Closers, in baseball, are important members of the team. But they pitch the ninth inning, not the first.
Their job is to seal victories, not initiate them.
So it is with color and crappies.
A lot of things attract crappies and other fish to first investigate a bait. But color isn’t one of them.
“Color is not the only thing. Color is probably the last thing,” said Dan Dannenmueller of Alabama, the only back-to-back angler of the year award winner on the National Crappie Masters Tournament trail and publisher of Crappie NOW, an online magazine.
A lure’s action or vibration – “what it’s doing down there” – is probably most important initially, said Oklahoma’s George Toalson, chief lure designer for Gene Larew Lures and Bobby Garland Crappie Baits.
He’s spent decades scuba diving in freshwater lakes, studying how fish react to lures. One thing he’s learned, for example, is that shaking a rattle under water almost instantly brings in bass, bluegills and perch. Crappies, which are “a little more spooky,” follow.
It’s then – in the late innings, when a fish has already made the choice to check out a bait — that color matters.
Like a closer, it can win or lose the game. It’s that important.
“I’m a fanatic about color,” Dannenmueller said.
Offer up the right one and crappies bite, Toalson agreed. Offer the wrong one and they’ll ignore it.
“For some reason, crappies, more than any other fish actually, are color oriented,” Toalson said. “So once he gets there we want him to be able to see it, and we want to tempt him to try and get a hold of it.”
The trick, of course, is knowing which color is the right one.
There are dozens, maybe hundreds out there. Most “are for you,” Toalson said.
“Down under the water those colors are not the same,” he said.
Below the surface, for example, chartreuse becomes off white. Black and white are most visible.
So he makes his selections following a few basic rules.
For starters, he prefers natural colors. He likes best those with a bit of sparkle or lamination.
That’s because of how live minnows look.
“The color of a minnow, for the most part, is supposed to be camouflage,” said Darl Black, a crappie fishing guide from northwestern Pennsylvania. “It’s what hides them from predators.”
It’s not foolproof, though. Toalson learned that while diving, too.
“If they turn just a little bit, all of the sudden it creates a little flash. And it catches your eye,” Toalson said. “That little bit makes a big difference.”
Namely, it catches the eyes of predatory fish. He wants his baits to mimic that, color-wise.
“Fish go to that. They live on that every day,” Toalson said.
He also chooses colors based on sunlight. Soft plastic crappie baits in particular are either translucent, meaning see through, or opaque, meaning solid.
“The darker the day, the cloudier the day, you want an opaque color. Because the crappie can see it from a little further away,” Toalson said.
“If it’s bright sunlight, give them more of a translucent color.”
Dannenmueller likes offsetting colors, meaning a jighead of one color and a soft plastic of another.
He relies on a Color-C-Lector, which is basically an electronic probe meant to identify which color fish can see best under certain water conditions, to get started.
No matter how anglers choose colors, though, being willing to adapt is critical to achieving consistent success.
“The right color can change throughout the day,” Dannenmueller said. “Water is a light prism. So as the sun changes, with more or less cloud cover, you have to check the water again to see which color is best. It will change throughout the day.”
The right color can change based on fish behavior, too.
Dannenmueller fishes tournaments all across the country. One thing that’s proven true everywhere, he said, is that if you catch a bunch of crappies, put them in a live well, then later release them, that can shut down the bite.
“When you catch fish out of a school, they put out a certain distress signal to the other fish,” he said.
Color, he believes, is a part of that. Fish in the school avoid the color that fooled their brethren.
If he leaves a spot, though, for an hour or so to let it rest, than returns to fish it with a different color lure, the bite often starts again.
That doesn’t necessarily require lots of color options.
Just the right ones.
“For myself, when I’m out there fishing, I stick to about four or five colors,” Toalson said. “I don’t have a lot of colors. You just have to have the ones the crappies want.”
The best time for catching crappies is about here
The best crappie fishing of spring, perhaps, is just about here.
As a general rule, crappies move into the shallows to spawn – making them vulnerable to anglers – when water temperatures are between 59 and 61 degrees, said professional tournament angler Dan Dannenmueller.
Healready fished a dozen or so events around the country this spring, though. And unusual swings in the weather have played havoc with the fish.
Water temperatures have spiked to 74 degrees in places, only to plummet quickly when a cold front moved in.
“Every place we’ve gone, the fish have tried to come up and spawn. A few have. And them most of them went back,” he said. “We’ve seen it everywhere.”
He’s expecting that to change, though, and soon.
Fishing in northwestern Pennsylvania last week, he said the peak of the spawn will likely occur in the next week or two
Then, the fishing should be really good, he said.
Consistently cold weather through winter kills off baitfish, he said. That’s a good thing for crappie anglers.
“It makes those fish hungry. It makes it where they’re going to bite,” Dannenmueller said.
That wasn’t the case last year, he noted. Crappies had plenty to eat, so they likely survived well and grew larger. But they were hard to catch.
Now, those big fish will be hungry and ready to eat, he said.