First, let’s break down soft-plastic baits into two general categories. For one, we have those plastics that are picked up off the bottom by the bass because they are weighted (like on a Texas-rig for example); and for two, we have those plastics that the bass swim up and grab because they are rigged without weight and suspend or swim in the water column. I like to make this distinction because prey that is found crawling on the bottom is colored differently from the prey that swims up off the bottom. Bottom-dwelling creatures, whether they’re crawdads or small fish, are shaded and colored on their backs to blend in with the bottom substrate. Animals (mostly fish) that swim off the bottom are colored with a light color shade on their belly (this is what a bass sees if looking from underneath). Because of this difference in shading between bottom dwellers and those that suspend, we need to take this into consideration when selecting colors for plastics.
Let’s begin by choosing colors for plastics we’re going to fish on the bottom. There are four colors that together will cover any situation you’ll encounter. They are: watermelon, green pumpkin, junebug, and black. These colors and their names are made and used by just about every soft-plastic manufacturer. Watermelon is the color for the clearest of water clarities — anytime visibility is 4 feet or more. Because it is somewhat see-through and greenish in hue, it does a nice job of blending into the bottom. In clear water, a bass that is wavering on eating your lure does not need too good of a look at your bait. It knows your plastic is there, but because it blends in so well, the bass has to pick it up to make a final determination on whether your plastic is an actual food item or not. The next color, green pumpkin, excels in intermediate water clarity of about 1-foot to 4 feet. Sometimes I’ll use it in clearer water especially under overcast skies. Like watermelon, it has a greenish hue, but instead is a bit darker and solid. When water clarities fall into the 1-foot to 4-foot range, watermelon begins to fade out too much. Green pumpkin is a little bolder allowing it to stand out without being too much of a standout. The green hue matches the bottom well. I especially like this color when there is a mild algae bloom underway and the water has a greenish tint. Sometimes I’ll dye the tails of green-pumpkin-colored plastics with chartreuse.
The next must-have color is junebug. I like this color when I’m fishing water that has a tannic stain (similar to tea). The stain usually is associated with boggy or swampy-type waters. For example, places where I’ve seen this color water have been in Florida, northern Minnesota, Canada, and lowland areas of Louisiana. Secondarily, I’ll sometimes use junebug in the same water described above for green pumpkin. It’s more of an alternate color that I like to use on a spot that I already fished using green pumpkin; however, I may go to it first under overcast skies. Lastly, black is my color for the murkiest conditions — say anytime the clarity is less than a foot. It doesn’t matter whether the color of the murk is green, brown, or tea. With limited visibility, you need a color that will get noticed and I believe black stands out the best. This is also a great color for night fishing because of the limited visibility. You’ll find many variations of black at the tackle store (black/red flake, black/blue flake, black/blue, black/green flake, black/chartreuse, etc.); just make sure the primary color is black.
Now we need to discuss the colors for soft plastic baits that suspend or swim in the water column. Remember that these baits riding off the bottom are more likely mistaken for baitfish. First of all, I would have all the colors mentioned above and use them under the specific water conditions mentioned as long as the sun was out. I know they don’t necessarily look like baitfish patterns, but they still blend in with the color of the water and fool bass. However, when the skies get cloudy then I often switch to a brightly-colored plastic such as chartreuse, methiolate (shade of red), white, or bubblegum. Under cloudy skies, bass are usually much more aggressive and strike without hesitation. Bright colors are more easily noticed, drawing more attention than the watermelons and so on. I really don’t know if one bright color is better than the other. You can get by with just one of them, I’m sure. In fact, you can just purchase white and dye it the color desired.
Baitfish colors are very important when bass are feeding heavily on specific schooling baitfish. Under limited visibility conditions, such as overcast skies or stained water, again white is a solid producer. But when visibility and water clarities are high, then you may want to tone down the brightness of your plastic. I don’t have a specific suggestion or color name. Just simply find a baitfish-looking color that is somewhat translucent, helping it blend into the color of the water. In conclusion, just let me say again that the colors mentioned in this article will have you ready for any condition. It’s just a matter of matching the color to the appropriate scenario. The thousands of variations found in a well-stocked tackle store help lure companies sell more lures, but don’t necessarily help you catch more bass. But, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for new and interesting variations off of the basic colors discussed here.