By Vic Attardo
I don’t know too many things in the natural world that are colored chartreuse. I’ve seen some parrot feathers that are the dazzling green we anglers call, “chartreuse,” and in the jungle I had a chartreuse snake crawl across my lap, but as I look at my green backyard, I still don’t see anything that comes remotely close to the nearly fluorescent color of chartreuse.
But I also know — and you probably know as well — that chartreuse is an indispensable color when it comes to catching crappie. Hey, what would the head of a Road Runner be if not chartreuse?
The point is crappie like this outrageous color just as they seem to favor a lot of outrageous colors. Think about “fiery red,” “smoke black fleck,” or single colors such as orange and pink — all excellent crappie colors. Paint your garage door or a room in your house any of those colors, and somebody is bound to say, “That’s outrageous.”
Fiddling around in my mind, I got the idea of asking some excellent crappie fishermen what their favorite outrageous crappie colors are, both jig and plastic trailer. And to be fair I asked them to explain when, what season, what time of day, even what water color — these hues were most effective.
You’ve heard me talk about all these anglers in the past: Darrell Baker, a guide on Weiss Lake, Whitey Outlaw and his son Matt Outlaw from South Carolina both successful tournament anglers; Kyle Schoenherr from Illinois, another wildly successful contest guy; Captain Jerry Sersen who fishes the surprisingly crappie-rich upper Chesapeake Bay and a host of other anglers.
What I learned from most anglers is that their use of outrageous colors, and non-outrageous colors, relies on water conditions. And every angler had their own idea what determines water conditions including the season, water clarity, even depth.
So here’s what they said. Be prepared for some interesting opinions.
“I would say my color selection would definitely be more tied to water clarity than seasonal situations,” said Illinois angler, Kyle Schoenherr. “I’m a certified open water diver. I’ve done a lot of diving on Kinkaid Lake which is a fairly clear lake.
“The main thing I’ve noticed is that in fresh water, most life underwater blends in with the surrounding environment. In clear water, bright colors and glossy baits tend to look bad! I’ve always had much more success with earth tones (greens, browns, blacks, etc…)
“Clear plastics have often been my best baits in clear water. In muddy to stained water, I’ll go with brighter chartreuse-glow combinations to give a better contrast in the water.”
And since crappie do not bite by color alone, Schoenherr had some other tips worth passing along.
“I’ll also rely more on scents in stained water. I prefer a 1/16 – 1/8oz Pro Series 2 Road Runner with a garlic-scented Muddy Water plastic in a chartreuse combo in stained to muddy water. In clearer water, I like a bit smaller presentation with a 1/32 – 1/16oz Road Runner with a clear Midsouth tube (Smoke Glow).”
Darrell Baker & Jerry Sersen
Most of the crappie fishing world has fished Weiss Lake in northern Alabama. Heck, I’m from a northern blue state and I’ve taken four trips to Weiss in the last twelve years. Each time guide Darrell Baker has been on my dance card so I know how good he is, and how much color is important to him.
After affirming that he is a committed soft-plastic bait user (no smelly minnows in his boat) Baker boiled it down to this:
“There are several colors that I really like but if I had to choose just one it would be the blue/chartreuse hot grub,” Baker said.
“This is probably the ‘hottest’ color on the Coosa River chain in Alabama. We use it on Weiss, Neely Henry and Logan Martin lakes.”
But Baker has a second favorite as well.
“My second choice is ‘Wildcat/chartreuse” hot grub.Both color choices come from Southern Pro.
“There are a lot of colors that work well on these lakes but day in and day out, I’ll have at least one of these colors on.
“To be honest, the “Wildcat/chartreuse” is kind of like my secret bait.” Shhhh!
“A lot of anglers fish the blue/chartreuse but not many use the wildcat — unless they have fished with me and see how productive it is down here. In that case, they now have a box full of them.”
Some of my esteemed crappie anglers didn’t mince words in selecting their favorite jig color. When I’m on upper Chesapeake Bay with Jerry Sersen, he rarely shuts up — but then neither do I.
Let me point out that the upper Bay ranges in color from sediment-cloudy to golden clear, depending on precipitation or lack thereof.
When I asked him about color, he gave me one line.
“My new favorite color is June Bug body with a chartreuse paddle tail,” Sersen said.
But I happen to know that his old — and very successful — favorite was a plain jig head with a rainbow-trout colored plastic.
Nuv said, I guess.
The Outlaws & The Editor
If you know him, than you know the name fits. Whitey Outlaw robs crappie of a pleasant day. One minute the fish will be swimming along have pleasing crappie thoughts and the next an Outlaw trick results in a ride in his tournament livewell.
“This is my take after 35 years of fishing,” Outlaw told me in typical ornery fashion. “I do not try to match jigs and the color of water. But I have some standbys.”
“In clear water my colors are white and chartreuse and white and sparkles. In dingy water I use lime and chartreuse and black and chartreuse; in muddy water my go is black and orange, and lime and pink.
One day in a mucky swamp I caught Outlaw successful using a root-beerish orange-looking soft plastic, so he’s good for his word.
“I’d say I always start out with my basic colors, white and chartreuse, lime and chartreuse and black and pink.”
I say those classify as outrageous.
After those colors Outlaw puts his ear to the water, so to speak.
“Then I let the fish tell me what they want. I (also) mix up colors and keep trying colors. Some of the oddest combinations sometimes catch the most fish.
As always, Outlaw had some unusual wisdom and this case it was about minnows.
“(The jig color) sometimes depends on whether you are tipping with minnows or not. The minnow will make the fish bite a color they would not normally bite.”
Like father like son? Think again.
The Outlaw offspring, Matt, an accomplished tournament angler in his own right, often chooses his jig colors out of the gate as a corollary to water color.
“When it comes to color, to me color ultimately comes down to water color,” he says.
And his rules are simple.“Typically the muddier the water, I will use darker colors. If I have clear water I’ll use lighter color.”
“With that being said, I would have to say that any thing with chartreuse would be my more consistent color. Chartreuse is a color that will work in muddy or clear water.
“In the winter on my home lakes at Santee Cooper (lakes Marion and Moultrie) I like to use black and chartreuse. In the summer white and chartreuse is my go-to color.”
And when it comes to the jig head color itself, Matt is all about chartreuse.
There is one thing father and son is in total agreement about. Both use Mid-South plastics and Rockport Rattler jigs.“The rattle and vibration have no comparison to jigs in all water colors.” said the elder Outlaw.
And now we come to the brown-nosing portion of our story. Actually, that’s not fair. Tim Huffman, the editor of this internet mag has fished with many of the best crappie fishermen. Think about this: maybe two great crappie anglers never get to fish together but as a writer and editor Huffman has rode with the best.
With that in mind asking an editor his preferences is exceedingly valid.
“In the 1970s Bill Dance said that any color of plastic worm was good as long as it was blue,” Huffman noted. “When fishing stained or muddy water for crappie I believe any color is okay providing it’s lime/chartreuse with an orange head. (Specifically a TeeZur 3/16-oz head, lime-chartreuse MidSouth tube.)
Other good muddy water colors are: black/chartreuse glow, red/chartreuse and orange/chartreuse.
Huffman also believes in tipping his jig with a minnow, “partially because of scent and looks, but mainly to have the vibrations to help crappie find the bait in the low-visibility water.”
In clear water Huffman offers crappie a different palette and guess what? Chartreuse isn’t one of them. That might be considered scandalous.“My favorite (clear water) colors include clear with sparkles, blue/white (specifically Bobby Garland Blue Ice Baby Shad), pink/white — in that order.”
For a jig head Huffman favors a white or non-painted head in clear water. Also he prefers a “very small minnow” for tipping “and/or a good attractant scent. I like the gel scents because they last longer.”
And here’s where getting advice from an editor really pays off.“If I were to pick a new wild-card jig, it would be Johnson’s Crappie Buster Shad Tail in lemon/white. It’s a hot bait.”
Huffman’s last statement has to make you grin. “One thing I don’t like about most fishermen is they disagree with my choice of favorite colors. They catch a hundred or so crappie a day on some other color and become very narrow-minded. What’s the deal?”
Talk about outrageous.
Finally I (Attardo) have to relate that I’ve raised a lot of sweet green peppers and hot red peppers and for a time I tried to create, by hybridization, a chartreuse hot pepper.
I crossed sweet yellow banana peppers with green chili peppers and bright green frying peppers to make a super-bright fluorescent-looking chartreuse super hot pepper, but in seven generations I couldn’t make it happen. Seems that though crappie love chartreuse is not an easy color for nature to create.
Others Choose Top Colors
Sometimes the real proof of what anglers use to catch crappie is in the photos. Taken as the experienced fisherman catch a fish, close-up shots of an angler, fish and bait reveal what really worked at a particular location at a key moment. Over the last couple of years here’s what my camera revealed.
On the tannic waters of the St. John’s River in Florida, CrappieNow Publisher Dan Dannenmueller slew them with an orange TeeZur head with a very unusual gold flake and white body soft plastic.
Matt Morgan probed the lily pads of the St. John’s River with a red head jig with a blue-green/chartreuse soft plastic.
In northern Alabama on the Coosa River, guide Dustin King employed a traditional chartreuse head Road Runner with a pearl white soft plastic.
Garry Mason on Kentucky Lake in Tennessee impressed me with his use of a traditional red head jig with a white body while his friend and co-hort Steve Ferguson used an orange head and white body.