By Dave Anderson
There is no time of year that I think about plug colors more, than the winter. During the fishing season, I don’t trouble myself with such trivial issues. But the cold of winter and the pain of the long dark nights and the fact that I’m passing my time building plugs—forces me to leave the comfort of my usual philosophies on color. I’ll start thinking about the big rock on the corner of the cove where I know there must be piles of juvenile blackfish and then I’ll find myself mixing eight different shades of blech to match a tiny tog. Then my mind will wander again to this one spot where I have now landed five nice sea bass from the rocks at night, the next thing I know I’m driving to JoAnne Fabric trying to find the perfect bolt of thule to match their scale pattern.
Then I’ll have the ‘what the hell is wrong with me?!’ epiphany again and that will change exactly nothing about what goes on in the echoey halls of my fish-clouded brain. I know I am not alone in this twisted game of tug o’ war. And I’m quite certain that my level of color mania is mild compared to many of the plug lovers out there. I have said, countless times, that if a striped bass looked closely enough to detect scale patterns, holographic eyes, hand-carved fins or the 93 shades of pink you used to create your squid pattern, they’d see the obvious things that you just can’t hide—like the hooks or the lip or your leader or the hook rash or the lifeless eyes or the fact that it actually swims nothing like a real fish.
The most important part of plugging is not that your piece of wood looks like a real fish, it’s getting the plug close enough to the fish that they will take a shot at it. This may sound more than just a little presumptuous, but you have to consider the fleeting nature of just about any potential meal that passes within striking distance of a striped bass on the feed. It’s one living creature versus another—fear and speed versus instinct and ambush. A striped bass—feeding in an ambush situation—simply doesn’t have time to check to make sure the color is right before she strikes. In her many years of life experience she has missed more than a few meals because she didn’t react in time. If you ask me, this is the root of the reason that fishing with lures works at all—honestly, it really shouldn’t work! The fish have to react on first sight or risk missing out entirely. And this hold true for any predatory gamefish that uses ambushes to feed.
And now we come back to the variable of color and how much it really means. If I believe my theories to be correct than there really isn’t any reason to paint plugs at all or it shouldn’t matter what color they are painted. I’ll be honest with you, fishing on a new moon night with a moving tide, swinging a darter or dipping deep with a loaded needlefish, I don’t think the color means all that much… to the fish. But there is a deep psychological aspect to fishing with color. For instance, I would feel a lot more confident fishing an unpainted plug than I would fishing the same plug painted mauve over tan—because I personally find the bare wood plug to be more pleasing to the eye. It matters more that I LIKE it than whether or not it looks like a fish. So, in that way, the fact that a color works or doesn’t work is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We fish the colors we like more often and we keep them on the line longer because we—ourselves—like them better than the other choices available. This may also shed some light on the reasons why you can ask 10 different expert striper fishermen and get 10 different answers regarding their go-to colors for different situations.
As I wrote in the intro to this linear thought on color, I like to keep my colors very simple. It’s basically four food groups—light, dark, bright and simple natural. In the light category I would fish—with equal confidence—white, yellow, bone, cloud, old school herring, wonderbread, white/pink stripe… etc. In the dark category I would fish black, blurple, dark gray, black/silver scale, root beer, wine, midnight massacre, etc, interchangeably. In the bright category I’m a little more focused—I basically mean anything with a lot of chartreuse or fluorescent green—parrot, Block Island green, solid chartreuse… etc. In the natural category it’s about having that dark back and silver flanks; so literally any dark color (black, blue, gray, brown, olive, green) over silver. I tend to fish my light colors in daylight, the dark and bright colors at night and the natural tones in fading light situations like heavy cloud cover or twilight. Why do I use these colors? Because they work in those situations… or, they have worked enough that I have built up years of confidence in them.
Does all this matter? You’re going to have to decide for yourself, I won’t judge.