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Crack the Color Code for Largemouth Bass

Bits of wisdom on selecting starter colors for bass—and understanding when to change.

Crack the Color Code for Largemouth Bass

In clear water and under bright skies, natural color patterns, not too flashy, are typically preferred.

While fishing on Lake Yale, Florida tournament pro Eric Panzioni had caught a few fish on a bladed jig, but the bites became increasingly sporadic. Panzioni switched from a green pumpkin and trailer to golden shiner color scheme and the fish promptly responded with arm-stretching aggression. That one little adjustment made all the difference. Color isn’t everything, but some days it’s a big thing.

Bass legend Shaw Grigsby, from Gainesville, advises taking into account water clarity when selecting starter colors. “Water that looks like iced tea immediately gets me looking at darker colors like black and blue or June bug,” Grigsby said. “What’s interesting is that in lakes with hydrilla, that (stained water) turns clear. That changes things up because now you can use watermelon red, green pumpkin and more translucent, natural colors.”

“The darker and dirtier the water, the darker my bait,” Grigsby went on, “the more my bait can silhouette with something they can actually see. I also like having something with chartreuse tails; something that can flash. It can be a black with a chartreuse, or maybe you dip a black bait in one of the dyes like Spike-It. Another one is blue; blue is a really good color to fish with.”

bass angler Shaw Grigsby
Shaw Grigsby pairs a Strike King swim jig (in sexy shad color) with a lighter contrasting pearl flash Rage Tail.

Trailers

Most of the time, Grigsby fits his flipping or swim jig with a matching trailer. For example, with a blue craw jig (green pumpkin with a blue hue), he’ll go with a blue craw trailer. However, fishing a jig with black and blue flakes, and he’ll tone it down with a simple blue trailer. Here are a few more nuggets of color wisdom.

“The brighter the sun, the more subdued colors I like to use,” Grigsby explained. “If it’s a cloudy, overcast day, the more I’d want to brighten it up and use something a little flashier. It seems like with more sunlight penetration, you don’t want the flash because that’s too much for them. That’s something I learned a long time ago for fishing Florida waters.”

When the bite is tough, either post-frontal conditions or heavy fishing pressure, contrasting trailers can push indecisive fish over the edge.

Match the Hatch—Or Not

Generally, imitating the paint job or soft plastic coloration of what the fish are eating most consistently yields success. For the bream bed pattern, green pumpkins, purples, dark bars (on hard baits) and maybe a dash of orange on the belly does the trick. For shad-based feasting, whites, silvers, smoke, or translucent colors work well. If it’s crawfish, green pumpkin, brown, and red hit the mark.

That being said, tournament anglers like Alabama’s Wes Logan often find that bucking the trend brings big results. If conventional color theories prove unsuccessful, try something radically different. Logan won a Bassmaster Elite on a southern reservoir, and $100,000, largely by fishing a shad spawn, but with a bait color significantly different from what the majority of the field was throwing.

fishing lures
Swimming a traditional jig, a decades-old tactic, requires careful trailer and jig color selection to suit prevalent conditions.

The ‘Wow!’ Factor

Grigsby always has an eye-popper like bubblegum, hot pink or Strike King’s Siren color (fluorescent chartreuse) on standby. “Especially in waters that get fished a lot, people tend to use the same thing,” Grigsby said. “You pull out something wacky like that and all of a sudden, you’re catching them.”

Touch Ups

Savvy tournament anglers frequently check their livewells to see what their fish may have regurgitated. If it’s crawfish, see what colors highlight the claw tips. If it’s panfish, note how prominently chartreuse and orange adorns the dorsal fins and tail tips. Dipping dyes and bait marker pens can instantly improve your bait’s authentic appeal. Grigsby finds that adding a touch of chartreuse to his soft plastics helps grab the attention of opportunistic bass.

And here’s one for the road: Have you ever noticed that you rarely see fingerling bass near big bass? That’s because big bass like to eat little bass—every chance they get.

If you’re having trouble get the big’ns to commit to that fluke, swimming worm or hollow-belly swimbait, try a watermelon or green pumpkin bait and use a black permanent marker to add a touch of realism to trigger that cannibalistic instinct.

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  • This article was featured in the April 2024 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine. Subscribe now.



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