“How do you know which one will work the best,” asked twelve-year old, Howard Files, as he stared at the lure filled plastic boxes in the front compartment of my boat. “Since a nice trout just tore the one you were using off your jig head, I would be looking for another one the same size and the same color,” recommended his dad.

Even though everyone in the boat was fishing a different colored tail at the time, that over simplified recommendation would have been my suggestion as well. Fishing is the easy part, but the catching part is far more complicated…..at least catching on a consistent basis.

The angler that does catch on a consistent basis has already considered any number of variables well before lure color was even a factor. Water depth, water clarity, surface temperature, direction of tide change, major and minor feeding periods based on solunar tables, the primary food source and wind velocity have all been taken into account.

Satisfied that he or she is in the area with the most potential, the size and color of the lure and speed of retrieve take on more importance. Because plastic tails rigged on lead heads of various weights can be easily fished at any depth, they are usually the first choice for bay fishermen prospecting for everything from trout to flounder.

Once you have established the optimum depth, you can then choose a lure or certain size jig head designed to specifically exploit that depth. The quickest and simplest adjustment is to select a jig head that is easiest kept at the key depth. If the fish are deeper, a heavier head will get you there faster while a lighter head enables the lure to sink slower making it easier to retrieve through the upper column of water.

The length and shape of the tail are important not only because they better emulate the food fish, but because they too will dictate the buoyancy of the lure. The majority of the time, the actual color of the lure is not as important as whether or not it is simply translucent or opaque. Brighter colors, especially those with metal flake are translucent while darker solid colors are most often opaque.

Oddly enough, based on my own personal experience, even the darker opaque lures are more effective when they sport a chartreuse or lime colored tail. I feel relatively certain that it is the contrast that makes the difference, but having said that I have never done much good with a tail sporting a lighter colored body and a dark tail!

I recently tried to create some semblance of order with the overwhelming number of plastics that I carry, but found it to be an impossible task. Of the thirty-seven different color combinations I discovered on board, I was only able to reduce the number to 28 colors that I just could not be without. While many of them only see the light of day every now and then, they have still produced well enough to make the traveling team. Because I feel obligated to carry each of those colors in two different sizes with two different styles of tails the number was quadrupled and I was back to square one!

I have seen very few days when the fish would hit only one specific color better than another, but I have seen it happen enough that I carry several colors strictly out of self defense. Some very good colors like hot chicken, chicken on a chain, Texas roach and pumpkin chartreuse are similar enough that you could get away with carrying any one of them. I don’t, but I could live with making that choice if I had to.

There are colors, however, that I will not leave home without when fishing Sabine Lake. Including the afore mentioned colors I also have great confidence in red shad, glow-chartreuse, limetreuse, stinky pink, morning glory, bug juice, opening night, watermelon, plum-chartreuse and bone diamond. The order is not indicative of my preference as the fish usually make that decision.

Because lure companies long ago quickly exhausted the more definitive descriptions of colors like grape or lime or even motor oil, many of the colors today are duplicated, but carry different names which can be even more confusing for consumers. East beast looks like chicken on a chain and blue moon looks like opening night and so on.

The scariest part of equipping yourself with an adequate arsenal of soft plastic tails, at least from an economic stand point, is that you have just scratched the surface if you have any plans of covering all of your bases. Swim baits are the latest rage and while you will need to carry at least three different colors, you can get by with just the three-inch version. That is, however, the last break you will get as you are already into a much larger tackle box.

I carry no less than four different makes of topwater lures in three different sizes. Add to that list three different makes of minnow type jerk baits in two different sizes and at the very minimum I carry six color combinations in each of those lures.

Suspending baits are a must when prospecting for larger trout so I absolutely have to carry a diverse selection of Corkies, Crazy Croakers, MirrOdine XL’s, Catch 2000’s, Catch V’s and Maniac Mullets in a plethora of colors. Add to that fifteen or twenty shallow diving crankbaits and a handful of spinner baits and you are out of room and money.

While this extensive list may appear outrageous to a contented live bait fisherman that relies on his anchor more than his troll motor, I do not feel like I could pare that list down and hope to consistently catch fish year round. The irony of it all is that I still remember thinking the day I decided to guide only saltwater, “I am going to miss bass fishing, but at least I won’t have to carry around so doggone many lures anymore!”