but the bass continue to chase my bait on every cast. I’ll switch to a different color of the exact same make and model crank bait in another color and catch one or two more fish before having only followers. Many times I’ve been able to switch bait colors three or four times and catch a couple more fish each time I do. The particular color didn’t matter to much, but color did matter. Several times I’ve turned a two or three fish spot into a 10 or 12 fish spot.

The Infamous Mini Crankbait
Check out the mini crank. Make as many as you like and paint all the colors you need.

I believe that re-fishing the same water rather soon after fishing it once, or when following somebody else changing colors or using a different color can very definitely make a difference. A day later it probably doesn’t make as much difference, but minutes later it certainly does.

Generally, the difference in two colors may not make any difference at all or not enough difference to make a difference. Another color might make a huge difference. If the bite is good whether the fish are just on or if you are fishing protected limited access waters the colors probably doesn’t matter if you are just fun fishing. It might not matter at all, but that doesn’t mean for a fact that another color might not be better. Probably for smaller fish fishing smaller baits in unpressured places it makes less difference. Smaller fish are easier to catch. Smaller baits tend to fill in those time periods between bigger fish with more smaller fish. Time of day, depth, and light level can affect best color choices. BUT, if you don’t have the perfect color (if there is one that day) that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t catch some fish and have a good day anyway.

Color isn’t the only factor. Noise, vibration, water, location, presentation, seasons, and even your attitude may each have as much or more affect on your success on any particular day but this isn’t about that. Its about whether on not color theory is proven false, superstition, and fiction or if there might some significance to it once in a while.