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How to Choose Lure Color

By Fishing with Nat | Published 1/21/2024

One of the best ways to increase your fishing success is to understand how to pick an appropriate color of fishing lure. The best color depends on several factors, so let’s take a look at what you need to consider.

Water clarity

The clarity (i.e. transparency) of the water is how much of the water you can see through. You can can determine water clarity by how deep your lure drops before it disappears. If you can see your lure through 5 feet of water, a fish can see it from at least that far away.

Fish in clear water tend to be very sight-oriented, and they will be more likely to strike a natural-looking lure because they have plenty of opportunity to get a good look at it before striking. In clear water, choose natural patterns, like bluegill, shad, bream, perch, or green pumpkin. You’ll also want to choose a lure without a lot of extra metal or other hardware hanging off, since these extras will diminish the natural appearance of the lure.

In waters stained with tannins or turbid waters full of suspended sediment and/or algae, clarity may be reduced to almost zero. Fish in these waters are going to key in on vibrations and either bright colors or silhouettes in order to find lures.

Neutral colors are usually the least effective here, and either very bright or very dark colors (or a combination of those) tend to be best. The high contrast of a black & blue or black & yellow/orange is killer in dark, dirty waters. The same can be true when fishing in clearer waters at night, when fish have a harder time seeing lures

Underwater photo showing how different water clarity changes lure's color


The color of your lure can be quite different when fished at different depths. Sunlight is composed of many different wavelengths that produce different colors, and each of these are absorbed by water at different rates.

Red wavelengths are absorbed first, then orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The rate of absorption will increase as the water gets dirtier, because the particles in the water will quickly absorb or scatter the available light.

In extremely clear water (greater than 15 feet of water clarity), red or pink colors on a lure will be noticeably reduced at about 25 feet of depth. Orange and yellow colors will fade next, and blue or violet colors will remain vibrant at the greatest depths. One key to keeping your lure highly visible in deep or dark water is to use high-contrast patterns like chartreuse and black, red and black, or black and blue.

Chart showing how fishing lures change color depending on water clarity and depth

Match the Hatch

The most effective color pattern is often what closely matches the type of forage that is available in that water body. If fish are feeding on shad, a silvery shad pattern is probably going to get you a lot of action. If they are feeding on golden shiners, a bright yellow pattern or something with a gold spinner blade will be a good choice. The same goes for bluegills, perch, crayfish, or other common prey. Match the color pattern of the dominant food source, and you will be more likely to fool a fish into biting.

Some people like to add a touch of red to a variety of lure patterns to simulate injured and bleeding prey. This technique uses the fact that predators often see injured prey as an easy meal, and a bit of blood red color may help to entice a strike. Many lures come from the factory with red on the belly, chin, or gills, or they may include red hooks for the same reason.

It is good to have a selection of different colors in your arsenal, but you don’t need to go crazy and buy dozens of different colors. A few natural colors like silver/white, blue/silver, blue/yellow, or greens will serve you well in clear-water conditions and bright, sunny days.

In dirty water or dark/cloudy days, lures in black/blue, black/chartreuse, or white/black are all good choices. Over time, you will learn to evaluate the current fishing conditions and confidently choose the right color pattern. Have fun and tight lines!

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