A lot of things change when the seasons move from summer to fall. The nights get cooler, the days shorter, and then there’s those beautiful fall colors. Fall is not just the time of color for the landscape, however. This is a time of year when experimenting with lure color can play a major role in walleye fishing success … especially crankbait color. Its no secret that fall can be trophy time for walleyes, and few presentations target big walleyes better than crankbaits. Color choice is never the most important factor when fishing cranks but can be the final tweak when figuring out the perfect presentation. Most importantly, crankbait considerations have to take in account location, lure action, the walleyes’ mood, location, weather, location … did I mention location! Certainly though, color is the final key to Pandora’s presentation box and there are definitely some color patterns that a walleye angler should be attuned to.
Its tough to make generalizations as to what colors will be hot and which ones won’t be. That seems to change from one body of water to the next. One thing for sure is that during the fall walleyes will be aggressive and in a crankbait eating mood. This is the perfect time to experiment with colors…when the fish are biting. Because cranks play such an important role in the fall bite you’ll probably find some off the wall colors that really whale fish. Make sure that you file those colors in your memory bank and use those same colors on that body of water in subsequent visits, no matter what time of year it is.
As walleye anglers, we have a vast selection of crankbait colors to choose from. In fact some people think that there are times when it would seem that lure manufacturers have gone out of their way to provide more colors of lures than we could ever use in a lifetime on the water. I disagree. Color choices make fishing interesting, and in my experience there is always a new “hot color” that shows up on any given body of water. How could we discover that hot color if no one ventured to make it? Admittedly all those choices can make choosing the right crankbait color a daunting task, but it really doesn’t need to be. When you’re looking to put together the ultimate collection of walleye crankbait colors, you’ll need to consider where you plan to do your fishing. Most anglers stick pretty close to home, so it becomes much easier to learn what colors work best under what conditions. If you’re like me, and travel a great deal to satisfy your walleye fishing addiction, then chances are you’re going to need a wider variety of crankbait colors to choose from.
I tend to categorize things; it’s just my nature. Crankbait colors are no exception. For crankbait colors, I break them down as Standard Natural Colors, Hi-Vis colors, and New Breed Colors. By breaking things down like this, I can more easily put together an arsenal of cranks for any given fishing trip and be relatively sure I’ll have the right color for most any situation.
Standard Natural Colors:
Standards are the colors most all of us are familiar with. These would include Perch, Shad, Crawfish, Silver-Black Back, Silver-Blue Back, and Gold-Black Back as representative examples. Most manufacturers offer cranks in these colors so they’re pretty easy to stock up on, no matter what brand of lure you prefer. I like to think of these primarily as my clear to slightly stained water “Match the Hatch” colors. Knowing what the walleyes prefer to forage on in your favorite body of water will help you determine which of these colors you should stock the most of.
Just as the name implies, I consider these colors to be bright and easy to see. The most popular in this group would be Fire Tiger. But all variations of chartreuse, red, and orange, along with white or pearl fall into this category. There are almost limitless variations of these types of colors and all can work well under all conditions but I have to be honest by saying that I usually pick one out to use when the water in dirty or stained. Bright colors under these conditions rock! The exception to this rule is the use of white or pearl in the color mix of the bait. White can be excellent in clear water also, depending on the forage of your lake choice, so don’t be afraid to include a good assortment of white or pearl based lures in your arsenal.
New Breed Colors:
This is the catch-all category. I would rank metallic colors in this category as they are a relatively new clear water phenomena. Others can range from gaudy to ultra realistic. With advances in lure manufacturing, some of the color patterns being produced these days are really eye popping. I also think a large number of the color patterns in this group have come from Great Lakes anglers. It always seems that open water crankbait trollers find success with some of the wildest colors on the market. Metallic variations on the standard FireTiger pattern and metallic green, blue and chartreuse off-shoots fall into this category. Purple has also become a magic color with choices ranging from a simple Silver-Purple Back to other wild but very effective combinations that have proven deadly…especially in clearer water. A newer pattern being used (on The Great Lakes especially) has been variations of colors that resemble the infamous Gobi. It seems as the population of these little fish boom, they too have become an occasional forage item for not only walleyes but other Great lakes predators as well. This is a color category that continues to expand thanks to newly developing painting techniques and lure finishes.
My business partner Keith Kavajecz and I had the privilege over the past year to work on the development and design of a new line of crankbaits with the folks at Berkley. While the aspects of the Flicker Shad’s action and design were at the top of our list in importance, choosing the right line of colors for the lures was a huge part of the process. It took an unbelievable amount of time and thought in the creation of the right colors, but was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in my whole career. You can believe that Keith and I had super huge smiles on our faces this spring when the Flicker Shads became one of the best lures in the “putting fish in the boat” department…they almost need their own category! Colors were a major part of this bait’s and in fact any bait’s effectiveness, and the right color choice really is serious business that can definitely mean the difference between success and failure of the bait’s fish catching ability. You certainly understand if you’ve ever been in the boat with a buddy that’s kickin’ your tail three fish to one, and the only difference in your presentations is the color of lure he’s using! It can end up being a long day…especially if you don’t have that one color in your tackle box!
Bottom line … be prepared to experiment with lure color once the leaves begin to change. It may take something on the wild-side or it may be a subtle color change from what you were using in the summer. It doesn’t mean you’ll have to carry every color available but having a few colors from each of the categories I described above would definitely give you a good selection to choose from. Good luck and good fishing!