The mystery of red crankbaits

The mystery of red crankbaits

As we fish around the country, we discover that specific colors are must-haves on some lakes.

Oftentimes that is due to the color of forage or the lake has a unique water clarity.

Last week’s Bassmaster Elite Series season opener at Lake Martin, Ala., was a different story. If you saw the Bassmaster.com review of the baits used by the Top 12 anglers, you probably noticed that most of the crankbaits anglers fished were red.

Now, red is a predominant spring color on lakes in places like Texas and Louisiana where the crawfish are that color early in the year. Red also can be a popular color on stained lakes.

But at Lake Martin, there was a lot of diversity in the water clarity yet red was effective in all situations.

It’s no secret that any crawfish colors are good choices in late winter and early spring, but it amazes me how universal red has become. It’s not just a dirty or clear water thing or a Texas/Louisiana thing, but we are discovering that it is a good color during that early prespawn period just about everywhere.

I’ve always thought that had to do with the fact crawfish are red early in the season, but the fish I had in my livewell at Martin weren’t regurgitating red crawfish.

It had to be something else that caused red to be so effective. Even though I don’t know the scientific reason it’s hard to argue with that success.

My nephew Jonathon and I were both using red crankbaits; he was fishing clear water and I was fishing dirty water, so clarity wasn’t the issue. My best baits were the Strike King Series 3 and 3XD; he was fishing clearer, deeper water so his chose Strike King’s Series 5 and 5XD. We both caught a lot of fish, but in a tight tournament with a lot of small fish like this one, the guys who caught slightly heavier fish fared better. A 2-pound difference in a five-fish limit at Martin equated to a 40-point swing.

So what made red such a hot color at that tournament? My hunch – and it’s strictly a hunch – is that Martin has a lot of red clay points and bottom. As I think about that, I’ve noticed that red has been a good color choice on other lakes I’ve fished with red clay bottoms.

Nature’s critters have the innate ability to blend in with their surroundings. So, if there is a lot of red clay in a lake, it makes sense that fish instinctively recognize something that’s red and moving is likely a meal.

When fishing red baits this time of year it’s critical to make sure your bait is bouncing along the bottom to emulate crawfish. After that, you need to dial in the action. For example, the Martin anglers who were fishing the upper end where the water was warmer and stained used erratic square bills while those fishing the lower end where the water was cleaner and colder used tighter actions.

These are the kind of things that make our sport so intriguing even though we’re often left with questions as to why fish do what they do at times.

But this much you should know – red crankbaits are players during the early season and worth trying, especially on lakes with red clay bottoms.

The more we fish the more we learn, and that’s why it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam’s column appears weekly on Bassmaster.com. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.