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Choosing the right crankbait color for the conditions

by Mike Schlimgen 19 Jul 2022

Using crankbaits to catch walleyes is nothing new.    My very first trip to Erie back in the early 80s with my dad, we pulled Wiggle Warts straight behind the boat with spinning gear and caught plenty of nice walleyes.    I remember having boxes full of Wiggle Warts and Hot-N-Tots, but there were a few patterns that stood out from the rest, and those became our "go-to" options.    

Fast-forward 40 years and we now have an amazing breadth of options to select from.    Different shapes, sizes, depths and patterns.   There are many stock patterns and an endless variety of custom painted options.  Given the shear number of patterns that are available on the market, it can be over-whelming to decide what mix of colors you should purchase, let alone which ones to pick for any given day.    If you are new to fishing with crankbaits for walleyes, then this can be even more of a challenge.   

Therefore,  I thought I would write an article to help you select the best patterns for the conditions that you are fishing.  For this article, I am just focusing on the deep-diving "Bandit" style baits.  There are many other styles, types, brands, that will also work.   

If you ask 10 people their opinion on which patterns are best, you are likely to get 10 different answers.    Therefore, this is just my opinion based on past results and many years on the water.    This does not mean that you can't catch fish on other patterns, however, I believe that following these guidelines will increase your odds of catching them over the long run.   

Before I dive into picking patterns for any given situation, I will first put them into several categories.    There are many stock baits that will also fall into these categories, along with patterns from all the other custom painters.   I can't cover all of them, so I will just stick to mine for this article.   

Here are some definitions that should also be helpful:

  • "Painted" Baits:  For purposes of this article, I will lump white based baits and clear based baits into the same "painted" baits category.  Obviously, chrome baits also have some paint on them too, however, this is how I chose to separate the categories for simplicity's sake.  
    • White Base:  This means that we start with a clear blank, base-paint it white, then add color over the top of that.  
    • Clear Base:   This means that we start with a clear blank and then paint the color directly over that, letting some of the clear blank show through.    No white base coat.  
  • Chrome Baits:  This means that we are starting with a chrome blank and painting over parts of it, usually with translucent colors allowing the chrome to show through.   

Here are the major categories of patterns from my perspective:

    • Natural / "Painted" - also includes glitter patterns
    • Natural / Chrome - also includes foil tape patterns
    • Bright / "Painted" - also includes high-contrast patterns
    • Bright / Chrome  - also includes high-contrast patterns
    • Dark - All types of bases

Examples for each category:

Natural / "Painted":   Smokeshow Shad, Nuclear Perch, Moonshine Shad, Arkansas Shiner, Mixed Veggies, Yoga Pants, Glass Perch, J-Bart Minnow, Glacier Shad, Red Wing,  etc.  

This nice walleye fell victim to a Nuclear Perch.  

Natural / Chrome:   Arkansas Shiner Chrome, Smokeshow Chrome, Chrome Perch, Purple & Black Chrome, Black Hills Gold, Gold Digger, Black and Gold Foil, Blue Ice Holographic, Black Ice, etc.  


This chunky 5 lb'er was fooled by my Chrome Perch.  

Bright / "Painted":   Fermi-Nuff, Pair-a-dice, Pink Panties, Blue Antifreeze, Lemon Drop, Pilot Light, Grave Digger, Glow Wonderbread, Neon Fruit Dots, Hot Dots Green, UFO, etc.

This 27" post spawn female came on "Fermi-Nuff".   

Bright / Chrome:  Fermi Chrome, Pair-a-Dice Chrome, Chrome Barbie, Pink Panties Chrome, Sweet Thang Pink/Orange, Gender Reveal, Blue & Chartreuse Chrome, Blue Moon, etc.

Pair-a-Dice Chrome with another 27" fish from Erie.  

Dark Patterns:  Halloween, Mint Condition, Psycho Killer, Copper Greasy Chicken Wing, "Big Bad Bill", Hot Dots Pink, Fancy Melon, Sea-Sick Barney, etc

This Erie hog found my "Halloween" pattern in the stained water

Ok, now that we have defined the different categories and shown you some examples of each, now I will focus on which category of baits to focus on for each fishing situation.

Low-light Conditions - Stained Water:

For this situation, I like to use high-contrast painted baits.   They could either be from the "dark" category, or from the "Bright Painted" category.     Baits like Halloween, Fermi-Nuff, Pair-a-Dice, Psycho Killer, Neon Fruit Dots, would all be great options in this situation.   

Low-light Conditions - Clear Water: 

For this situation, I like to use natural looking "painted" baits.   Baits like Smokeshow Shad, Arkansas Shiner, Yoga Pants, Nuclear Perch, etc.

Bright Sun - Stained Water:

For these conditions, I prefer high-contrast or bright colored chrome baits.    Patterns like Fermi-Chrome, Pair-a-Dice Chrome,  Chrome Barbie, Blue & Chartreuse Chrome, etc.  

Bright Sun - Clear Water: 

For these conditions, it is hard to beat natural looking chrome patterns.    Chrome Perch, Black Hills Gold, Gold Digger, Smokeshow Chrome, Arkansas Shiner Chrome, Chrome Citrus Shad, etc.

Early or late in the day, I will usually start out with "painted" baits and move to chrome based patterns as the day moves on, especially if the sun is out.    

Some baits are versatile and work in more than one condition.   Baits like Psycho Killer, Big Bad Bill, Smokeshow Shad, Chrome Perch, Nuclear Perch, Blue Ice Holographic, Glow Wonderbread, etc, seem to work in almost any situation.   Therefore, they would all be great choices if you are just starting to build your "Bandit" arsenal.  

For those who are just getting started, here are the patterns that I would suggest starting with, in order of priority.    That way, if you are starting with 6, 8, 10, etc, you can just move further down the list or double up on each pattern.  You will see that for some of the numbers, there is more than one pattern listed.   That is because I see them as inter-changable.  

  1. Psycho Killer
  2. Smokeshow Shad
  3. Fermi Chrome
  4. Fermi-Nuff
  5. Chrome Perch
  6. Glow Wonderbread or Neon Fruit Dots
  7. Nuclear Perch
  8. Pair-a-Dice Chrome
  9. Big Bad Bill
  10. Gold Digger or Black Hills Gold
  11. Halloween or Holographic Candy Corn
  12. Grave Digger or Lemon Drop
  13. Pair-a-dice
  14. Black & Gold Foil
  15. Blue Ice Holographic
  16. Green Lantern
  17. Purple & Black Chrome
  18. Pimp Daddy Perch
  19. Mixed Veggies
  20. Sweet Thang Orange

The order might be a bit different if your primary destination is Lake St. Clair vs Erie, due to the predominance of perch as forage.    In LSC, it is hard to beat Chrome Perch or Nuclear Perch on most days.  Late in the fall the shad patterns also work extremely well anywhere.   Smokeshow Shad, Neon Fruit Dots, etc.  

Once again, there are many different options, tools and techniques that will catch walleyes and other fish on any given day.     That said, if I have weed-free water to fish, it is hard to beat crankbaits when it comes to production and the average size of walleyes they produce.     

Tight lines and see you on the water!  

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