How to Choose the “BEST” Color for Crappie Jigs

Story & photos by Darl Black

Ask a few anglers around the country to name their “favorite” crappie-catching color in a jig and you’ll probably end up with almost as many different responses as the number of fishermen questioned. Likely their answers are based on memorable catches with a certain color on a particular lake under specific conditions. Or perhaps they choose the only color crappie jig in their box!

Unlike anglers, crappies don’t have a “favorite” lure color. Scientific research has demonstrated that fish have very good color vision and are able to distinguish differences in colors – even shades of the same color.  Certain colors are far more visible under specific water clarity and light conditions than other colors. Therefore color plays a critical role in lure selection along with general shape, size and movement of the jig.

How do we know what colors are best to use in a given situation?

There are two general processes to consider. First, the scientific approach utilizes an instrument developed through research that reveals which colors fish can see under certain conditions. The second approach is – for lack of a better term – your gut. This is based on one’s experience over a broad range of lakes of different water clarity. Both work.

Professional crappie angler Dan Dannenmueller, member of Team Crappie Country along with Garrett Steele, is a firm believer in the scientific approach. “I use the Spike It Color-C-Lector. It takes the guess work out the process. By considering water clarity, light intensity and depth, this instrument tells you which colors fish see best under specific conditions.”

The Color-C-Lector was developed by Dr. Loren Hill after years of laboratory and field experiments. It consists of a light meter on the end of a measured cable which is attached to an instrument with color bands arranged in three major groups: Clear, Stained, and Muddy, along with a number scale ranging from 0 to 40. First you determine the water color by lowering the probe into water and noting at what depth white top of the probe disappears. If you lose sight within two feet, water is rated Muddy; two to four feet, water is rated Stained; greater than four feet, water is Clear.

YamahaDannenmueller picks up the process here. “It is extremely important for the angler to have identified the depth at which crappies are holding. You may have determined this by sonar readings of baitfish and crappies, or by having caught fish recently at this depth.”

He explains that after determining the water clarity of the particular lake or river, you once again begin lowering the probe but this time stopping at the depth you believe crappies are located. With the probe at desired depth, turn on the unit. After a few seconds a digital number between 0 and 40 will appear in the window. Next pinpoint that number on the scale, and then move your finger across to the previously determined water clarity column to determine the recommended color or colors. The Color-C-Lector indicates a fluorescent color and a non-fluorescent color in separate color bands opposite each number.

Top-10 List
Garland’s Best-Selling Baby Shad Colors:
1. Monkey Milk
2. Glacier
3. Blue Ice
4. Blue Thunder
5. Electric Chicken
6. Cajun Cricket
7. Bluegrass
8. Chartreuse/Red Glitter
9. Lights Out
10. Pearl White
Bobby Garland Crappie Baits manufactures the very popular 2” Baby Shad. “We offer the Baby Shad in 65 colors including Mo’Glo colors,” explains George Toalson, Garland’s lure designer. “Our top two selling colors are Monkey Milk and Glacier. These colors came about based on observation of shad schools while scuba diving. In these baits, I was able to capture the flash that shad put off, which in turn attracts the attention of feeding fish. Anglers tell us that these two colors will catch crappies in a wide variety of waters.”

“By using Crappie Pro Mo’Glow florescent jig heads and two-tone bodies from Bobby Garland, Garrett and I can easily match the range of colors indicated on the C-Lector. Furthermore, if fish are observed at multiple depths, you can set rods at those depths with each rod fishing a different color combination recommended by the Color-C-Lector.”

Dannenmueller says it is critical to check the recommendations of the Color-C-Lector when available light changes (low sun versus mid-day; sunny skies fading to overcast skies) or when you observe a change in the water color.

Dan Dannenmueller special colors for specific conditions. Here’s proof that small details matter.

Dan Dannenmueller special colors for specific conditions. Here’s proof that small details matter.

“In tournament situations, I always use the Color-D-Lector,” concludes Dannenmueller. “However, if I didn’t have one available, my starting colors would be either something with chartreuse or Bobby Garland Glacier (i.e. white base with hint of bluish tint).”

Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pennsylvania is a professional bass angler on the Bassmaster Elite circuit. But during the offseason he is a diehard crappie angler. Lefebre often remarks that if he was not fishing the pro bass circuit, he would be on the crappie tournament trail.

“Jig color in crappie fishing is super important to me,” stresses Lefebre, who has been chasing crappies for almost four decades. “Sure, you can catch some crappies on almost any color, but to maximize your catch you must be tuned into the best color for the conditions. My process of color selection is based around water clarity. Simply by looking at the water and lowering a lure down, I determine if the lake is muddy, dingy, algae stained or clear.

“If the water is in the clear range, I go with more natural colors or clear bodies with sparkle – anything that closely resembles minnows and shad. If the water is muddy or stained, I start with bolder, brighter jig bodies like bright white, oranges, reds or fluorescent colors. Selecting a jig color for green stained water can be tricky, but something with chartreuse is generally a wise choice. If I know crappies are in a location but I’m not getting bites within 5 to 10 minutes, then I change colors.”

Dannenmueller uses a scientific approach for finding the best color. He employs a Color-C-Lector to determine the most visible color under the given light intensity and water color. He then selects a specifically colored jighead and body to match the conditions.

Dannenmueller uses a scientific approach for finding the best color. He employs a Color-C-Lector to determine the most visible color under the given light intensity and water color. He then selects a specifically colored jighead and body to match the conditions.

When post frontal days create those high blue cloudless skies, crappies can be tight lipped. “Under this situation, I go with translucent hues and clear bodies with sparkle flakes regardless of water color,” explains Lefebre. “For turned-off crappies, I want to present something that barely gives a hint of being a baitfish. Going with bold colors seems to spook them.”

Anytime Lefebre is in search mode – trying to determine exact location of crappies because he has not been on the water for days or is fishing a new lake – he ties on a confidence color. “This will be a cross between a natural color and a bright color, such as a sparkle body with a hot chartreuse tail. My other confidence colors include blue glimmer, white, and daiquiri (mint green).”

Stubby StevesBy recognizing the part that colors plays in your jig presentation allows you stock up on a wide selection of colored jig bodies right now for the coming season…not just your favorite color!