Anglers need a game plan when they head to the tackle shop. Not only is the style of the lure important, so is the hue. In fact, color might be one of those overlooked variables that’s keeping you from maximizing your fish-catching potential. This advice from five experienced captains will help shorten your learning curve.
Florida Keys Favorites
“Purple, black and clear for blue marlin,” answers Florida Keys Capt. Jim Sharpe when asked his favorite trolling lure colors. “But initially, I couldn’t figure out why. Then, while trolling down to the west, I came across a school of skipjacks and some followed the boat. Well, that purple, black and clear lure smoking in the spread looked just like one of those skipjacks. Marlin eat skipjacks. That justified that color combination for me. It produces for blue marlin.”
Sharpe also cites the natural look for mahi and blackfins. “We once put a flying fish that landed in the boat into the livewell—it turned a brilliant blue,” he says. “Lit-up shades of blue on white or silver, be it on skirts or lures, resemble a flying fish in distress. That color combo gets strikes.
“Small multicolored lures with gold in them also seem to catch the bigger blackfins, along with mahimahi and sails. I believe gold picks up that color accent in a blackfin, and just about anything eats juvenile blackfins.”
Jersey to the Bahamas
Capt. Joe Trainor enjoyed a hot hand in big-game tournaments this past season. The pro from Avalon, New Jersey, scored a 657-pound blue marlin during a Cape May event and was in the cash in several other competitions. Trainor also fishes the far reaches of the Bahamas, where, in addition to blue and white marlin, he has boated 14 wahoo larger than 100 pounds. He also prefers natural hues.
“I do believe color makes a difference,” Trainor says. “We generally mix colors initially to see which ones the fish are showing a preference for, but blue and white combinations remain a Bahamas standout because of their flying fish likeness. For wahoo, it’s purple and black, and also red and black—patterns of skipjacks, bonito, blackfins and yellowfins that big wahoo feed on. For blue marlin, definitely green and black, which picks up a mahi pattern.
“Word is also getting out about pure black. We’ve been using more of it, be it black dredges, mudflaps and even lures. Perhaps black stands out better on clear days, picks up the dark topsides of fish, or both? But it’s fast becoming a hot color by itself.”
Mid-Atlantic and South
I’ve been a longtime believer in matching skirts and lures to the most abundant forage. That is, for mahi, I’ll pick blue and white, blue and silver (flying fish). Don’t sleep on green and yellow when targeting bruiser mahi because they regularly consume their own.
Sailfish and white and blue marlin also key in on dorado-mimicking colors. Green lures have long been popular off the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, especially for white marlin and tuna. Most offshore pelagics feed on mahi.
However, like any good card player, you need to know when to present the right hand. Case in point: While fishing offshore of the Green Turtle Club in Abaco in the Bahamas this past May, we trolled skirted ballyhoo and lures in various sizes. Since mahi were around, the larger baits intended for blue marlin carried green-and-yellow skirts or lure heads, whereas the small ballyhoo and lures were a mix between green and yellow and blue and silver for white marlin, sailfish and tuna.
In one area, flying fish and blackfins were everywhere. I switched out a pair of flat-line ballyhoo and dressed them with blue-and-silver skirts. Soon after, a white marlin rose on our port teaser and charged one of the ballyhoo I replaced. Would the white marlin have eaten a mahi color pattern? We’ll never know, but I’ve seen color truly make a difference in situations before.
On the Drop
Deep Jigs and UV Light
Successful deep-jigging is also color-driven, particularly old-school leads. For example, when adding a ballyhoo to a traditional arrowhead jig for grouper and snapper, pure white, or white with a red head, often outproduces yellow colors.
By comparison, yellow is more productive when probing offshore weed lines and debris for mahi and bailing schoolfish with bucktails. That’s because yellow mimics a favorite mahi forage, the pufferfish. Yellow is also closer to the hues of banded rudderfish, tripletail, bar jacks, and other species living among the weeds.
Benny Ortiz is a master at flutter-style jigging, having mastered the art to as deep as 1,100 feet. What’s his take on the best producing hues?
“Color does matter with these irons, but maybe not to the extent people think,” Ortiz says. “I believe irons that reflect UV light—like chartreuse, orange and pink—produce best in pretty much all depths, given that UV light penetrates deeper than standard light. Take golden tilefish, for example, which are caught in and around 1,000-foot depths. They have huge eyes—they’re able to see something. So, it’s not just sensing movement and vibrations. I’m sure they can see these irons, and certain ones do stand out better.”
Ortiz goes a bit deeper on his color choices.
“If I had to break it down, I’ll go with hues that best reflect UV light,” he says. “However, in depths shallower than 350 feet, dark green on top and silver or lighter undersides often work much better than solid colors.”
Ortiz believes dark-to-light transitions could resemble the goggle-eyes, jacks and other juvenile gamefish abundant throughout these depths. He agrees that irons with glow-in-the-dark accents are solid producers in deep water with little or no light.
“In waters deeper than 450 feet, some element of glow works,” Ortiz says. “It might lend a faint amount of brightness to where it’s noticed, in addition to the vibrations.”
What about the hues of skirts and lures that don’t resemble baitfish, such as orange, red, pink and clear?
Squid, for example, turn wild colors based on excitement levels, light conditions and mating. And nearly everything in the ocean eats squid. Adding an oddball color to a spread could set it apart from the others. The unusual color is often fished behind the spread, where it appears weak and lagging.
Frank Johnson Jr., of Mold Craft Lures, says his company sells far more dark-colored lures that resemble forage species than oddball colors. “I believe offbeat lure colors are more of a function of creative integration by anglers rather than functionality,” Johnson says. “I’ve been told by many big-game captains that color isn’t readily noticed until a fish gets within 30 feet of a bait. Until then, lures appear dark to the fish. When a fish enters a spread, then specific colors and patterns could come into play.”
As Joe Trainor mentioned, sometimes it’s best to set out various colors to see what the fish are keying in on. However, if your bait spread is being ignored, try adding an oddball color. It might just pay off.