Soft Plastic Color Compendium
The biggest challenge we face
as anglers is whenever we walk into any tackle store
to buy lures. We are faced with infinite choices of colors. Do I
need to BUY this color? Do I need to TRY this color on MY lake?
Is it all just a big trick to get us to unzip our wallets? Not in
my opinion. I truly believe that color does matter. I can recall
too many times when the trick to unzip fish lips was the color
pattern on a bait.
So Many Colors, So Little Time!
Plan A: Divide all colors into six food groups
We can reduce the complexity of color choice by putting almost
all lure colors into one of several broad "food
1) Predominantly white or white-bellied lures
2) Predominantly black lures, including
black/blue, black/red, and other primarily black combos
3) Browns and greens, including pumpkin,
watermelon, avocado, rootbeer, cinnamon, brown/orange,
pumpkin/chartreuse, and other brownish-green combos
4) Neutral, subtle, muted lures, ranging from
a Smoky Joe pattern on a crankbait, a translucent smoke-colored
soft plastic bait, a transparent plastic topwater, etc.
5) Flash colors, including of course jigging
spoons, spinnerbait blades, chrome-sided crankbaits or those with
metallic inserts, or soft plastic baits that are clear
translucent and laced with heavy doses of metal flakes in the
soft plastic. Clear w/silver, clear w/gold, clear w/gold &
silver, plus other translucent tones with sparkly metal flakes.
6) Bold colors, the most familiar of which
are hot chartreuse, fire tiger, and bubblegum.
What's left? I put all natural
baitfish-colored lures (those with a dorsal color and mostly
white or silver sides) into either the predominantly white or the
flash category. Sure, there are be a few color patterns that do
not fit neatly into one of the above genres..how about solid
purples, blues and reds...where would you place them in the
categories above? But these are infrequent exceptions...the
majority of lure colors fall into one of the above genres.
If I do not know what fish want, then I will deliberately
cycle through these six " food groups", trying lures
from each of the six color groups until something clicks with the
fish. That is, I'll try a predominantly white lure, a
predominantly black lure, something brown/green, a
neutral-colored lure, a flash lure and then a bold color in
rotation. Doesn't matter to me if it is day, night, twilight,
sunny, cloudy, calm or rough water, clear water or dirty water,
deep or shallow. Doesn't matter one bit...I think the fish can
pretty much see and sense all colors of all lures 24 hours a day,
seven days a week, spring, summer, winter or fall. So, the
problem to me is not that they cannot see it, but that they are
not biting it. Often, I know there are fish in front of me and I
can see them actively feeding. I just want them to hit something,
anything...and it can be remarkably unpredictable. You have to
discover by trial and error what will trigger the
Micro-tuning. On the other hand, once you do
find what color triggers them, then it can become pretty
predictable AFTER that. In fact, you may be able to really hone
in on them and start micro-tuning into subtle color distinctions.
An example of micro-tuning is this - let's say you've cycled
through the six food groups and bold chartreuse is the hot
ticket. Now, you can attempt to micro-tune into the very best
chartreuse color from within that group. Yamamoto offers four
translucent, screaming bright CHARTREUSE with different
concoctions of sparkly metal flakes and "peppers". Now
chartreuse is good for rambunctious smallies always, and for
pre-spawn and pre-winter largemouth in cool water. Why do they
want that BOLD-colored chartreuse? Cause the bass themselves are
being BOLD and aggressive? Or the chartreuse grubs just look like
glowing green suckers waiting to be eaten. Some people go so far
as to say that the chartreuse triggers an impression of immature
panfish (sunfish and perch), which are an important component of
some local food chains. Personally, I really don't care or try to
figure some things out sometimes. I don't know why they hit the
bold chartreuse so well at times...nor do I really care as long
as they hit it! What I do though, is to micro-tune by trying
several varieties of chartreuse. Being translucent, he pepper and
metal flakes tinge or taint the plastic so that different color
metal flakes produce different colors of the plastic of the grub
bodies. For instance, Yamamoto's 156 is chartreuse with a few
shakes of black pepper and nothing else! This gives the 156 a
definite "taint" that I can only describe as a bit more
"solid", "bolder" and "greener"
than the metallic taints you find in 015 or 181, but not as green
as the 169. That's micro-tuning for you, and you need a few bags
of closely-related colors to do it!
Plan B: Divide all colors into preyfish or crayfish
This is a more natural approach, because it tends to filter
out colors that we normally don't expect to be found in nature.
The obvious assumption is that bass divide their diets between
preyfish and crayfish, so why not divide your soft plastic
color patterns into two series that mimic the natural colors of
preyfish and crayfish?
Preyfish. In most places, adult
bass tend to be piscivorous - fish eaters. They'll
pursue whatever is the most plentiful and easily attainable prey
fish (or free-swimming fish-like critters such as leeches and
I tend to use worms, tubes and single tail grubs as lures that
imitate preyfish. I fish them horizontally, often casting far and
swimming them back steadily like I have some kind of live
baitfish out there on the end of my line. To bass, the skinny
shape (often tapered at the head and tail too) and glide-along
motion of a smoothly swimming worm, tube or single tail grub may
just be all the recognition that's needed to trigger the notion
that it's a live preyfish. Most preyfish are about 4 inches long,
skinny, and essentially "do nothing" most of the day
but float and slowly move along rather uneventfully. Unless
bothered by a predator. Then they hide. But mostly, they just
glide along on hardly-noticeable flicks of their tails that
propel them forward in a rather straight direction. Many preyfish
undersides are either clear like glass and/or reflective like
mirrors, thereby letting bass glimpse the full length but not
necessarily the full girth and shape of a minnow. Sounds like a
worm, tube or single tail grubs to me! Skinny native shoreline
minnows, or "rough" minnows, often have more subdued,
natural hues than the more pelagic shiners and shads which are
more metallic, and the perch, sunnies and other panfish fry,
which have warmer colors (chartreuses, oranges, etc.) in their
- Open water pelagics: (shiners, shads,
herring, alewives, silversides, etc.). Some bodies of water have
LOTS of pelagics. In such waters, bass focus lots of their time
and activity around these pelagics. In some highly pelagic
waters, for example, it may become unproductive to fish shoreline
cover at night because bass are exclusively focusing on eating
mid-lake pelagics by day. Pelagics can move up and down the water
column. You can find them just under the surface at times, or
suspended in the open water column, or just above the thermocline.
Fish accordingly. For colors, think translucents, whites, and
sparkly stuff like Yamamoto's smoke w/silver (135). Translucents
and smokes with metal flakes send out “glimmers” and take on
overtones like gold, silver, copper radiating from within their
bodies. Sunlight gives them a living, vibrant sheen. Use whole or
make partial white/smoke combos. Make a club sandwich of two
silver flake colors, blue pearl w/silver (031) and smoke w/black
& silver (177). Break the two grubs in half with your
thumbnail. Thread one head half on the jig hook, followed by the
other tail half, and join them with a little shot of super glue.
What the smoke/silver half gives you is contrast against the
white/silver half. Contrast is an important thing in a lure.
- Cover-oriented species: (yellow perch,
sunfish, crappies). The predominant preyfish biomass and
therefore bass diet in other waters may be plenty of juvenile
panfish that highly outnumber pelagics. Many farm ponds are good
examples of panfish-centric food chains. Bass will orient their
diets and feeding habits to intercept these young panfish. I use
stuff with a splash of orange/chartreuse and green/black/blue
flecks when they're after young-of-year panfish fry or
boldly-colored cover-oriented minnows. Color patterns like
fire tiger jig skirts can also represent yellow perch and sunfish
patterns. These gaudy patterns provide increased visibility in
thick cover where panfish live, in stained water, or for highly
active fish in spring and fall, particularly pre-spawn.
- Bottom-oriented species: (juvenile cats,
chubs, sculpins, darters, leeches, tadpoles, etc.). There are
some lakes up north where leeches are a prominent part of the
prey biomass, and I know some small ponds that get filled to the
brim with pollywogs come spring! Bass are adaptable and
opportunistic. They will focus in on bottom species at places and
times of plentiful groundfish as fodder. I use bottom-colored
stuff (blacks, browns, greens) to imitate groundfish.
Crayfish. The most important item
in the adult bass diet is usually preyfish. The SECOND most
important item in an adult bass diet is often crayfish - where
they exist - and that's practically everywhere. Unbeknownst to
most anglers, many bodies of water are infested with crayfish.
But unless you start overturning underwater rocks or pulling up
water weeds, you may rarely see them. They change their colors to
blend in perfectly, and they usually hide in the bottom by day.
Even if caught out in the open, they can scoot backwards so
quickly that the human eye can hardly follow them! Although we
may not glimpse crays from day to day, if you know crays exist in
a body of water, then it is safe to assume they can be a
plentiful food source for bass there. Therefore, it is in our
best interest to know as much as we can about colors and lures
that mimic crawfish.
I tend to use spider grubs on fiberguard jig heads to imitate
crayfish - or I use plain double tail grub bodies as trailers on
silicone-skirted jigs. I use them as "dropbaits"
expecting to get hit as the lure falls to the bottom, as it is
shaken/stirred in cover, or on a heavy-headed lift/drop/bang in
deeper water - always right on bottom. In extremely thick cover
where spider or skirted jigs would just get stuck (or not even
penetrate), I resort to Texas rigs with the Yamamoto lifelike
craw imitations (3 & 3S).
What colors imitate crayfish? Crayfish, like
many other species of crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles and
insects, bury under the mud in to hibernate for the winter,
emerging again in early spring. They seem to darken up before
going into the mud. I've seen craws look exactly like color
patterns black w/blue (Yamamoto's 021) and black w/red (051) in
early winter. Both those colors are also great when the craws
emerge from the mud in early spring. I wouldn't worry about when
they start moving about because it is pretty early in the season.
These "mud bugs" will usually be out and about before
you and I begin fishing! Later in the season, when they're
blackish brown, try the watermelon w/black & red (208). When
crayfish are greenish brown with orange spots, use smoke rootbeer
w/green & copper (236).
Crayfish bodies have light-sensitive cells called
chromatophores that automatically adjust the mix of colors that
the cells "expose" to the outside world, thereby
allowing the crayfish to automatically match its color to
wherever it spends most of its time. Their PRIMARY colors are
shades of black, brown, green, or grey. On their pincers, their
backs and lower fringes of the carapace, they have distinctive
SECONDARY color accents, various traces such as blue, red,
orange, white, yellow, or amber.
Just like the crayfish automatically matches its colors to its
location, you should match your imitation craw colors to whatever
color closely approximates the water color, the vegetation color,
the bottom and cover color of the area you are currently fishing.
Try picking a translucent color that matches the unique
color of a particular weed bed, mud bar or crayfish-infested rock
pile. As a translucent lure crawls in and out of underwater
shadows and climbs up or down in depth, the translucence allows
it to mimic the color of its background better.
As a rule, think darker. Crayfish
usually spend most of their time hidden under something or buried
into the bottom by day. Of course, they love living under rocks,
under logs, or under anything else that can serve them as a
hidey-hole. They will form colonies of burrows in hard clay
bottoms, and pile up their diggings by the entrances to their
burrows. They usually come out to forage under darkness of night.
For example, in dark or dingy water, I like a black jig skirt
with a tomato w/black (Yamamoto's 155) trailer for contrast. You
can use a black laundry marker to spot and mottle the back of the
155, but leave the belly tomato. When fishing tannin-stained
waters or over reddish-brown mud or clay bottoms, you can try a
jig 'n pig with a pumpkin-orange skirt and a translucent pumpkin
double tail trailer such as root beer w/gold (149), pumpkin
w/black & gold (216), or the recently discontinued amber
honey/copper flake (182). if you can still get some of these
182s, do so. You won't be sorry.
Summer softshells are delectable! Like
most crustaceans, crayfish can molt during any month when their
metabolisms are high and whenever they need some growing room
inside of their shells. This molting season usually is the few
months from late spring through late summer. A soft shell
crayfish often takes on a pale smoky, almost milky translucent
color with white, orange and powder blue accents. The accents
start out drab, turn quite brilliant as the shell hardens, and
then fade out as the hard shell reverts to the prevailing bottom
color. Bass find softshells to be delectable, and I think this
molting pattern can be imitated with a smoke w/black & copper
(163) or clear w/bronze (200). I make my own "tri-tone
fiberguard" jigs using equal parts of clear, blue, and
orange fibers to further trigger a "soft craw"
resemblance to the bass!
Plan C: Summer shades of greens and browns.
Here is a phenomena that I have observed in my own fishing for
many years now. When the days are at their longest, translucent
brown and brownish-green lures are at their best for bass in
shallow cover. I start relying on darker-colored watermelon
w/black & red (208) in late spring. I phase into
lighter-colored translucent pumpkin w/black & gold flake (216)
and root beer w/gold (149) by mid-summer, followed by more
greenish colors (watermelons, avocados) during late summer.
Doesn't matter what model of plastic either. It applies
equally to hula grubs, single tail grubs, worms, crawdads,
lizards, Ikas, and double tail jig trailers.
This "brown bait" pattern is reliable for me year
after year. Several possible reasons for it may include:
1) Days are longer now. There is more
daylight, causing underwater critters to lighten up their
colorations from dark blacks and browns to paler shades that are
better matched by translucent plastic tones like pumpkins and
2) Any lingering effects of spring rains and run-off
have ended now. This leads to lighter-colored
waters with better visibility, therefore less need for dark,
3) It's a veritable "green scene" right now.
All the aquatic veggies are vibrantly colored and in full and
continued growth. Therefore, most critters that hide in the water
weeds should take on a greener hue now than at any other time of
Anytime you are fishing in shorts and a tee, try it yourself
and you'll see it can be a mean green scene.
Plan D: Stick to My Top Ten List
No discussion of colors would be complete without a basic raw
list of top colors. How Plan D works is that you can just try
these top colors whenever you go fishing. No questions asked, no
explanations given. You can click on the small images to see a
bigger image of exactly how these colors look and you can
even order them online if you so desire. Try them, I think you
will be pleased with the results!
||Cream White 036
w/Black & Copper
||Smoke Rootbeer 236
w/Green & Copper
w/Black & Red
w/Black & Silver
||Amber Honey 182
|Blue Pearl 031
w/Black & Gold
Plan E: Just Use Black, White and Smoke
Plan E is based on the simple yet powerful realization that
all soft plastic colors are obviously dark, light or in
between. To convince you (and me) of this, many times I have
intentionally fished three in a boat with each person choosing to
stick with black, white, or smoke single tail grubs and
ribbontail worms for the entire outing. We did this in pristine
waters, tannic-stained, pea soup, and downright dark and dirty
waters. At certain times or spots, it seemed that one color was
catching better. As one of the three guinea pigs in this
experiment that spanned several years, I often wished to change
colors - the other two individuals also! However, we stuck to it
and as we moved around to different spots, another person's color
would seem to score well for a while, then another. This kept up
so that by the end of an outing, we all made good catches
regardless of color. After repeating this experiment many times
over many seasons, I felt that each of the three individuals was
able to put together a winning presentation based on their own
personal pattern for success each day. They could equally succeed
with black, white or smoke grubs and worms in any area and under
any conditions. This applies to any clarity and color of water
ranging from crystal clear, tea or coffee brown, pea green, rain
or shine, day or night. Therefore, persistence, presentation
style and figuring out a productive pattern are far more
significant than color when it comes to soft plastics such as
single tail grubs and ribbontail worms.
Plan F: At Night. About Bleeders.
At Night. I do an awful lot of night fishing, and in
additon to what you hear so much about black being a hot night
color, you rarely hear that opaque flat white is as good or
better than black at night! I use a lot of white hair jigs with
white pork strips at night (plus white worms, spider grubs,
spinnerbaits and crankbaits).
About Bleeders. I don't use many purple, motor oil or
red plastics, but I am sure there are guys who do. Who knows?
Maybe I should too? Only thing that holds me back is that the
purple, motoroil and red families are all big color
"bleeders" that will taint all your other baits no
matter how hard you try to keep them separated. So, I tend to shy
away from them because they bleed on my other baits, but that
doesn't mean fish don't hammer them! A worm in the red shad color
is one bleeder that I always carry however. It's a two tone with
a black back and red belly. It's been a great bait for me.
Chartreuse is also another big bleeder and one that I always
carry for smallmouth in any season, and for largemouths in early
spring and late fall. Some greens and browns also bleed, but you
can usually mix these all together, and I always carry them like
So what's the moral of the story? How important
Soft plastic lures make at least a few impressions that
trigger a bass to think it is food (or at least alive).
Soft plastics have size, shape, silhouettes, motion, and water
displacement that semi-fit the patterns of a preyfish or crayfish
which are the predominant food items. However, this article was
exclusively about color, so we have limited our comments here to
Color is just one of many factors to selection of a lure.
Sometimes it matters a lot, sometimes seemingly not at all. In
any event, color DOES affect your success every day. On every
trip, you must choose - either the right color(s) or the wrong
ones. It remains a variable that you, as an angler, must
consciously control. Fortunately, color decisions can easily be
broken down into:
- six basic categories,
- natural preyfish or crayfish series,
- limited to a top ten list,
- constricted to black, white or smoke
- plus some green/browns in summer
- blacks and whites at night
- and some bolds for aggressive fish
Those are my color plans. They all perfectly complement each
other with no conflicts. They fit inside each other like a
colorful crazy quilt of a jigsaw puzzle. For me, choosing colors
has become a controllable process that I can systematically apply
to better my success while out on the water. And if none of these
things produce, then there is always the next plan. It's
Plan G: Use whatever color you are using to outfish me!
The color codes used here are those of Gary Yamamoto Custom
Baits. Yamamoto baits come in up to an astonishing 100 colors per
model! Why so many? Because each and every color is somebody
else's hot color!
Hope it helps you color your bassin' world.