I’ve been there, and likely you have, too. The angling grapevine says bass are hitting crankbaits at the local lake; so you hook up the boat and head to the ramp, dump the boat in and head to your first stop.
When you open your crankbait box, you’re faced with a color selection that rivals a king-sized box of Crayons left in the sun for a week. Which one is the right choice? That’s a good question.
Bass fishing professional Jimmy Mason of Rogersville, Ala., knows a thing or two about making color choices. As a full-time guide on Tennessee River impoundments and a B.A.S.S. tournament competitor, Mason has a lot of experience to back up his opinions about crankbait colors.
“When it comes to selecting a crankbait color pattern for largemouth bass, the most important factor to consider is what the bass are feeding on,” Mason said. “Primary forage for bass will vary by season, with crawfish, shad and bream each providing a particular window of opportunity.
“During the winter and early spring, crawfish make up a big part of a bass’ diet. That’s when I’m fishing crawfish patterns that incorporate reds or oranges, as well as firetiger patterns. During the summer and fall, shad are the dominant forage so I pick colors from among various shad patterns.”
Mason points out that being an observant angler helps put the odds in your favor, too, especially during the spring transition period when you are uncertain if bass have made the switch from crawfish to shad.
“It’s obvious that if a shad tail is sticking out of the mouth of a caught bass, then you should be throwing a shad colored crankbait. Of course, the same is true if crawfish pinchers are protruding from the throat of bass – go with a craw pattern.
“However, if prey is not observed and you remain uncertain whether you’ve made the right call, check the back of the throat of the first bass caught for another possible clue. If throat appears reddish or inflamed, then it is likely bass are feeding heavily on crawfish; the throat is raw from crushing shells. That’s a signal for me to tie on my favorite Rayburn Red craw color.”
Another interesting aspect involving a specific color selection occurs on some lakes in the early spring.
“With water temperature in the mid to upper 40s, lake water often takes on a cloudy white appearance which seems to give shad a pinkish glow,” notes Mason. “I’ve found that using a shad pattern with pink accent can be a game changer at this time. That’s when I look to the Bomber Fat Free Shad in Dance’s Pearl White or Foxy Phantom.”
The key shallow bream bite typically occurs in the late spring or early summer – depending on how far north you are. On most lakes, sunfish species begin bedding right after bass complete their spawn, and any bass lingering in the shallows after leaving beds will target sunfish as they gather in spawning colonies.
“In the post-spawn period I go with bream or sunfish pattern for my shallow diving crankbaits,” Mason said. “My favorite bait for this bite is the XCalibur Square Lip Xcs100 in Pumpkinseed pattern. Another prime bait is the XCalibur Xr50 rattle bait “Real Gill” series, offering some of the most colorful panfish patterns on the market.”
Once he’s made his initial choice based on seasonal forage, Mason fine-tunes the exact pattern based on water color and the available light.
“Let’s say bass are chasing shad in the shallows, so I reach for a shad pattern, but ‘shad pattern’ is pretty generic. If the lake is clear and the day is bright, I tie on a more realistic forage pattern featuring detailed gills, eyes, and small areas of a highlight color, such as the standard Foxy Shad pattern.
On the other hand, if fishing stained water or overcast skies, Mason likes a bolder, more visible shad look. He says the Foxy Lady with chartreuse sides gets the nod then.
“I believe that the specific color pattern details are less important the deeper you’re fishing,” Mason said. “The deeper you go, the darker the environment. Highlight colors that provide realistic patterns in shallower water are now washed out. Now you are concerned only with a back, side and belly color, so my recommendation is to go bold.”
In this deep water example, Mason says Tennessee River reservoir anglers have long recognized a blue back/chartreuse side crankbait is very effective for summertime deep cranking. Divers have told Mason that when the water takes on a greenish tint during the summer, a blue/chartreuse crankbait at 20 feet appears the same color as shad. A Bomber Fat Free Shad in Chartreuse Blue is his favored deep-water color on these lakes.
Mason uses the same seasonal crankbait colors on Wheeler and Pickwick when he’s fishing for smallmouth bass, although he notes that smallies show a preference for a little chartreuse any time of year.
“Foxy Shad and Foxy Lady are both shad-imitating color patterns, but if I’m targeting Alabama smallmouth I always go for the Foxy Lady because of the chartreuse sides, regardless of season or water color.
“I’ll take this one step further, and name what I believe to be the best all-around crankbait color for smallmouth everywhere they swim: brown back/chartreuse sides. Bomber’s Rootbeer Chartreuse is the best there is.”
By Corky Cramer