Bassmaster Elite Series pro Drew Cook keeps what he calls a “teenage girl’s Sharpie pen kit” in his boat, plus “Dollar General” nail polish in assorted colors. He uses them to touch up a variety of baits so they more closely resemble whatever the bass are eating and to adjust to the water’s color.
Cook is a big fan of the firetiger pattern on crankbaits, especially when he’s fishing a tidal river. He claimed that it is “almost a forgotten color.”
During the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on the Sabine River, he Sharpied-up a Spro Little John 50, one of his favorite shallow crankbaits, to give it more of a firetiger appearance. The bait helped him claim fifth place.
Sharpies once did the trick for Cook on the St. Lawrence River. The Spro McStick 110 in the perch color was a close match to the baitfish the smallmouth were after. But to make the bass strike with more zeal, Cook went to work with his colorful pens.
“Those perch are pretty bright up there,” Cook said. “I brightened up the underside of the McStick with yellow and caught them really good.”
Make them commit
When the bass are barely getting hooked on crankbaits, it’s a good indication that you need to tweak the lure’s color, Cook stressed.
“A lot of times halfhearted strikes are due to the retrieve, but it can also be the color,” Cook said. “If they’re not getting the crankbait in their throat, you can make the color better.”
To find clues to the correct hues, Cook often looks in his livewell to see what the bass have spit up. When shad are the main course, he reaches for a red Sharpie to gussy up his shad-pattern jerkbaits. He typically starts by outlining the gill plates in red. The bait’s nose also gets a dab of red.
“If you’ve ever seen a dying shad by itself on the surface, it normally has some red on its nose,” Cook said. “A red nose makes the bait look like an injured baitfish, and it encourages the bass to eat the bait headfirst for better hookups.”
Since bass are such opportunistic feeders, coloring a lure to look like a specific forage fish isn’t always the best way to go. In one instance, Cook’s bass were feeding on bluegill and shad. He gave the bass the best of both worlds by adding some chartreuse to the sides of a shad-colored bait.
Cook doesn’t waste money on pricey fingernail polish. He buys the cheapest stuff he can find at the local dollar store and claimed it works just as well for painting lures.
“Nail polish pops a little more and really stands out,” Cook said. “It also works better on spinnerbait blades than the Sharpies do.”
Red, orange and chartreuse are the primary nail polish colors he applies to spinnerbait blades. One advantage with nail polish is that you don’t need to carry spare colored blades in assorted styles and sizes. Simply paint the blades on the spinnerbait you wish to use and let the nail polish dry for five or 10 minutes.
“In dirtier water I normally go with chartreuse to make the blades stand out,” Cook said. “But I may use red or orange. It depends how shallow it is and what the bass are feeding on. In springtime in muddy water, painting the kicker blade red can make a big difference.”
When the bass are chomping bluegills in Cook’s home state of Florida, he often picks them off with a Nichols spinnerbait that sports black and blue metalflake blades. They resemble the Junebug color that works so well with soft plastic baits in the Sunshine State.
To give the spinnerbait bluegill highlights, he paints the tips of the blades with chartreuse nail polish.