The guy I had in the right front seat of my driftboat didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he’d snagged and lost — through a total disregard of the simple instructions I’d given that morning — six of my best steelhead plugs throughout the day. ??It was late in the afternoon as I went to tie on the seventh and, scanning my now much-depleted plug box, I decided I couldn’t take the chance of him losing yet another. Busy yakking with his buddy all day and not noticing his plugs were getting fouled in the rocks, he obviously didn’t care anyway. ??So, I pulled out an expendable lure — one that had been given to me as a sample by the manufacturer. It was a Wiggle Wart, just like the ones the guy had been losing all day, but this one had such a ridiculous paint job I dubbed it the “Mardi-Gras Peacock.”?? The hideous, clown-like plug had a baby-blue back, an orange belly, gold flanks, bright yellow eyes – and for good measure, black and red tiger stripes running down its sides. Maybe a walleye would have low enough self-esteem to eat such a thing, but not a noble steelhead!?? Well, you know what happened next, right?
Not two minutes after the guy put the thing in the water, it was inhaled by the largest steelhead of the season — a chrome-bright, 16-pound hatchery hen that fought like mad before we got it into the net. For my client’s sake, I played off the switch to that lure as “guide intuition,” but inside I was a mess.
Geez, do I need to start using that plug every day now? Nah, that fish surely would have hit the ol’ reliable silver and black plug had we been using it. Right? On the other hand, we’ve been using the so-called “hot” color all day with only one bite and then this stupid thing gets bit immediately. What the … ???
My head was spinning and I was confusing myself more with each passing thought. At first I wrote the whole thing off to the lure being in the right place at the right time. But then I started to wonder… if it didn’t matter what color a lure was, why did I have a box full of plugs with no fewer than 52 different color schemes? Or had I just discovered a secret steelhead killer? Or was I going crazy?
Then the thought crossed my mind that, just maybe, it wasn’t the color of the Peacock that had attracted the big steelie at all. Maybe it was a different factor. Since that lure and my favorite silver/black ones were all Wiggle Warts, they were the same size and weight — just with different paint jobs. I shook the Peacock and I shook the others in my box. They all had the same rattling sound. Next, I closely inspected them. To me, they all looked alike.??The next time out, I ran the Peacock on a line right next to the boat, alongside one of my other plugs. And in that little impromptu side-by-side test of the action, I saw the difference. The standard plug had a very rhythmic, consistent wobble. The Peacock did the same thing, but every so often, it would break out of its pattern and make an erratic dash to the left or right. That little random change from the norm was what turned the fish on, not the color! There was just something slightly off in the balance of that lure – impossible to see when inspecting it “dry,” but quite obvious when it was in the water.
And in the several seasons since the Peacock taught me that lesson, I’ve become more concerned with the action of a lure rather than its color. In fact, I have several perennial fish catchers in my box now that have been chewed up so many times that they don’t have any paint left on them at all — yet they keep getting bit!