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Whether or not lure color makes a difference is always a controversial subject, especially when the conversation revolves around plugs and surf fishing for stripers.
By Fred Golofaro
This nice striper beached by Ziggy followed the rule – dark night + dark plug – but there have been many dark nights when yellow or lime green was the hot color.

Whether or not lure color makes a difference is always a controversial subject, especially when the conversation revolves around plugs and surf fishing. Ask 10 very good surf fishermen their opinion on the subject and you’re likely to get ten different explanations of why or why not color matters.

I know some very successful surfmen who live by the creed of black plugs at night and white plugs by day, or under a bright moon. Using the experiences of the late Tim Coleman, longtime editor of our New England Edition as an example, I could make a pretty strong case for this philosophy, given that he had a 67-pound cow and several fifties to his credit from those hallowed shores surrounding Block Island.

But, I can also tell you that during that same early to mid 1980s time frame, when it seemed every striper in the ocean over 30 pounds visited these shores come November, there were times when chartreuse or lime green needlefish easily outfished plugs of any other color.

I can recall when hot pink seven-inch Rebels outfished the standard silver/black back version on the sandy beaches of Cape Cod, the gaudy plugs hanging on my basement wall still paying homage to that period in time.

There’s also a segment of the surf clan that believes color and patterns are designed strictly to sell fishermen. My experiences tell me it is not as simple as that, but I do have to admit that it wouldn’t be much fun buying plugs if everything on the wall was black or white. In fact, it’s a safe bet that plug sales would fall precariously if that was the case.

Scientists have preached for years that fish do not perceive color as we do, instead seeing objects in various shades. More recently, there seems to be some evidence that fish do indeed recognize color to some degree. Unfortunately, fish cannot talk so it may be a while before we have a definitive answer on the subject. If they do see in shades, it’s likely that different colors are interpreted in their own shade. I say that because my own experiences have taught me that color absolutely can make a difference on some days and nights.

I can launch a lengthy list of examples where even fairly compatible colors like white and yellow produced surprisingly different results. I’ve witnessed this seemingly obscure change in color make a dramatic difference more than a few times in Montauk on False Bar, Shagwong and under the light. And I can recall running up and down the beach armed with a can of blue spray paint during one particularly memorable mullet run on Long Island’s South Shore when 10- to 35-pound stripers cruised through crests of waves darkened by terrified schools of mullet. Any blue plug drew immediate attention from the bass, while casters tossing white, yellow or silver poppers “suffered” through a half dozen casts or more before making a connection. It was a bizarre scene, with streaks of blue paint running down the sides of beached stripers after they had inhaled the still wet plugs.

Non-believers in the color game are quick to point out that the action and presentation of a plug are the overriding factor in the success of a particular lure. And, they are right, because even if you’re tossing the “right” color, poor presentation will outweigh any other factor in the plug’s effectiveness. However, given a level playing field with all things being equal, the color card can ultimately be a difference maker.
Many of our beliefs are rooted deep in our own angling experiences. I have witnessed far too many situations when color was the deciding factor – when neighboring casters did virtually nothing until switching to the “hot” color.

Those same experiences will also translate into developing confidence in your choice of color under a given set of circumstances. This should help you avoid stocking up on every color of the rainbow, although the fear of missing out on action for lack of the right lure or pattern can burn strong in some casters. The end result is often walls lined with an arsenal of multi-colored plugs that no one person could possibly fish in one lifetime, though I frequently debate that point with my wife and anyone else who questions why I need that many plugs.