Light lure fishing for smaller species such as perch, zander, and chub has really taken off in the last decade. With the diversity of hard and soft lures on the market, the angler has a vast range of to choose to suit their style of fishing. During my walks along the local canal with my dog or if I am fishing myself I regularly see lure fishermen flicking out soft shads, ned, or cheb rigs at all times of the year.
Whether it be holding a ned rig alongside some far bank cover and tweak the braid to move it in situ in the winter months, steadily retrieving a small hard lure back along the near side margin at sunrise on a summers morning, or bouncing small cheb/ rigs across light weed There is lures and end tackle to meet these needs. Within the cacophony of tackle is the choice of lure, shall it be green, reds, oranges, pinks, glittery, translucent, white or a combination of colours?.. But when it actually comes down to it….does lure colour really matter?
If you ask an experienced lure angler you will get a variety of answers, some simple to the more technical. All I can do is give you my own knowledge from my own fishing experiences to conversations I have had with like-minded people on the bank (and I do like a yarn!!)
Tackling Clear Water
When it comes to clear water for me this would be the local canal at first light in the summer months or during the winter when boat activity has ceased. A crystal clear, weed-filled summer river in the late evenings. You can see the bottom, every stone or pebble with the light glinting on the ruffled waters of the shallow margins. Or every piece of man-made material in the case of a canal (I’ve actually seen a tractor tyre in the local cut in April with perch around it!…Could I catch one!?!?!?).
Using Natural Patterns in Clear Water
In these types of conditions, my rough rule of thumb is to use the more natural patterns. Those that blend into the water and look very similar in colour to natural prey fish as opposed to the glaring brighter colours. At the moment I use the Fox Rage Pro shads quite a bit (or the smaller spiky shad cousins).
In clear water, I favour the salt and pepper pattern (a translucent white lure laced with glitter) or the natural perch (as it says… a more natural green with stripes). For small hard lures, my absolute favourites are the Salmo Rattliing Hornets. Again, favouring the more natural pattern of the silver holographic shad (or roach) or holographic perch to great effect.
To me, these more natural type patterns ‘match the hatch’ in terms of colour that the fish will see in these conditions from prey fish that are within their natural habitat. I do believe lure size can also have an influence here as small (normally silver) hatchling fish will predominate in river slacks and along the surface of a canal at certain times of the year.
Matching the Hatch
Therefore, I attempt to present a lure of the same size and colour where these prey fish are. On both rivers and canals this seems to work and when I have used other colours (and in the earlier days of my lure fishing career I did have some small bright red and green 5 cm soft wiggly type shads….make unknown!) which I used just for interest.
The natural colours outfished these completely. A prime example was when I had an evening session on my local river casting for striking fish and (almost but not quite..) catching a fish a cast. I switched to a brighter colour and it seemed like the river was devoid of fish….they were still striking but completely ignored my little bright red lure.
Upon switching back to my preferred salt and pepper spiky shad or the hot tiger patterns I got takes and was again hitting into the shoal of small perch that were feeding. The lures were all similar in size all with paddle tails and action. It just had to be the colour.
PB Perch-3lb 6oz (for now)
My PB lure caught perch of 3Ib 6oz come on a bright summers morning in August at first light. I raced across the open fields to ensure I got to the bridge and stone wall before the morning sun scuppered my chances as it had done the day before.
The river was gin clear and I was keen to jig my soft lures beside the stone wall and amongst the rocks in this specific area. I had been walking this bridge in the mornings and had seen a couple of very big fish loitering below their smaller brethren.
Possibly thinking of a cannibalistic breakfast.
Salt and Pepper Lures in Clear Water
Vertical jigging the Fox Rage Pro Shads, pierced with 5g jig heads and lemon tiger or pink patterns produced nothing. I could see the fish hanging around in the slack by the bridge and was tweaking and jerking around the area to try and tempt a take without spooking these mini leviathans. My time was tight so I reverted back to my clear water favourite and a salt and pepper lure was clipped on and lowered into the water. Jig Jig…BANG!!. I saw the fish rush from its slumber and take the lure. The change in its behavior was amazing. A cracking fish was landed and its colours in the early morning sun were outstanding. I was fishing for roughly 40 minutes that morning in one spot..I just knew they were there!!
Tackling Coloured Water
Conversely to the previous section, coloured water and reduced visibility bring up new challenges. These conditions will include a rising or receding river, a muddy commercial (I’m not a fan of washed out perch though. Its an insult to the species!) or a cut that looks like a chocolate milkshake (which is most of them after 8 am through Spring Summer and Autumn).
The type of colour (hues of brown…) and visibility will be variable however these conditions mean that fish will have restricted visibility when looking for prey fish. In these situations, I believe vibration plays a part and I will make comment in the next section about this, however, I do believe lure colour and location will also have an effect on catch rate. My experiences here predominate on the canals. I regularly fish short sessions throughout the year and at different times of the day.
Use Brightly Coloured Lures in Coloured Water
If fishing in coloured conditions I do favour a brighter lure cast into favoured spots to try and tempt a fish into taking. I have already referenced my preference for Fox Pro Shads and their smaller spiky cousins. There are many others but the whole point here is the colour change that I utilise to get takes.
When using these types of lures then the lemon tiger, candy pink or Raspberry patterns are favoured. I have had countless small zander using these patterns in the evening and will cast into the recent wash of a barge and catch fish using these. I do find that my more natural patterns are less effective. I have found this particularly good for zander rather than perch. I don’t know why but I have had a lot of hits doing this and it has always been zander in the wash of the passing barge…I do pick up perch but closer in.
Top tip: Keep your lures in separate containers. They can have a chemical reaction when mixed together and can cause a melting effect.
Fox Spikey Shads Have Some Nice Colours
My experiences here predominate on the canals. I regularly fish short sessions throughout the year and at different times of the day. If fishing in coloured conditions I do favour a brighter lure cast into favoured spots to try and tempt a fish into taking. I have already referenced my preference for Fox Pro Shads and their smaller spiky cousins. There are many others but the whole point here is the colour change that I utilise to get takes. When using these types of lures then the lemon tiger, candy pink or Raspberry patterns are favoured. I have had countless small zander using these patterns in the evening and will cast into the recent wash of a barge and catch fish using these. I do find that my more natural patterns are less effective.
One of my own experiences where I believe lure colour was important and made the difference on the day was last summer. Due to COVID and the restrictions on fishing in 2020, I frequented my local canal to throw a line in the water, get my fix, and to practice my ever-increasing desire for small lure fishing. One evening saw me trotting along the canal path with my 6ft Westin 1 to 7g lure rod, my bag of small spiky soft shades, and TRD ned rigs to some favoured bushes that encroached into the canal. My Springer Spaniel is also my companion on these evening trips. I kill 2 birds with one stone here….he gets his fix in the nearby hedgerows and I also get mine.
Can Lure Colours Invoke a Response
I always saw zander and perch striking small fish into dusk and this was a prime time for me to cast my lures into these areas and try to tempt fish. I flicked out a small salt and pepper spiky shad a number of times, with no success. The hot olive was next, again with no action. There was the odd swirl so I knew fish were present. I could also see numerous small roach flicking around the surface, seemingly waiting for the inevitable.
Therefore I was sure more natural patterns would work in this murky water….Nothing!! I then switched to a candy pink pattern and hit fish straight away. I didn’t change the retrieve, or where I was fishing. Light levels were consistent. Fish were regularly striking and feeding. The only conclusion I can get from this situation is that lure colour invoked a response.
Some experienced anglers will read this, huff and puff, and tell you its utter nonsense. They will use one lure all day long, it’s a case of finding the fish then fish for them. Cast into more likely spots, use various techniques to invoke that feeding response and those lovely flicks and tweaks on the braid. Colour has nothing to do with their catch rate. Lifts on the rod, tweaks, and flicks of the braided line that will move a shad or wobble your drop shot lure in a certain way and invoke a predator to take that lure.
This is harder to justify as it could be other factors. However, my best experience on this stems, again from the local canal. Using small hard Salmo rattling hornets and a similar pattern from Korum (or Gunki..I cant remember!) I used to walk along the canal in the evenings with my ever faithful mentalist spaniel and slowly troll these hard lures alongside the near side margin. The boat traffic on this particular stretch was heavy from tourists and the water past 7 am was always very coloured. I made sure that I couldn’t see the lure when I was walking and would make sure that it was either tight to the near side edge or just tweaking the bottom of that first drop off into deeper water.
Does Vibration Make a Difference
To cut a long story short…those hornets outfished the other lure by a country mile, even though they were a similar pattern and size. I caught multiple small zander and sizable perch this way and even had by PB fish of 3lb 14oz using this ‘walk the dog’ trolling method. We all talk about the ‘one that got away but I lost a beast of a perch from a non-descript margin, using this method. The rod dragged around and I thought I had hit some unidentifiable man made material that had been tossed into the canal again. I lifted it up, this fish rolled twice then was off. I could clearly see the battered spiky dorsal fin and it was massive!! I must have walked the same 20 yards of the canal for the next half hour trying to get another take with a very puzzled dog by my side…
The only difference between these patterns I was using was the fact that the Salmo lures had that little rattle inside. Was it all down to the noise that was emitted when it was being pulled along?
Top tip: In the winter months slow the retrieve right down to almost a standstill, remember less is more.
In terms of whether lure colour can have an effect on catching fish on a given day I believe it can. There are other variables such as light levels, temperature, available prey species and time of year that will also influence the way fish will feed. However, the colour of your lure should not be dismissed when determining what you attached to your snap link and flick out. My basic logic when I go is natural patterns in clear water situations and more striking patterns where water clarity is compromised.
I have fished all my life and lure fishing is my passion. I love the early summer mornings and the autumnal river experimenting with different types of lures and patterns (I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by it all..I was a carper years ago and the tackle bug is rife in me. But whatever you do..please enjoy it.