Topwater Colors According to Ronnie Pettit
Can bass see more than just the belly color on a topwater plug? I
recently had a chance to ask Ronnie Pettit about his opinion on
this question and more. A little about Ronnie is that he had hand
crafted topwater lures, and most of the people who had used them
say his topwaters are the best. His clients were serious topwater
technicians, and most of them ordered their own special custom
paint jobs from Ronnie. Currently, his lures are not available,
but here is an interview that contains some of Ronnie's insights
Do fish only see the belly color of a topwater plug?
Can they see the color patterns on the sides or top too?
Ronnie: I paint topwater lures as though the
fish are going to see the bait from every angle. While I don't
believe the extreme top of the lure is seen, I do believe that a
fish gets at least a 3/4 view of a top water lure.
Bassdozer: I also believe fish see the colors
high up on the sides of the bait. The ever-shifting surface of
the water causes infinite numbers of reflective angles that can
reveal these colors to fish. Also, walking the dog and actively
popping causes the bait itself to expose an astronomical number
of different viewing angles to the fish.
What color patterns do you think work best on topwater
Ronnie: I believe the entire pattern should
follow the examples of nature and specifically those of prey. The
natural order for fish is dark on top and light on bottom. That
is our minimum standard from nature. From there we can suggest
shad with silver sides and white belly and black dot behind the
gills. We can suggest bluegill with an orange or yellow belly and
so forth. So that's the minimum standard, but it gets complicated
beyond that because the variables and conditions in nature are
endless, and once you factor in all the varying color patterns
ever made that have caught bass...So while a fish may eat and
strike at many things or colors, I still believe that the better
we are at suggesting the target prey the more fish we will catch.
In clear water that includes more than just the absolute bottom
of the lure. In dirty water it may not.
When fish are looking up towards the sun at topwaters,
do you think they can see the colors on the bait?
Ronnie: When we speculate about what a fish
can or cannot see when looking up towards the sun, I think we
innocently assume that fish see what humans see. To the contrary,
I think fish see a lot more than humans do in this kind of
situation. Sight is always touted as the bass's strongest and
most important sense. I think that a fish can see and
differentiate color values far better than we realize. The human
eye is not able to distinguish extremes in light and dark and
therefore makes a lousy benchmark for judging what a bass can
Topwater colors and finishes are becoming increasingly
more realistic these days. What about realism in topwaters?
Ronnie: We know fish have good eyesight.. so
now the question becomes.. does it matter if the offering does
not look exactly like the real thing? I believe that because we
are dealing with an animal driven by instinct not reason we as
fishermen are able to "squeak" by using colors and
shapes that "suggest" food. My art background has
taught me that photo realism is rarely needed to get the point
across. All we really have to do is give enough illusion to
suggest prey fish to the bass and its instinct will take over
I believe that a bass is programmed to prey upon anything its
instinct recognizes as food. It does not have to be picture
perfect. We simply have to send out the right signals. We have
accomplished that with the walking, splashing, and popping sounds
and movements our lures make. The problem is fishing pressure,
hundreds of mechanical lures drug through a spot, and other
unnatural or human factors work together to fine tune the
survival skill of fish. So now that we are forced to become
increasingly clever to "show them something they have not
seen," we start questioning every detail of our offering.
We still should not give the fish too much credit... what do
split rings and treble hooks simulate? How many bait fish sound
like a tin can full of BBs? Why would a bass hit a Zara Spook
colored like a frog? I have never seen a frog shaped like that or
one that could move like that. I believe that as fishing pressure
increases we will have to become better at fooling fish. That
includes lure movement AND color. While complete realism may not
be necessary - that's called shiner fishing - we who want the
edge over the next guy should be better at suggesting food.
What about the concept of dark topwater lures for dark
days and at night?
Ronnie: As for the conventional wisdom on
lure color for night fishing or low light.... I understand the
concept but I am not convinced that the fish are reading the same
play book or following the same script that we do. While I
usually use dark lures at night because "I am supposed
to" I really have never been able to notice the difference.
Bassdozer: I would just like to add that I
have caught more fish at night on pure white topwaters and
crankbaits than I have on pure black ones.
Bassdozer: Thank you so much, Ronnie, for
giving us your insight into topwater colors.