I did a few seminars at fishing and outdoor shows this winter, and one question that I heard quite a few times was, “What are the best colors for crankbaits?”

How well fish see different colors at different times of year plays a role in deciding which baits you pull out of your tackle box, but so do other factors, including the seasonal presence of different live baits in lakes and rivers and whether or not you’re looking for a reaction bite or a bite from a fish that’s actually feeding and likes the looks of something swimming past him.

First things first. I think there are two colors that you can catch fish on just about year-round, anywhere you go fishing. The first is chartreuse/brown back, the color known as “hot mustard.” The second is gray/shad, the one that Berkley calls “honey.” There are about eight or 10 shad colors that are good, and they usually get better toward the fall, but there really aren’t any times you can throw those two specific colors when they aren’t going to produce.

Next, how do you know you’re throwing the right color? This will take studying the way fish bite as your day on the water progresses. For one thing, don’t assume that catching a bass on a certain color means the fish like that color. 

One thing you need to do when you catch a bass on a crankbait is see how he’s got the hook in his mouth. If he’s both hooks and the whole bait in his mouth, then he really wanted it, and it’s the right color. If a bass really wants it, he’ll hit the bait from the side and get at least the front hook and maybe both hooks in his mouth. If he’s hooked only by the back hook, your bait may not be the right color, because most likely, he just slapped at it. It may have been a reaction bite. If you hook a bass and he comes off right away, either you were reeling too fast, or you’re not using the right color; he was just slapping at it.

If you hook a fish and he comes right up and jumps, he probably hit the bait from below and the colors on the bottom of the bait were the most important. When one of them hits it so hard he knocks slack in your line, he was coming from the side, and the colors on the bait’s sides and back were most important.

Seasonally, however, there are some general rules to follow. When you get to spring, all of the crawdad colors are good, your browns, greens, oranges, blues and reds. Crawfish are lots of different colors at different times of the year, but in the spring, crawfish are one of the most-important forage, so you need to be throwing a crawdad-colored bait.

When the spawn has come and gone and the water is clearing up, I think your greens start to do better, and then your greens and blues as you get closer to the time that the bluegill move up to spawn. Blue/pearl, green/pearl, lime/chartreuse, all of those colors are pretty much bluegill colors. You need to take advantage of the fact that bass are paying attention to bluegills and snatching a few of them off their beds as June arrives.

The middle of the summer is when you might have a hard time, because you’ve got all the shad colors to choose from, plus of all the chartreuses. There will be a time when the pearl and shad colors will start going downhill and the chartreuses will do better. Two of my favorites have always been Homer and Clark Gable. Homer is the chartreuse/green plug that David Wright named because it was all that Homer Biesecker, the great High Rock Lake fisherman, ever used. Clark Gable is the green/charteuse with green tiger stripes on the side; Margie Brandon at Scott’s Tackle Shop on High Rock named it Clark Gable because she said it was so pretty.

As you get to fall, the chartreuse colors stay good, and you start to get back to pearls and shads. As a rule, as the water gets cooler, shads and grays and pearls get better. That’s why they’re so good in the winter.

You don’t need to go out and buy every color you see on the shelves in the tackle shop. But you can’t get by with just one or two different colors. I think if you can pick out six or eight different color combinations I’ve mentioned that you have confidence in, you’ll do just fine. 

Color won’t make you or break you, but it’s something you can’t ignore. Color makes a difference when it comes to drawing fish to your bait. A crankbait in just about any color will do okay if you hit him in the nose with it or surprise him and draw a reaction bite, but you need the right color to make him chase your bait and hit it. When you find it, keep throwing it.