Our Outdoors: A Blaze of Color

Nick Simonson

By Nick Simonson

When it comes to angling, I’m a huge fan of matching the hatch to catch more fish and will often start with something natural on that first cast if I know what bass, walleyes, pike and other species I pursue are eating.  Silver jig-and-twister patterns shine for walleyes when the spottails are running in the creek.  Perch crankbaits are dynamite when those three-to-four-inch schools are available in a water for predator fish.  A trolled spinner or slow death rig with a deep blue, purple, or heck, even a lifelike bluegill pattern painted on the blade works wonders when those prey fish are present.  However, there are times, and I still can’t explain it after decades of offering them up, where the brightest, gaudiest, most outrageous color patterns seem to outperform anything that looks natural.

I have a buddy who toted boxes of crawler harnesses to the lake one night, and suggested that any one of them would work, as long as it was chartreuse.  Opening up the spinner storage, sure enough, more than 80 percent of them were the electric, greenish yellow, which became a staple on my home water for walleyes. Similarly, downstream on the river a bright orange always seemed to work best in triggering the massive smallmouth bass lurking on every rockpile and behind every current break.  Simply casting out an X-Rap, or even just subtly working an eighth-ounce jig to match the setting summer sun seemed to set them off.  Finally, in the backwaters off the main lake at the family cabin, the brightest of bright pinks is the ticket for largemouth bass.  Whether in a Trick Worm, a Senko or a stick bait like a Husky Jerk, hot pink is the ticket for even hotter fishing when it comes to bucketmouths.

Thinking about it and knowing what I do about fishing, and armchair biology, makes the process of figuring out why these hues work so well even more maddening.  None of these colors seem to match anything in the wild.  There are no bright pink fish, save for those thousands of miles away tucked into the crannies of some coral reef in the salty waters of the ocean.  It’s tough to come by any sort of green on a species in our area’s waters that rivals the day glow shade of chartreuse mass produced for fishing. And, perhaps outside of the accentuating trim found in the limited areas of the eyes of smallmouth bass, on the scales of yellow perch, and maybe certain sunfish, bright orange is minimal in the aquatic world as well.  Yet all three colors have produced beyond just about any natural shade in my arsenal.  While I’ll continue to ask why with each fish that comes aboard and is turned back into the water, it seems that as in the past, they won’t be explaining their reasoning for striking these standout colors.

Similar to part of that timeless statement on faith, for those who believe in their brightly-colored baits, no explanation is necessary, and sometimes it is essential to simply accept the fact that they work, despite looking like nothing in the food chain.  Seeing the experience of angling as a mix of skill, belief, art, science, and luck which mirrors the human existence in so many ways big and small, sometimes we just get the answer without having to show our work in how we got there. 

Despite tracking the water temperature, moon phase, forage base, insect hatches, water levels and all those other good-to-know items that help increase the odds on a given fishing trip, part of the process means making a discovery that sets the darkness (or clear, or slightly-stained conditions) of the water below ablaze with those out-of-the ordinary colors that connect with fish and build confidence that defies explanation…in our outdoors.

Featured Photo: Got It Covered. While natural colored baits are a good starting point, confidence colors like bright orange or pink work well on certain waters, even defying explanation as to their effectiveness. Simonson Photo.

Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.

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