Most crappie anglers own a tackle box loaded with feather or hair jigs, as well as jigheads, grubs and tubes in every color combination imaginable.
But once you’re out on your favorite crappie water in the spring, do you know what color to reach for — and why? Will slabs readily take one color over another? Do they even perceive the multitude of colors that we put in front of them? Or are all of these multi-hued lures designed to please only the fisherman?
Well, we fisherfolk are smarter than some folks give us credit for: Fish do see colors. Almost all species of fish except those living in the deepest, darkest of waters see color as well as we do, if not better.
The trick is in knowing what color, or combination of colors, works best for varying conditions. The time of day, and how much cloud cover or sunshine there is, affect the amount of light filtering down through the water column. The level of light reaching the depth where the fish are determines what colors they’ll see best — and hopefully, react to.
Most of us know that water clarity plays an important role in your choice of lure color. But the depth of the water you’re fishing also plays a part in what hues to choose.
Less light filters down to 20 or even 15 feet of water, and at that depth, crappie see colors differently than they can in shallower water.
So since color does matter, what general rules of thumb do the experts use for choosing a color for a trailer?
And is the color of the jighead important as well?
Wally Marshall has targeted papermouths for 45 years and is a member of Bass Pro Shops professional fishing staff. He’s been fishing for crappie professionally in tournaments since 1987. He won the first tournament he entered and has won several more since. In fact, he is widely known as Mr. Crappie.
Through experience, Marshall has become an expert on color selection and says he can know what color lure to use simply by looking at the color of the water.
Marshall believes that color selection is important and that crappie can detect shades such as reds, pinks or oranges. For this reason, crappie jigs tend to be brightly colored.
When fishing on a cloudy, overcast day or in heavily stained water, Marshall goes to darker colors for the body of his jig. A black body with a chartreuse tail is a good choice. In muddy water, the darker colors are more visible.
Other darker colors Marshall uses are blue-and-chartreuse or red-and-chartreuse. These choices also work during the low-light conditions of dusk and dawn.
Marshall also recommended using opaque colors such as chartreuse, rather than translucent colors when fishing in stained water or on an overcast day. Opaque or non-bleed colors have a greater visibility under those conditions, giving a profile of higher contrast than a translucent color would. The latter allows some light to pass through and therefore, tends to blend in with its background.
On bright sunny days or in clear to lightly stained water, blue-and-white or white-and-chartreuse are the color combos that Mr. Crappie throws.
In those conditions, he tends to use less chartreuse and opts for a pearl-white tail. When fishing shallow or clear water, Marshall prefers the translucent colors and even lures with a sparkle added.
In bright conditions, one of the veteran angler’s all-time favorites is a chartreuse head, blue body and pearl tail. But when fishing down deep in clear water, Marshall stays with the lighter colors, but uses the opaques; again relying on the more visible profile in the deeper water column.
He emphasizes that in spring, the crappie bite may be more of a reaction strike, and that trying different presentations is also important.
Crappie may prefer a bait that’s dead-still, with maybe a little shake here and there, or perhaps a sideways movement. Also try pitching or casting the lure and vary your retrieve. Try vertical jigging or even simply holding it dead still. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Lonnie Stanley, the founder of Stanley Jigs, Inc. and an innovator of jig-fishing for bass in the 1970s, agrees that when targeting crappie, color most definitely matters.
In fact, Stanley admits to being a “color freak” himself! He mentioned how often he has been fishing a brushpile with a buddy. Using differently colored jigs, one angler will out-catch the other by four to one. Usually, that leads to one of them changing to the color that’s working!
When fishing under overcast skies or in heavily stained water, Stanley prefers using chartreuse, reds and oranges. When the water is clear and light conditions are bright, he goes to white, silver and shad-colored lures.
Another favorite color combination is a white minnow with a pink head.
Another factor that you need to consider is the hue of the jighead. Some anglers think its coloration can be important at times as well. In many situations, basic lead-colored heads work fine. Other times, black or brightly colored heads are needed to help add visibility and contrast.
Many experts agree that contrast is the key, especially for getting the crappie’s attention in stained water. When greater contrast is desired, use a body color that differs from the hue of the jighead. Alternate your colors — for instance, a chartreuse jighead, white body and chartreuse tail; or you can even use three different colors.
Do eyes painted on the head make any difference? Marshall and Stanley agree that it can tip the balance in catching fish or not. Both experts agree that a lot of fishermen swear by having painted eyes on their jigs. Some use jigs with red eyes only, but others demand chartreuse eyes.
Stanley noted that it may make more of a difference when fishing with the heavier and larger jigheads. Having painted eyes may simply increase color contrast, therefore making the lure more conspicuous.
Fishermen are a superstitious lot and resist change as much as most people. We sometimes stick with what has worked well at times — but may not always be the best choice.
The best method for finding out what the fis
h want is experimenting. When fishing with a buddy, start out using different color combinations to see what works best.
If you aren’t catching fish, then change the color as well as your presentation tactics.