A Lesson In Futility!


August 01, 2014

Next to choosing crankbait brands and models, the most daunting task in the process of mastering crankbait trolling is wrestling with the issue of color selection. Most anglers are so concerned about lure color, they completely gloss over the fundamentals of successful crankbait trolling including topics like selecting the right baits, concentrating on trolling speeds, hand tuning lures, zeroing in on fish via sonar and GPS tactics and targeting the specific depths that fish are using in the first place.

Lure color should be viewed as a refinement of a fishing presentation. When too much emphasis is put on lure color and not enough on the fundamentals of trolling, success is destined to falter.

Do Walleye See Color?

There has been much research conducted to determine exactly how walleye relate to fishing variables such as lure color. There is little doubt that walleye have color vision and that they do seem to show color preferences, but to say that as fishermen we can isolate the most productive colors day in and day out would be a gross exaggeration. The hard true facts are that color preferences among walleye are subject to change because the fishing conditions in which we target walleye are constantly changing.

There are three primary variables that influence most on how walleye relate to lure color including light levels, light penetration and water clarity. All three of these variables are related and subject to constant change. Not surprisingly this fact complicates the issue of isolating productive colors. As much as we would like to believe we can predict what colors will work best on a day to day basis, the truth is that isolating lure color may be as fleeting as walleye themselves.

Imagine for a second you’re fishing in a gin clear natural lake. The colors that are likely going to produce best in this situation are ones that closely imitate live forage species. Now look at the other end of the spectrum and the fishing destination is a river that is turbid and has only an few inches of visibility. In this situation a brighter color that is visible from a greater distance is going to certainly increase the odds of fish seeing the lure in the first place.

Lure Color And Personal Biases

If an angler only fished one body of water, color selections would be a lot less complicated to figure out. Unfortunately, most walleye anglers are nomadic individuals who travel often in search of their favorite species. Since every body of water features different water clarity issues it stands to reason that lure colors favored by walleye are going to vary greatly from fishery to fishery.

This is precisely why lure colors as they relate to walleye fishing tend to become personal biases rather than actual facts of fishing. This happens because a particular angler fishing a particular body of water has success on one or more lure colors and in turn fishes that lure color more often. Obviously if a particular lure color is put in the water more often than others the odds of that particular color working are greatly increased.

Custom painted lures like these are rapidly becoming the “rage” among walleye fishermen. Custom colors are a good thing, but too many anglers put more emphasis on lure color than they do the fundamentals of trolling. Author photos

As fishermen we are constantly analyzing small samplings by experimenting with certain variables and them making rather broad based decisions based on the results of those small samples. In the world of research or science this is considered making a “false hypothesis”, but in fishing this practice is completely accepted and in fact encouraged and perpetuated from angler to angler.

Because anglers are passionate about their favorite colors and willing to share their successes on the water this somewhat skewed information gets passed around as if it were gospel. Here in is the issue — isolating a variable as fleeting as lure color is literally impossible. What makes this situation so impossible is that the environmental conditions we are forced to fish in are constantly changing. Think about it for a second, lure color as it relates to walleye fishing is subjected to variables including water clarity, light angle, light intensity and a host of other variables we may not even realize are occurring. All of these variables are constantly changing and in fact it’s difficult or impossible to determine to what degree change is actually occurring.

Still anglers attempt the impossible by experimenting with different lure colors and then publishing their results on social networking and forum sites as if this information is 100% factual. When I was tournament fishing and sharing information daily with other anglers I was constantly amazed how when the subject turned to lure color no one could seem to agree. Day in and day out I would notice how one guy would swear that green was the best color while another angler who was basically fishing the same fish felt strongly that red was the color it took to get consistent bites!

Over time I started to come to the conclusion that color preferences as it relates to walleye fishing are too fleeting to put a lot of energy or stake into. So the 98 cent question is how can an angler intelligently use lure color to improve his or her fishing success?

Simplifying The Color Issue

One way to simplify the issue of lure color is to only give serious consideration to the lure colors that are working at any given time and place. In other words, when the fishing day is done and you’re sharing fishing information with others, don’t put a lot of stake in the color preferences others are claiming worked best.

Rushing off to the tackle store to stock up on the colors that worked for your buddy might make you sleep better, but chances are the money invested in these colors will not pay off in terms of more fish caught any time soon.

My approach is to have faith in what has been working for me and to stay with those particular colors until conditions change and in turn color preferences change. One of the best ways to approach this situation is to work primarily with “confidence colors” that are routinely used and found to be effective. Each day on the water experiment a little with a host of other color options to see if something gets “hot or noteworthy.”

Another logical way to deal with color is to fish those “confidence colors” and then when searching for other colors stick with lures that feature shades or color hues that are prominent on the confidence baits. Let’s say that you are having success with a lure color called Mixed Vegetables. This color features a little yellow a little green and a little orange on a silver background. Seeking out other baits with similar color combinations may well produce similar results.

Factory Or Custom Colors?

Increasingly the issue of lure color has grown into a sub-industry. Manufacturers of crankbaits produce a wealth of colors and each lure color must be identified with a particular UPC code for retail purposes. Every new color means a new UPC code and that means more product inventory and significantly more money invested in this inventory.

Because not all colors sell well, manufacturers take considerable risk by adding too many different color options to their lures, knowing full well some will sell and others will not. This risk is part of doing business, but a growing number of manufacturers are becoming increasingly reluctant to produce even popular lures in a wide variety of color choices.

Because the factory color options on popular lures are becoming more limited, a growing number of anglers are investing in having their favorite lures “custom painted” to meet specific color preferences and demands. The going price to have a crankbait custom painted ranges from $5 to $10 each depending on how elaborate the color and how popular the custom painter has become.

In other words, custom painting a crankbait just about doubles the cost of the lure! This cost is justified by many who feel that the custom colors produce better than the factory color options.

A few custom lure painters have taken the pursuit a notch higher. Some of these “painters” are buying large numbers of popular lures from major tackle distributors and then “custom painting” the baits and reselling the lures to local tackle shops.

Because “custom painters” have low overhead they can afford to produce limited numbers of lures filling what effectively has become a niche market. To each his own, but fishermen being eccentric by nature and excessive by design, I fear that too many are putting their faith in crankbait colors instead of concentrating on the fundamentals of trolling.

My point here is not to discourage the use of “custom colors” or even to inhibit anglers from constantly experimenting with color options. I only caution that it’s important to keep lure color as it relates to walleye fishing in perspective and to put the primary emphasis on mastering the fundamentals.

Summing It Up

We’re living in a world of extremes and it’s easy to go overboard on the concept of crankbait color selection. As walleye anglers we all pretty much agree that crankbait colors do make a difference in our day to day fishing success. What we can’t agree on is which colors are best or even the best way of identifying noteworthy colors in the first place!

Unfortunately, lure color is a fleeting variable and comments shared about productive colors are often based on personal bias or worse yet on hearsay. The smart move is to be conservative when stocking up on widely recommended lure colors and open minded to sampling others. Beyond that, identifying what lure colors work best is something every angler needs to figure out for themselves.

This feature is an excerpt from Mark Romanack’s recently released Kindle book titled Walleye Tactics… Crankbait Trolling available through Amazon for $6.99.