Colors and bass: Shades of distinction

As I was organizing my tackle last week, I found a bag of custom painted Strike King crankbaits. I had them painted for the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series postseason championship. They've been in the same place since my boat was parked in the garage after the last event.

Are these works of art really helping me catch bass?

My first experience with custom colors came in the 1980s. I was at Truman Reservoir practicing for the first regional championship I ever qualified to fish. I went to the timber-filled Missouri lake with everything I owned. My partner was an old B.A.S.S. competitor. He had won many events on this lake. My confidence was bubbling!

I made it to his Skeeter boat well before sunrise and loaded what looked to be a yard sale worth of tackle into the passenger side of the boat. I’m sure when my partner got to the dock he thought “Greenhorn!” Then, I took a glance at the single rod that was lying on the front deck. It was a Texas rigged, 8-inch plastic worm. It was nothing out of the ordinary. The ribbontail worm was paired with a 3/8-ounce slip sinker.

The sun was still climbing in the eastern sky when boat number 14 was called. My partner hammered down on the throttle as I desperately tried to prevent three tackleboxes, 15 rods and reels and a lunch cooler from flying out of the boat.

Eventually he set us down along a deep tree line. My partner was in the bow of the boat as he made the first cast of the morning. That's when I got a good look at the color of his bait. It was a strawberry worm with gold flake. I had never seen one before. After he had landed a limit, he was kind enough to offer me a worm. I asked him about the unique color as stepped back to the livewell to check on his solid 15-pound limit. "This is the only lake I have ever caught a bass with this color," he said.

It made me think.

My next learning experience was with a roommate on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail. He was from “homemade heaven.” East Tennessee has hundreds of fishermen that hand craft crankbaits. They are absolutely works of art! Many of these artists use spray paint cans to paint their works. It's truly amazing what they can do.

My roomie had thousands of these baits. They all seemed to look alike to me. We were fishing an event at Lake Seminole. He had a good day on the first day with 12 pounds. The next day he busted 20 pounds. He explained to me he had to make a change in color to catch the bigger fish. Upon investigating his “new” crankbait, it appeared to be the same color. He insisted that a change to a slightly darker olive green on the back of the bait made the difference.

It made me think.

Just last week with the rediscovery of my postseason custom baits, it made me think of the instances I thought I had the perfect lure color for a situation or body of water. As I reflected on past success, one thing began to be abundantly clear.

The custom baits had worked on specific species! I had found my answer, or so I thought. I remembered a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait that I dressed up with a cantaloupe-colored skirt with five strands of red in it. That crazy combination helped me catch the biggest bass in the first 31 years of B.A.S.S. competition history — a 13-9 giant from Richland Chambers Reservoir in Texas. The same fruity-colored bait helped me qualify for a Bassmaster Classic in 2001.

I remember painting a Strike King Series 3 hot pink and getting a nice check in freshly muddied water. Then, there was the time that I left a mixed pile of plastics in the bottom of my boat. The baits bled onto some pumpkin-colored lizards, and I won a Lake Barkley tournament flipping a "swirl" lizard into some bushes. The list goes on and on.

The answer was as clear as mud! It was all about confidence. I was confident in those weird colors. That was the secret ingredient to my success! When an angler has confidence, he can catch bass on a chartreuse hotdog.

Yesterday I was back in my garage preparing my tackle for the upcoming season. My Strike King Series 6XD box was open, and I was replenishing my supply of these deep diving baits. As I put my last Sexy Shad crankbait in its place, I realized that it wasn't too long ago that this particular hue was a special custom color in one well-known angler's box. That guy has all the confidence in the world!

It made me think.

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