Making a case for color

Successful walleye tournament fisherman Troy Ethridge carries a wide variety of crankbait syles and colors.
Successful walleye tournament fisherman Troy Ethridge carries a wide variety of crankbait syles and colors. The Wichita Eagle

WILSON LAKE — Troy Ethridge flaunts his love of Kansas State University.

Powercat insignias dot his clothes and boat. His "EMAW" vanity plate is for "Every Man a Wildcat."

But when you see him walleye fishing with a purple jig?

"It's because it catches a lot of fish," the Salina angler said Monday morning. "We dipped up a bunch on a lark, but they work really well in real clear water like at Wilson."

A few hours later, Ethridge and a guest were headed home with limits of walleye. More hit purple jigs than any other color.

"Does (color) always make a difference? No," said Ethridge, an accomplished tournament angler. "But some days I know it does."

Ethridge has stories from years on the Masters Walleye Circuit, when spinner rigs needed chartreuse or red hooks to tempt fish.

He met Great Lakes anglers that went into great detail to fish precise color combinations of beads, spinners and hooks on drifting rigs.

Ethridge credited versatility with things such as color for helping him and partner Guy Ryan III win up to $15,000 at a tournament.

One of his favorite tales is of finding a Wisconsin walleye population ravenous for a particular silver crankbait with an orange stripe.

They only had one. None were available in local tackle shops.

Eventually the desperate anglers, haggard from days on the road and hours on the water, walked into a local nail salon and asked for help.

"Some of the women really got into it and were looking for the right color of nail polish," Ethridge said.

They found it and the next day, many walleye fell for silver lures with a "Fireside Orange" accent.

Brent Chapman, 10-time Bass Master Classic qualifier from Lake Quivira, said he's seen times when lure color makes a difference.

He's quick to add, though, it's never the most important consideration.

"You need to think color, but people need to put a lot more emphasis on where they're fishing," he said. "If you're casting where there are no fish, the best bait in the world won't work. If an area has a lot of active fish, five guys casting five different colors might all be catching some fish."

Chapman said he picks a few basic colors for his bass lures.

Most of those colors resemble all or parts of crayfish and shad, two of a bass' main natural foods.

Chartreuse and chartreuse combinations are also big on his lists of favorites for crankbaits, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits.

"Chartreuse is about brighter than any color out there," he said. "It really reflects a lot of light, especially down deep."

Over the last few years, Chapman has concentrated on special lures that reflect a lot of ultra-violet light.

A company that produces such lures is one of his sponsors.

Chapman said confidence in a particular color may be one reason why an angler does better with that shade trip after trip.

"The longer I fish out here, doing this as a career, the less I tend to care as far as colors go," Chapman said.

Ethridge agreed that lure color is only a small part of the equation for fishing success.

Sometimes a lure of a different color has a different action than one that hasn't been working.

Many times he's switched to a thin, gold "crappie" hook for leaches or nightcrawlers and done better than standard jigs with thicker, standard-colored hooks.

"It may be that gold hook is letting the bait ride a bit higher off the bottom," he said. "Or it might be letting the bait move with a little more action."

But there are times he thinks the sight of a certain color elicits a "reaction bite" from a fish that might not otherwise attack.

Monday afternoon, he conducted an unscientific experiment fishing a flat near a rocky shoreline at Wilson.

Ethridge tied a white crankbait on his line. A guest used an identical lure painted in the Fire Tiger pattern of yellow, orange, black and green.

On the first pass casting from the front of the boat, Ethridge's didn't get a strike.

The Fire Tiger lure, one of Ethridge's favorite colors for Wilson Lake, caught two walleyes and a largemouth bass.

Ethridge then rigged a Fire Tiger on his line and went back over the same water.

That pass he caught two keeping-sized walleye and a smallmouth bass within 15 minutes.

"I'm not too proud to change to something the fish want," Ethridge said. "Anything that gives me even a little bit of an edge is good."

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