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Smoke and mirrors


July 26, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

I've been around the fishing tackle industry most of my life and never cease to be amazed at how gullible fishermen can be.

The color of lures is a good example. Color plays an important role in catching fish, but I believe color's main role is to catch fishermen. I had to smile recently as I walked the aisles at a recent fishing tackle show where all the new products for the coming year were unveiled.

One company was pushing a new bright red fishing line. They claimed red was invisible to fish. An aisle over, another manufacturer was pushing red fish hooks. They claimed red hooks were more visible to fish and made them bite.

The first fishing lures, back in 1890, were painted black and white, evolving to a more colorful blue and white, then changing to red and white. Red and white held the lead for many years.


Then, natural colors like crawfish, frog, shad, perch and bluegill started gaining popularity. Manufacturers, just to be on the safe side, continued to keep the belly color light and paint the throat area of the lures red.

The reason for their uneasiness was because the natural colors of bait fish, frogs and crawfish are camouflaged by Mother Nature, making them hard for fish to spot.

Although manufactures were out to catch fishermen, they wanted to be sure their products caught fish, too, so red and white was added as part of the natural look.

In 1967 the color chartreuse was introduced and quickly became the most popular selling color worldwide, but oddly enough fishermen still shunned the color in certain baits.

Chartreuse, and combinations of it, along with other colors, remain the favorite choice of fishermen for fishing plugs, spinner baits and soft plastic grubs. But try to sell a fisherman a chartreuse worm, which catches fish better than many other colors, and it becomes an impossible task.

Does color matter that much? The majority of fishermen sure think it does, even to the point of being ridiculous. I remember one irate customer who raked me over the coals because we changed the glitter in a soft plastic bait from square to hexagon in shape.

At the other end of the spectrum are the commercial fishermen who make their living fishing for halibut. Their entire yearly income depends on what they catch during a season that only lasts a few weeks. We manufacture a popular soft plastic lure they attach to their long-lines.

Since they buy thousands of pounds of these large lures from us, we obviously offer to make them in whatever color they prefer. What are the exotic top colors they order? There's only two — white and black. When I asked them about it they said color didn't make much difference. They said they start with white and if that doesn't work they change to black. If that doesn't work, they figure the fish aren't biting and steer a course for home.

Twenty years ago Loren Hill, a fisheries biologist at the University of Oklahoma, performed an interesting color experiment with largemouth bass. He trained bass to bump a hinged plate whenever they wanted food. He found that under certain light conditions and water clarity, bass had trouble spotting the plate when painted in various colors. Using this information he devised a meter, that when lowered into the water, would tell which color bass could see the easiest, depending on the clarity and light conditions.

I had known Dr. Hill for a few years before he started his experiment and helped test his device before it was finally introduced to the fishing world.

I received the experimental color meter along with two dozen crankbaits, each painted with the different colors shown on the meter. An outdoor writer and friend, Michael, joined me at Walter's Camp on the Colorado River to give the meter a try. The meter told us to use many different colors as the sun began to rise but once up, colors didn't change much until the sun began to set and then colors again changed rapidly.

We caught lots of fish that day but the most remarkable thing happened as the sun was setting. I was using the correct chocolate brown crankbait and was catching bass with every cast but within 10 minutes the hot action stopped.

Michael stuck the meter in the water, laughed and said, "You're not going to believe this," as he tied on a crankbait in a shocking feminine pink.

I razzed him as he made his first cast, but the pink lure got the last laugh as he caught a bass every cast for 15 minutes before the bite died.

We quickly checked the meter and scrambled to switch to the indicated gold color. Again we continued to catch bass for another five minutes before things slowed. By then the mosquitoes were trying to carry us off, so we left.

I believe the real secret to color is having confidence in it. If you do, you'll catch fish with it.

Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at

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