Everyone has a theory on colors when it comes to selecting lures for inshore fishing. The generally accepted rule, and this applies everywhere in freshwater and salt, is to fish dark colors in stained water and more natural colors when the water is clearer.
It makes sense. Most of the time, our favorite inshore species, whether they be trout, reds, flounder or snook, are feeding on shrimp or baitfish that are pale, sometimes translucent in color. In clear water, there is more visibility and more opportunity for gamefish to inspect an offering before taking it. This explains the natural colors in clear water theory. It calls for soft plastics in clear-sparkle, bone or pearl colors and hard baits in white or light gray with some silver flash.
But what about dark colors in muddy water? Color selection becomes more about visibility than natural appearance in dingy water. Without the added attraction of scent, sound and vibration—all which can be remedied by lure selection— we’re relying on fish to see the offering. Darker colors show up better in murky water, and two-tone combinations of colors provide contrast. This calls for plum, purple, motor oil, pumpkinseed or combinations thereof.
And then there’s chartreuse. No color in the spectrum has proven more effective at catching fish, and this is a tough one to explain. Nothing fish eat even closely resembles this ridiculous bright green. But it works. No matter when, where or the conditions, it rarely hurts to choose a bait with a little chartreuse in it.
To dive a little deeper, keeping up with the seasonal patterns on your bay, marsh or flat also makes sense. When glass minnows or small mullet are thick, obviously lighter-colored baits best “match the hatch.” A silver spoon with a white bucktail can be killer when trout and reds are keying on finfish. When shrimp are on the move, everything eats them. Browns and pinks become important. You might want to break out that gold spoon or any number of soft-plastic shrimp imitations.
Of course, we’ve all been in situations when one color outperforms another for no apparent reason. That’s why it’s good to fish with a buddy. Start out throwing different baits and then hone in on a pattern once one of you starts getting bites. Gamefish survive feeding on forage that is often very hard for them to see. Vibration, sound, scent and movement are key to their ability to hunt. For this reason, lure choice and the way an angler fishes it are usually more important than color. Color can be like fine-tuning the presentation. Finding the right color definitely makes a difference, but first you’ve got to check the other variables off the list.