The Complete Bass Fishing Lure Color Selection Guide
Many factors go into choosing the right bass lure. Time of year, forage, weather conditions and water temperature are just a few. Though the truth is, you could have the best lure for the situation, but if the color is wrong, it could all be for nothing.
Finding a color that the bass will bite on is a delicate balance; it’ll take some time and experience to master. Here, we will outline a few basic principles and guidelines to put you on the path to consistently selecting that killer lure color.
Bass can be found in a vast range of environments – you can fish for them in crystal clear water, or in water that resembles chocolate milk.
The term underwater visibility refers to how far you (or the fish) can see when underwater. It’s a factor affected by weather, sunlight, bottom type, and water clarity. And it’s absolutely crucial to consider when selecting a lure color.
It’s also inconsistent. The underwater visibility in a body of water can be high one day and low the next. This changing nature also depends on the specific water we’re talking about. You can count on certain lakes and rivers to fluctuate in terms of visibility, while others will remain consistent throughout the year.
Knowing your local area and paying attention to past and current weather conditions will help you understand and predict underwater visibility.
For this article, we’ve defined the three most common types of underwater visibility:
- High (clear): More than 5 feet of visibility
- Medium (stained): 1-5 feet of visibility
- Low (murky/dirty/muddy): Less than 1 foot of visibility
Murky water can be tough to fish in, but with the right lure color, it can be highly productive
Lure Colors for High Underwater Visibility
Colors best suited to clear water should match the area’s natural forage species as much as possible. These colors typically include:
Light Green or ‘Watermelon’
Bright colors can also work well in clear water, especially deep water with reduced light penetration. Personal recommendations include:
Lure Colors for Medium Underwater Visibility
For medium underwater visibility, you must strike a balance between realistic colors and colors that stand out enough for bass to see them. Good options include:
Dark Green or ‘Green Pumpkin’
Blue/Purple or ‘Junebug’
Lures that include both light and dark colors will give even more contrast in stained water and can help put more bass on the bank.
Lure Colors for Low Underwater Visibility
Color selection for low underwater visibility can be one of two extremes, very dark or very bright. Dark colors will stand out as silhouettes in murky water, while bright colors such as white or chartreuse will simply be more visible. Examples include:
Blue or Black/Blue
Again, lures containing light and dark colors will give you the best of both worlds and can be a great option in murky water.
Universally Effective Lure Colors
As you may have noticed, some of the colors we listed were repeated for all three levels of underwater visibility. These colors have the potential to be used everywhere.
As a bass angler, these are the colors you should always have at the ready. They are also fantastic choices to start with if you’re starting on a new water without a clue.
Factors Affecting Underwater Visibility
Now we have a general understanding of underwater visibility and how to handle it, let’s look at some of the factors that directly impact it.
1. Water Clarity
Water clarity refers to how much sediment or debris is present – the more residue in the water, the lower the water clarity. Reduced water clarity restricts how far a fish can see and therefore lowers underwater visibility.
Weather conditions such as wind and rain can stir up sediment and debris at the bottom or blow it in from the surrounding terrain.
The bottom composition also influences water clarity. Many bass lakes in the northern US have rocky bottoms and are famous for their clear water. Some even have over 10 feet of underwater visibility!
On the other hand, lakes and rivers connected to marshes often have low water clarity because of their muddy bottoms and localized flooding.
You can fish for bass in almost any kind of freshwater
Naturally, the deeper you go, the less light is present and the darker it gets. This ultimately means that underwater visibility gets lower the deeper you fish.
For most bass fishing techniques, it’s uncommon to be fishing any lower than 20 feet. With that said, still consider depth when looking at your lure color.
Notice how different colors drop away as the depth increases
3. Bottom Color
The bottom color will also impact underwater visibility – light-colored bottoms will increase visibility, and dark-colored bottoms will decrease it.
Ideally, your lure should also contrast with the bottom to ensure bass can spot it. However, too much contrast will make it seem out of place and prevent the bass from biting. Remember what we said about it being a delicate balance?
Generally speaking, the bottom will consist of either light-colored sand/sediment, grey rocks/boulders, green vegetation, or dark mud and muck. These bottom types can often be present in a single body of water, which is precisely why having an assortment of lure colors will ensure you’re always ready.
Polarized sunglasses are a must-have bass fishing tool; their lenses deflect the sun’s reflection from the water. This allows you to see what’s below the surface, enabling you to determine the bottom composition and spot fish in shallow water.
4. Light Conditions
Light conditions also affect underwater visibility – it’s much harder to see something in the dead of night than in the day.
On sunny days, underwater visibility increases, and natural lure colors will be most effective.
During the low-light hours of dawn and dusk (or even on overcast days), bright colors may be the way to go, as they give bass the best chance of seeing your lure. Very dark colors also work in these conditions, appearing as contrasting silhouettes on which the fish can hone in.
Sunny days increase underwater visibility
How to Determine Underwater Visibility
There is a simple method for determining underwater visibility that requires only a white lure. Gently lower the lure into the water and let it descend. When you can no longer see it, note how much line has been spent – that’s the level of visibility you’re working with.
Other factors will help you fine-tune your lure color choice for the specific situation. While there is no mathematical bass fishing lure color selector formula, try to follow a rough process in your head. Once you’ve narrowed down all the options based on the variables and the conditions, you’ll be left with something close to the perfect lure color.
Time of Year and Preferred Forage
The time of year and preferred forage greatly influence which colors and lures will catch bass and which won’t. You will probably have more luck with a topwater frog in summer compared to the middle of winter.
Even if the lure you’re using is appropriate for the time of year, always match the color to the natural forage. A shad patterned crankbait in a lake where the primary forage is yellow perch may catch one or two, but you’d be much better off trying to mimic a yellow perch.
Crayfish are a favorite forage species for bass, especially in the spring
Night fishing is essentially the same as fishing in very low water visibility, and so follows the same principles. Use a black lure to cast a silhouette that fish can identify, or use very bright baits that absorb as much ambient light as possible.
When choosing a lure color for topwater fishing, remember that bass will be looking up at the bottom of your lure. Therefore, check the bottom to establish if it’s a suitable color for the conditions.
Also, you’ll want to ensure the bottom isn’t too similar to the color of the sky. Otherwise, it might blend in, and fish won’t identify it as easily.
For overcast days, use dark-colored topwater lures and light colors on clear days.
Remember, bass will only see the bottom of your topwater lure, so choose the color wisely
The Random Lure
There may be times when, despite conventional wisdom, a color you don’t expect to work ends up catching tons of bass. Similarly, you may find yourself in a position where you’re positive you have the right lure color, but the fish may just not want to bite.
I regularly fish for smallmouth bass in a small local river. The water visibility here is very dependent on rainfall. During periods of heavy rain, the river becomes very muddy and has no visibility, and the reverse is true during dry spells.
On this river, it doesn’t seem to matter what the visibility is – white-colored lures almost always get the job done. Although white is a great all-around color, it works disproportionately well on this river.Another strange phenomenon is the use of pink-colored lures in clear water. In several of the super-clear lakes in Michigan, smallmouths go crazy for a pink plastic lure rigged on a ned head.
Bright pink is far from a natural color, but it works, so I don’t question it. These types of situations are common in the world of bass fishing. The lure color selection process can be as complex as you make it. My advice is to try and keep it simple in your mind and run with it when things work.
A fantastic largemouth bass caught using a soft plastic worm in watermelon (light green)
Using optimal lure colors will significantly increase your success rate. Remember the key fundamentals we have discussed here around underwater visibility, what contributes to it, and the other factors that go into color choice.
Follow a rough formula and fine-tune it to suit your favorite fishing spots and preferred techniques. With a bit of experience, you’ll be able to take a lot of the guesswork out of choosing the right lure color, making your fishing trips more fruitful and enjoyable.