Limit your colors


Steve Bowman

I’m going to write something that might surprise you coming from a professional bass angler. Most bass anglers worry too much about colors. They jump on stuff that looks good to them without thinking about it from the bass’ perspective.

You only need three colors in your boat, hard bait or plastic doesn’t make any difference. More is a waste of space and money. But — and here’s the key — the three you carry will vary from one lake or river to another.

Here’s my thinking:

You always need a shad color of some sort. Shad live almost everywhere and bass eat them if they’re available. Think about those two things and the conclusion is obvious. Shad colors work.

Every maker, including my sponsors, all make several different variations of finishes that look like a shad. Pick one that comes closest to the shad where you’re fishing. That’ll get you through almost every situation regardless of the season. 

If the water’s especially clear, you might want one that’s somewhat translucent. If it’s especially dirty, you might want one with a touch of a bright color or something darker than normal. But that doesn’t change a thing I said. It needs to be shad.

The next color you need in your boat is something that looks like the panfish where you fish. That varies a lot. Bluegill don’t look much like crappie, and neither one of them look like a perch. Look around and see what they look like in the water before you buy anything.

Last, you need something that looks like whatever crawls on the bottom of your lake. There are thousands of different species of crayfish and each has its own color characteristics and seasonal colors. Worms and leeches are no different. Again, look before you buy.

A quality lure maker like Rapala might offer a lure in 24 different colors. That doesn’t mean you have to own three or four of each, and it doesn’t mean that Rapala is trying to trick you into buying everything they make. Each of those colors is meant to represent something that swims.

Let’s go back to panfish. Rapala probably offers at least a dozen different color variations that look like some species of panfish that lives somewhere in North America. They do that so that you can get something that matches the hatch. They don’t do it for the heck of it, and they’re smart enough to know you aren’t going to buy them all.

Be especially wary of carrying too many colors when it comes to plastics. The color variations in plastics are limitless. Between what’s poured by companies like Berkley and what you can do with dye and color pens there’s no limit. But, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to have dozens and dozens of them with you at all times. You don’t. All you need is something that looks like a shad, a panfish and a bottom dweller. Modify it if you want to meet water conditions but stick to the three basics.

Fish smart. Pay attention to color, but limit your choices to what you know will attract bites and then spend your time finding them and figuring out how they want it.  

Mike Iaconelli's column appears weekly on You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter or visit his website,