About the Author:
John Merwin lives in Vermont, where, when he's not tying flies, building lures, or digging up worms with his backhoe, he writes the monthly Fishing Column for Field & Stream magazine.

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October 03, 2008

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Merwin: Free Crankbaits!

Well, sort of free. This is another one of those great giveaways here at The Honest Angler, but I’m also looking for some honest opinions.
First, the stuff: I’m giving away a set of 12 Cabela’s Jointed Rad Shad crankbaits. Each one of the 12 is a different color. These baits run 3 to 5 feet deep and will suspend, so you can twitch and jerk them, too. My local smallmouths and largemouths have been jumping on these things all summer, but I have a surplus of samples that I’m willing to share. There will be one winner, who gets all 12 lures.
Now the question: What is your best lure color (or color pattern) and why? Silver or gold? Firetiger or Yellow Craw? Whatever you fish for—trout, pike, walleyes, bass, stripers—I’d like to hear your color favorite and why you think it works so well.

Hey, maybe we’ll unearth some secret lure-color thing here, and we’ll all get rich! Then again, maybe not. In any case, let’s hear it. I’ll declare a winner—based on what I think is the most astute answer—in a couple of weeks.


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Duane Choquette

Up here in New England my favorite crankbait color is bright gold with a mirrored finish, with a black dorsal stripe running along back of the lure. Oh and it has to be a rattling model, preferably a fat teardrop-bodied model like a Storm wiggle wort or a Bomber model A. I find this color works best early in the year, from prespawn right through the spawn, and again in the fall as water temperatures drop.
As to why the mirrored gold finish works, well I have a few theories, but well, opinions are like A**holes, everyones got one and most stink, but anyhow here's my two cents: The mirrored finish and the bright gold coloration reflect ambient light, even in murky water, attracting the fish to the bait from a much wider radius than other crankbaits. Also the largemouth bass in my local ponds and reservoirs often feed upon yellow perch (as I find them in thier stomachs quite regularly)so perhaps the flickering golden pattern thrown off by the lure wiggling underwater mimics a perch, or perhaps chain pickeral, possibly even a golden shiner.

Ive tried all manner of makes, models and shapes, but no matter the lure, if I manage to get that mirrored gold, with a rattle, then the lure is dynamite. Good luck finding the mirrored gold finish though (think a golden version of Chrome),its not a popularly produced color these days (judging by my bass pro catalog). Ive tried gold colored lures identical in shape, but they dont produce as well. Add that mirrored finish though and you have a winner

Duane Choquette


My best lure color is definately gold and black. It is my go to color everywhere from Ontario to Maryland. I have caught largemouths, smallies, pike, walley and even perch. I have caught 5 pound smallies in canada, some nice smallies in Connecticut and some big bucketmouths in Maryland.

Steven C.

The best color pattern for me has been perch. The rapala minnows and shad raps I've used in that color have repeatedly outfished all other colors for Smallmouth and Largemouth. The reason why they work so well? I live near Lake Erie, and since there is such a large perch population, the bass probably eat a lot of them, just a case of "matching the hatch".


Out here in the high desert West
The fishing is exceptionally grand.
And one lure seems to be the best,
It's the one that the fish all demand.

When casting a crank
To fish the slack,
Or trolling the bank,
I want silver and black.

See, the minnows for forage
That we have out here,
Have all that same colorage,
If not exact, then very near.

I'll throw it in a river,
For a brown or a 'bow,
Or give it a shiver,
For a bass or muskie to tow.

Wiper, walleye, crappie and perch,
Even catfish (I have a pic),
Gobble this lure as if they all search
For this grail of a bait, ever so quick.

Sometimes I'm caught by a brilliant flash
Of yellow, orange or red.
And buy a new lure to add to my stash,
When I know that instead,

I should get that lure that adds
More fish to my stringer,
That makes jealous lads,
And our memories linger.

That old silver and black
Out here is hard to beat.
Watch those fish attack,
Its better than neat.


I have an old silver/black rapala minnow that was the most productive this year - both on largemouth and pike.

Fishing in Michigan last month in Pinckney Rec Area, my chartreuse spinning rig was largely ignored. Thought - when all else fails, get out the old beat up minnow. Within thirty seconds of my second cast - a surprised and very upset pike was looking at me with a quite pitiful expression. Being too big for the live well - back into the lake he went. Why did it work? Realism. I've watched hawks circle overhead eyeballing this thing as I retrieve.

The humbling verdict - my angling skill did not catch this pike - realistic presentation did.


Salas lures makes a pattern on their irons called "Baby Sh*t." That's the best color ever just because of the name. Kind of a pea-soup green swirled with light brown and yellow. I win!!

Dr. Ralph

The secret is matching the lure color to the water color... If I am fishing a muddy lake with low visibility I use a gold Rattle type lure so they can hear and see it. Usually I like the Rattlin' Raps but Rattle Traps or any other will do as long as it is shiny like silver or gold.

If the water is clear white is always good especially with spinner baits. As it gets darker I switch to the green/yellow/orange colors and at night go black or purple and fish the bottom or top. They don't seem to find them unless they are kicking up mud or making a splash at midnight.

Alex Pernice the fly rod winner

I have to say... my best color is firetiger But when in dbout mach the color of the fish to your lure
(use a white maching the fishes belly or an olive color for a smallmouth's back.)

I love to fish for smallmouth bass too and find a white or chartruse works best to get the big guys out of the deep holes.

Caught the state record smallmouth about 1 year ago on a size 16 wolly bugger (Pink now if any of you find out how this worked call me) fishing a deep ledge on the fox river in Illinois I was 11.

Luke Ruiz

I am Sixteen and started fishing barely two years ago and a silver and black rapala works great for me. I've caught perch, crappie, bluegill and of course bass.

Dr. Ralph

By the way your 100 reader comments button sends everyone to the Gun Nut blog... I'd get your computer guru on this immediately if not sooner. Hell Pretzle won't even provide a link to your site, even though I've asked him and everyone else there to do it. Only the Flytalk guys were kind enough to put one up and they didn't even put it in the Our Blogs section, just buried it in the blogroll. :(

Silver/White with some black in shad patterns...because fish eat it!


Oh, that "astute" answer was from me

Blue Ox

Most of my best fish were caught on a spinner bait with a white skirt & two silver blades.

Glen Martinez

I am way out in north central Texas and have an old silver and black rattle-trap my brother gave me about 16 years ago. It works in the local spillway for bass and I have even caught a Cat(6 3/4 lbs) with it. Over the years I have gotten several lures and colors,but the old stand by is a silver and black rattle trap!

as moeggs

The firetiger pattern is the most constant fish producer for me. It does not matter if its a Suick for muskies or a Rattletrap for walleyes. Want more proof? Come and fish Michigan with Merwin!

as moeggs

Sorry, I meant to say, come and fish Michigan with ME, Merwin!


Primary lure color really doesn't matter, as long as it has RED blood spots on the gills, RED treble hooks, and I fish it on RED line, it's gotta be sure to catch fish... :)

Brian M

My best lure color for bass is baby bass. Bass are canibalistic and this color mimics them perfectly. By having a lure with an olive green back, I can dig it into the dirt like a crayfish and still have it look natural. Because of the white belly, I can retreive it slowly on the surface and have it resemble a frog. There are a lot of pike in my area as well, which I don't mind hooking into, so a baby bass works well for that, too.
Now, if you want to talk salmon trolling colors, you're going to need more bandwidth.

Justin S.

If I were to pick one color and one color only to fish for the rest of my life no matter what state or lake I'm fishing it is hard to beat the sexy shad color or chart. shad. Both are the same color just named different between companies. Sure, there might be a color that will work better on a certain lake or color of water but as an over all color you can fish this from southern Florida for 10lb largemouths to the nothern states for 6lb smallies. This is truely the ultimate color for almost any day on the lake!

PJ Schranz

I would fish a silver/black jointed rapala. This lure has caught me bass, pike, walleye, perch, and a 45" Musky. I mostly fish wisconsin waters and the silver/ black jointed rapala is my go to lure when all else fails because it looks so lifelike and real.

Kaz Gwiazdowski

I think a siler or gold is best because of the flash it brings and can be seen and attract the fish from a distance. It seems to work most of the time. Even in a spoon bait. It is all in the flash with a bit of wiggle.

I have been using the JSP#7 trolling for deeper fish this fall on JPercy Priest lake in Nashville Tennessee. The color is blue with silver with a orange belley. Rapala changed the name seems like fron original introduction. I have used the same plug #5, for trolling closer to the shoreline. This plug has produced many large and small mouth bass.

jamie skorec

My favorite lure is the Rebel crawfish medium size red. I love fishing the Susquehanna River in northeast pa and would not think of going out without it in my tackle box. No matter the conditions murky or clear, water levels high or low this is the Lure to have when on the River.

Mike Bolfik

I have recently fallen in love with using the Rapala DT fat3. The color of choice being the bleeding olive shiner. I think that this color can match many different species of forage fish found in most inland waters, from baby bass to bluegills and shiners. I beleive they work better in stained waters.

Andrew Manus

Any color still wet from the waters you are actually fishing. A wet plug will always out perform the dry no matter how closely the dry one resembles the forage species or the menu item the target fish is hunting. Very few fish are caught on baits still in the tackle box.

Keep in mind I am a much better fisher than catcher of fish. All of my catches have occured with the bait still wet and I have had just as much success (luck) with cross species target baits as with those logical to presented to the fish.

Blake Henderson

My favorite color crankbait the last several years has been lavender shad that is available on Norman crankbaits. It is basically white on the sides and lavender down the back with lavender glitter all over. Big bass inhale it all the way to the back of their throats. I have had success with at least five models in this color from very shallow to very deep. I like the Deep Little N the best and caught a 10 lb 1 oz largemouth on it. The thing I like most about this color is the wide array of water conditions and water color I catch fish in. As long as there is some visibility it works. From gin clear to quite stained. I've caught bass in upland rocky reservoirs, stump laden large reservoirs, the Arkansas River, and even delta farm reservoirs. Bottom line, the most versatile color I've ever used.

David Replogle

My choice actually two and that would be silver/white for spring to early summer seems that is what there feeding on (minnows and small baitfish) and for my late summer would be a crawfish color which is when they slow on silver that to me means they have switched to crawfish.



Living in the Pacific Northwest, we don't have the longest bass season around. The single most consistent producer I have found is a floating Rapala in a rainbow trout finish. Most of our lakes have small(and large) trout in them, which we know bass love to eat, so it is my always my "go to" lure. I love to see and feel those big ol' fish smash those cranks!

Ritchie Rose

My personal favorite is chartruese and white. I find that it works in all situations.Living in East Tennessee I have several lakes to fish and it works on all of them.

Daniel Greenfield

My favorite lure & color are a chartruse/orange jighead & a pumpkin seed/green metal fleck "Netcraft Minnow" plastic body. I love to fish for Perch & out fish minnow fishermen all the time. I have seen Lake Trout by-pass live bait to hit my jig. I've hooked lots of Sm.& Lg. Mouth(a 6lb. smallie & 8lb.Lg.Mouth), Landlocks, Rainbows, Pike, & even Bullhead. For Croppie & Walleyes I switch to a white "Netcraft Minnow" & out-fish the live bait 10:1, every time. I always use an ultra-light with 4lb. test line for the extra fight, I rarely loose any. My friends who have tried them all use them now. THANKS to the un-known fisherman who gave me my first few. I put them in my pocket untill I ran out of live minnows. Now I Love my "Netcraft Minnows" & never go fishig with out them. Rev.Dan

Jack Schafer

My favorite color here in the Midwest is white. Whether by itself, or in combination with other colors, like chartreuse, basic white really seems to attract a variety of fish species. I believe my success with white stems from the color of the primary forage in my area; namely, shad. Lakes and rivers with strong shad populations will always give up a few gamefish to a white spinnerbait, crankbait, or surface lure. Besides the obvious resemblance to forage, I also believe the color itself is highly visible in most water conditions, and easy for fish to locate and attack. One thing I know for sure, I can always count on a white lure to catch at least a few fish for me.

Randy Bryant

Down here in Georgia I think a firetiger works very well along with black and silver or black and white or plain white or silver.Firetiger for bream,the remaining being different colors for shad.

Brandon Abshire

I do most of my fishing in Galveston West Bay, Christmas Bay or actually in the surf, and I always have the best luck with a silver rattle shad. Due to the fact the water is mostly murky, the silver really shines through it, and the noise tortures angry reds and hungry trout alike. Fresh water in South East Texas, I would go to a green pumpkin finesse worm, frog, or lizard, to catch big bad black bass!

Robert Wallace

If I had to pick one color pattern for the area that I live , it would be Chartruese with a red head. We catch a lot of sppotted Seatrout here on the Gulf Coast and this is one of 2 most popular colors. Early in the morning and late in the evening when the sky starts to get that purple tint as the sun starts down it causes the lure to glow because of the bright color. It's sort of like nature's blacklight. I usually fish it from a boat back toward the bank and let it drop down the slope, twitching it as it hits the bottom. The strike usually comes on the drop and is quite vicious from a good size Trout. I try to get the lure in a shrimp style or split tail grub. It makes for some of the best fishing you could ever ask for.

Angela Kolehmainen

My favorite lure is a silver and black Rapala. I have always had good luck fishing with this lure. I have recently started ice fishing as well and for that the bait is what is important and I prefer smelt.


well i live in california and i have had a superb summer with the black bass due to water restrictions I think the black bass have taken advantage of weed growth and a poor striper spawn. I have had great luck on a rattle trap that resembles a small striper a 3 inch i think is the length. but it all started off with a pearch design top water popper. with the slow striper spawn there is a better supply of pearch resulting in a better bass crop this year.

Mel Cox

Being a southern bass fisherman for 40 plus years I have seen the sport come a long way with many new lure colors and innovations with some it seems sold to hook fishermen and not fish. I know as I have been hooked enough myself. But to choose one color that will and has produced more large fish than any other that I have fished, excluding soft plastics, is definetly the perch color devil horse produced by Smithwick lures. By changing the size of the hooks you can go from a topwater bait to a suspended lure and since perch are year round forage for bass this is a stand by bait for me.


I have many favorite colors, but the most productive I would say is a light blue and silver which is similar to the minnow and shad in the area. crankbaits with a blue back and silver sides with a few flecks of black make it look like a real minnow or shad.

Mo Ayyash

well, i fish in freshwater smaller rivers and larger creeks... my favorite color crankbait is the dark dorsal that fades into a lighter tan or bright green belly. I also love the Rapala series, very detailed and intricate and the action while in the water mimics a real fish to the T. Love it. Just caught me a 16 inch rock bass today with her ;)

Bryan Lockman

My favorite lure color combination. is blue back with silver and white belly. I find these color patterns killer on Largemouth. A medium speed with a few twitches drives them crazy. The color shows up good in dark water, and dose not spook fish in clear water, like some brighter colors can do.


Michael Nix

Regardless of the time of year or location, the best lure color is the one that matches the predominant food source for the given place and time. Thus, no one color is always the best to use. The question to be answered does not reference what our favorite color may be. The question asks which lure color is the best. Naturally, the answer will depend upon a myriad of factors, but the selection will always boil down to matching the predominant food source for a given place and time. The job in lure color selection, then, is to determine what that food source is!!!


My best color over the years is green, brown, and red.

Jack Doo

My favorite color for my favorite Yamamoto Senko is rainbow trout. It's a laminate of pink and white. The two-tone combination seems to be at its best in low-light conditions and dirty water. The colors alternate when it falls via wacky rigging and this seems to make it more visible to the bass. My friends end up "borrowing" a rainbow trout Senko after I've caught three straight fish. "Give me one of those 'bubble gum' Senkos," is what I hear.


I fish the cooling lakes ( nuke power plants) and prefer the silver finish shad rap baits. Many cooling lakes have gizzard shad as the natural forage bait and the shad raps are great for strippers

Jim Shunamon`

I am 48 years old and have been fishing since I was out of diapers. My dad was a longtime reader of F&S, as I have been and now my 10 year old son is becoming. In all my years of fishing my absolute favorite crankbait has become the Norman Lures Deep Little N in the Sunshine Gel-coat Crawfish pattern. It is my goto lure when I need to fill out a limit or even hook that kicker fish to help put me in the money. I have caught both Largemouth and Smallmouth bass as well as a Yellow Perch weighing in at just under 3 pounds and several huge Crappie. It seems to work regardless of season or watercolor. That's my vote!

Randy Griffin

It seems I have the best luck with lures (and flies, for panfish) that are all or mostly chartreuse. My explanation is that they're visible in both clear and murky water, yet still look somewhat "natural".

Larry W. Holloway

I like using the gold and silver color which I paint a red streak down the side. This color combination will definatly get a strike.


either a silver and black rapala or i have a old red and white wooden jitterbug and they both work great.

Bassmaster Ballard

Absolutely, hands down..it's the fire-tiger colored Rapalas. Especially the Countdown versions, in the 5, 7 and 9 sizes. While fishing a lake out here in So. Cal last year, I trolled a #7 fire-tiger floating Countdown. While the morning was overcast and I caught 4 trout, by 10am there were scattered clouds and I caught 3 bass. By mid day is was sizzling hot and time to head home. While letting out my trolling line so I could re-spool it on to the reel without any twists, a huge crappie hit the same fire-tiger Rapala top water. While I was at the ramp getting my boat trailer, a small loon took a swip at the fire-tiger Rapala hangin off my rod, off the side of the boat. Total 4 trout, 3 bass, 1 crappie and almost 1 loon...pretty killer color and lure.

Eric Alder

Hi John,

I've been fishing for about 30 years now and I've found that natural patterns work best for me.

Even when using other patterns, the ones that work best for me are those closest to natural.

I think this is largely due to the way fish see. They see and eat the real thing on a regular basis, so it makes sense that they'd go after lures that resemble their natural forage.

Sure, sometimes the fluorescent lures or odd color combos catch fish, but I think that's probably more about bite reflex or defense that a desire to eat the thing.

Also, in places where fishing pressure is heavy, I find wary fish are much more receptive of subtle natural patterns.

So, when it comes to enticing solid bites, natural patterns are my top choice.