Angler Mindset to Choosing Soft Plastic Colors

Some scholar in an earlier time once said that we’re creatures of habit – I tend to agree. However, I’d suggest anglers, and more specific trout purist, are downright OCD. This past week I posed a simple question on the Speckled Truth Facebook page, “What’s your “Go-To” soft plastic color?” With followers from Virginia to Texas, I expected to get a myriad of responses. Going one step further, I had participants also state what estuary they fished so I can better understand they’re logic and more important their fishery. With a solid following on the page, I expected to get a few responses, but when the comments stopped at 283, I figured I just might have a large enough data pool to do some trend analysis. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll outline what I captured.

GENERAL OVERVIEW

As most of you know, each fishery is unique. I’ve even been fortunate enough to witness this firsthand. Having targeted speckled trout in 7 of the 9 states (SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, LA, TX) I’ve seen the diverse challenges many of these fisheries pose. As a result, I’ve taken some of the larger fisheries, i.e Texas, Louisiana and Florida, and separated the responses by each follower’s fishery. For example, if someone responded “Glow/Chartreuse Norton Sand Eel Jr. - Sabine or Calcasieu” I noted the color and manufacturer and then grouped it as Southwest Louisiana (SW LA).

Additionally, if someone said that same color but a different lure manufacturer, then I considered that a “repeat” for color and continued to list the different bait manufacturers. I did this for a number of reasons. The first, I’m only concerned about peoples “Go-To” colors and not the lure companies that produce them. Secondly, body style and type, although not the intended data set, could still be considered. Lastly, names of lure colors vary from company to company, so by searching their site, I can group it with a basic color pattern. For example, Matrix Shad’s “Magneto” would be classified as an opening night, so forth and so on.

RESULTS AND TRENDS

As previously mentioned I received a number of comments from across the states, except one (Georgia). Along the eastern seaboard (VA, NC, SC, E FL) I received a total of 27 comments, which is far from being able to establish any sort of state trend, but one trend I recognized across the entire seaboard, unlike the gulf fisheries, is almost every angler gave a natural color pattern. Actually, the color pattern that dominated the comments was a bait with a dark back and a pearl belly (Slayer Inc SST – Venice Glow, ZMan – Smokey Shad and DOA Cal Silver Rush were mentioned multiple times). With experience in 3 of the 5 states (SC, GA and FL) this trend doesn’t surprise me. All of these fisheries seem to have an abundance of smaller finfish vs shrimp in their waters with optimal water clarity. Of course there are times when Shrimp is the targeted prey, particularly when they make their annual migration, but day in and day out imitating a smaller finfish (mullet, pogy or greenback’s) is a bit more predictable and seems to be overall more productive.

Next on the chopping block is the Gulf side of Florida to include the Panhandle. Like the eastern seaboard I received 36 comments, which were mostly on the panhandle. The top 3 colors that were mentioned were Pearl, electric chicken and a variation of chartreuse. Some natural colors were mentioned like avocado back, pearl belly and chartreuse tail (chicken on the chain), but for the most part brighter baits with vibrant colors topped the list. Personally, this is what I expected to read especially knowing about the exceptional water clarity. I didn’t notice a specific trend in body types or styles - which gives me no indication as to a certain forage an angler was trying to imitate.

Moving west now, I started to see an uptick in follower comments. To be honest for such small coastlines, Alabama and Mississippi gave plenty of input. It probably didn’t hurt that I called Biloxi home for 4 years, but that’s neither here nor there. Overall I had 55 comments between the 2 coasts and the color spectrum was pretty obtuse. Clearer colored baits like blue moon, opening night and clear with colored flakes dominated the responses but green back/pearl belly and Chartreuse back/pearl belly had an equally dominating presence. One key trend I noticed is that I started to see an introduction into some of the darker shades. Colors mentioned were morning glory (black/chartreuse), avocado and plum or purple. I think this is the case for a few reasons but none greater than the fact that we’re getting geographically closer to the Mississippi River Delta. Sediment and salinity are huge players on a high river, but also the rivers along the coast (Mobile, Apalachee, Blakeley, Pascagoula, Biloxi and Jourdan River’s) all significantly reduce water clarity and salinity if annual rainfall is high. For the most part though, Salinity levels along the coast from Dauphin Island to Cat Island stay pretty high and as a result water clarity stays pretty clear and consistent. Body styles preferred were minnow imitations with a boot tail – which indicate that finfish is still the primary source to imitate.

Now to my home state of Louisiana. Having a sound understanding of the Louisiana Fishery, I decided to breakdown Louisiana into two regions, Southeast and Southwest. Southeast LA (SE LA) is defined as water from the Biloxi Marsh, to include Lake Ponchartrain to the Atchafalaya River. These waters include Delacroix, Venice, Grand Isle, Cocodrie and Dularge. I had a total of 37 comments, which isn’t a great number, but I did have comments from each of the areas aforementioned – which I thought was most important. What I noticed while reading the remarks is the color spectrum knew no boundaries. That said, two colors did rise above the rest which was green back/pearl belly and purple back with a clear/silver glitter belly. I attribute these color selections, or lack thereof, to the MS River Delta. Being in such close proximity to one of the largest rivers in the world which has a tremendous amount of sediment and freshwater influence, water clarities never get optimal. Actually what most anglers from SE LA would consider “great” would probably be a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best. It’s what makes Louisiana unique and a huge contributor to the greatest biomass of speckled trout in the world. So depending on the time of year and the fishery along the delta, bait colors tend to range along that neutral range (avocado and purple and chartreuse). As far as bait styles, minnow imitations were preferred.

Southwest LA (SW LA) also had quite a few contributors, 26 in total. The SW LA region is broken down as waters west of the Atchafalaya River to Sabine Lake. The two colors that topped the spreadsheet were glow with chartreuse and opening night. Plain glow and salt and pepper were also mentioned multiple times, but overall colors generally stayed on the lighter side. One key feature I found intriguing wasn’t the bait color but the bait style. Unlike SE LA, SW LA anglers overwhelmingly prefer darter style baits. As a matter of fact, all but one comment said they fish with MirrOlure Lil John’s or Norton Sand Eel’s. This is in stark contrast from SE LA and to be quite honest I’m not sure why. Many of these areas (Sabine and Big Lake) are notable big trout producers, so if I had to guess it would be mimicking small finfish and shrimp over oysters and ledges. Additionally, maybe by having a smaller profile on pressured fish will afford anglers to draw reaction strikes from wary trout. In other words, get it front of their face with unpredictable action and you’ll get a bite.

Lastly, the Laguna Madre and the Texas Coast. Almost cliché that everything is bigger in Texas, well in this case it was so big I broke down the coast into 3 regions. Upper Coast, Middle Coast and Lower Laguna. In total, I received 102 comments from Texas anglers. 31 from the upper coast, 54 from the middle coast and 17 from the lower Laguna. As expected, colors typically filtered toward the darker shades overall, except the lower Laguna started to see a slightly more bright variance like pink and chartreuse. The top two colors mentioned for the upper coast were pumpkinseed with chartreuse tail and black back, gold belly and chartreuse tail (Texas Roach). The middle coast’s top two colors were avocado back, pearl belly and chartreuse tail (chicken on a chain) and plum and chartreuse tail. The lower Laguna top colors were white back, silver belly (Bone Diamond) and chicken on a chain. Other notable colors, which were mentioned in all three regions were straight purple or plum, morning glory and strawberry and white tail. Some lighter shades were mentioned on both middle and upper coast, but for the most part colors stayed fairly dark. One item worth noting was that anglers from Texas throw bigger baits. Less than 5 comments identified a bait produced by a manufacturer that was less than 4”. Having been a resident of Texas and spent a lot of time wading the flats of the Middle and lower coast, I can attest to the bigger bait mentality. It’s a fishery unlike any other, where literally any cast can produce a trout of a lifetime. So instead of throwing a smaller offering, upsize your bait and to truly target a gator on the TX coast.

WHAT TO TAKE AWAY

If you’re like me you’re probably asking yourself, “how does this make me a better speckled trout angler?” The short answer is knowledge is power. By getting 283 angler opinions from so many estuaries, I can now understand color selection based off of environmental and biological conditions. Natural colors like chicken on a chain, were mentioned in every estuary. Obviously in some more than others, but that simple fact alone, gives me the confidence that if I’m fishing a new area, chances are that color pattern is proven. Other factors like water clarity, or lack thereof, and how that impacts color selection and what those colors are. Lastly, bait profile. I know I mentioned at the start of this article that bait profile is a secondary statistic, but after seeing how many anglers use darter style baits, I’ll be sure to infuse those in my tackle selection. Anglers choose them for a reason – they produce. As a result, you should too.

Below is a list of lure manufacturers you should visit if you’d like to bolster your jig arsenal (click on each link below to learn more).

Big Bite Baits Cane Thumper, Cajun Lures, DOA, Down South Lures, Egret, Gambler, Homewrecker Lures, KWiggler, Matrix Shad, MirrOlure, Norton Lures, Saltwater Assassin, Slayer Inc, Texas Tackle Factory, Tidal Surge, ZMan

In closing, I hope this was helpful and if you’re a trout fishing nerd like me the fact that we got to talk about speckled trout and statistics probably had you in overdrive. So until next time, tight lines, God bless and always stay versatile.

Chris