Christmas Colors Crappies
By: Tom Sawvell
When I began to ice fish,
things were much simpler.
The “cup” auger got you into
the water, rods had no reels
and a willow switch was as
much a part of your tackle as
was your gloves. Some
braided nylon line for the
tip-ups and some mill-end
mono for the stick poles and
a guy was set….almost. He
still needed some jigs and
they were supplied in black,
white, yellow, orange, red and maybe green. Wow, how things
Today we are at the mercy of nature and feel darned near
naked without a portable house, gas auger, twenty different
rods- each with their own specific purpose- heaters and , of
course, a box laden with jigs. It is what we find within that box
that has made the most profound change in all of our
The early jigs were basic. Heavy and not particularly pretty.
Even the hooks were crude as compared to today’s hooks.
Breaking a hook was not uncommon on a hook set on , say, a
northern. When you went to the bait shop you’d find two or
thee basic styles of jigs, in two or three sizes and in the colors
mentioned earlier. Things were streamlined to say the least.
Time, though, has a way of changing things.
I have always blamed greed for change. Change almost
always means competition and that almost always means
someone wants in on someone else’s bonanza. To do that,
something has to change just a little bit. And as far as ice
fishing goes, this has been good.
From a few basic colors 40 years ago, the process of color
evolution has trudged along steadily over the last twenty
years. We have gone from the basic to fluorescent, to glow, to
today’s color bound fluorescences- the ones that glow in the
color we actually see. The super glows are here today and
with a vengeance.
Color has always been a prime factor in whether we catch fish
or not….at least it has been in modern times. The advent of
the fluorescent colors turned the tables to the fisherman’s
favor in a big way. Water color could be challenged with the
hyper bright oranges and chartreuse greens. Yellows were
soon developed and not long afterward a whole spectrum of
colors came to view. The “hot color” revolution was
descending upon us and along with it a whole new set of
It was sure to be just a matter of time before the luminescent
paints jumped on this bandwagon and guess what….they did.
Now mind you, these “glow” paints were crude to begin with.
When I first started to paint with them in the late sixties, they
had an odor that, well, we will not go into it here. When
charged with a camera flash, these paints would glow for all of
five minutes. But here too, change had improved things and
the glow jig became a commonplace piece of tackle for every
specie of fish chased through the ice. People soon realized
that a transparent color of paint could be applied over a glow
base and the light coming from underneath just maybe a
teenie weenie little bit made a purple jig look like the color
was glowing purple….sort of hard to do when the light from
below came off as an eerie green though. At any rate, the
glowing jigs , like the hyper bright colored jigs, brought on
some challenges which had to be dealt with by the ice
Technology is wonderful in many instances and in the world
of fishing, ice fishing primarily and again primarily in the jig
world found therein, the advances in “glow technology” have
been a blessing of sorts. But not unlike the other positive
changes, challenges have arisen in the use of these baits.
Too much of a good thing can work against the purpose
intended. On a cloudy day fishing stained water, one might
get away with using a super glow jig. Across the road on a
clear lake the same jig may not turn a hit. The glow colors we
see so much of today require some thought for them to
produce fish. In fact, there may be times when not using them
will get you more fish. Like any bait, you need to let the fish
dictate their desires.
Clear water fish are notorious for being skittish during the
daytime, even under ice unless some snow cover or clouding
is present. Even with the influence of clouds or snow pack,
the super glow jig used during the daytime hours may send
crappies in the other direction. As darkness descends those
same jigs may prove to be a real gift. On stained waters , the
super glow might be able to be used all day long with good
results, but as it gets darker and the shadows get cast maybe
a color change will be needed….say from the red to the blue.
At times it is merely a matter of size. A size 6 GloBug in the
glow red might work good at noon in dirtier water, but come
off as too much at dusk when a size ten may be better. This is
just an example of how “too much” can hinder the bite more
than the color can improve it. Keep in mind that the new
“super glow” colors cast an aura and make things look larger
than they actually are. The color is not the issue, it is the
perceived size of the offering. Up or down sizing will become a
more important consideration while using these baits.
To boot, we now have the super glow products with imaging
on them to look very much like a minnow or craw in the
daytime and glow like one of satan’s helpers at night.
For bait fishermen, there are glow beads available which can
be slipped over the barb of the hook and super-glued to the
shank near the eye of the hook. While these beads are not
super glow-at least I have not seen any yet-they offer the glow
factor to live bait without the weight of a jig.
But one of most profound things one will take note of is all the
colors in which this “super glow” seems to come in. I am not a
scientist and cannot say if these are actually all showing up in
the dark as the color i see in daylight or if it is coming from
underneath, but I can say that three of these colors NEED to
be in every serious angler tackle collection….the red and the
blue and the chartreuse. They need to carry multiple sizes as
well. Carry them in horizontal jigs as well as vertical jigs. Carry
them in different profiles as well.
A couple of weeks ago I stopped in at JR’s in the cities to get
some stuff. I found a table perhaps twenty feet long that
looked like a ba zillion Christmas lights all laid out in trays.
Jigs of every configuration and size were found there. And
most were of the super glow. I really appreciated the “hands
on” atmosphere and being able to really look at what I was
going to buy before hand. (the bait are cheaper this way too)
What a treasure trove! But fear not, if you cannot make it
there, just about any bait/tackle shop worth their salt will carry
jigs of this kind as will some of the larger retailers.
The new color revolution has arrived in full force. It’s spilling
into the plastics marketplace as well. Where all this will go
remains the current challenge, but one thing is for
certain…..ice fishermen will be up for it!
A few more notes from Tom…
In my opinion, colors are two issues: a contrast thing and the
fish’s eye being more sensitive to certain colors themselves.
The first instance deals with the environment in which the fish
are existing: The water. Winter clears things up nicely once
the water has its cap of ice. Cold water will not allow as much
minute sediment to stay because it is much denser and with
the ice, the only external force to change the color and clarity
of the water will be if there is an incoming source like a stream
or river which stays open. Water under the ice generally gets
clearer and cleaner as winter progresses. But, no water will
ever be absolutely clear unless it starts that way.
Assuming you fish water with a bit of color and no incoming
water influences: the water you are given at ice-up will clarify.
Whatever stain it has will be an inherent quality that is not
going to go away. Whatever color this stain appears to you
as, be mindful of how different colors work together or apart.
Some waters with a green tinge to may filter too much of the
blue or yellow end on the spectrum out of the glow to make
any lures of those colors work effectively. If the fish are not
right there on top of the lure, they may perceive the dark spot
they see as distant and too far away to expend the energy to
hunt it. Red on the other hand may be the ticket. This color is
not being filtered, but reflected. The fish see it and pursue it.
This is where the fish’s come into play. The rods and cones
within the eye dictate the ability to gather light (light sensitivity
and night vision capabilities)and to see specific colors better
The physiology of one fish’s eye will differ from another. No so
much inside the species, but from specie to specie the
difference can be outstanding. To show this, look at the
walleye. Studies have proven that these fish will respond to
orange first. Their eyes are sensitive to it. It does not mean
that orange will be the best color to use in all situations, it
implies that it is the first color they have any visual acuity to.
Crappies may be color specific in the degree of preference,
but they too are subject to this only as a generalization. I have
found crappies to be about equally attracted to chartreuse
and white and orange/pink in open water. Keep in mind the
water in my end of the state is stained and generally carries a
summer-time secchi reading of about two feet. Clearer waters
from the northern portion of the state will show definite color
preferences other than what I notice! This has in no way
shown me that these are the colors to “go to”. I have other
colors that merit the bulk of the workload in open water. Ice
fishing? …glow red to start every time. Why? Contrast, pure
So where does all of this lead? To understand this concept of
the super glows you have to understand color….it’s reflective
qualities, it’s absorptive qualities, how it fits into particular
settings, you name it. It is confusing at first.
As mentioned I will look to my red glow to start things out and
run through the entire selection of profiles in that color before I
change colors. Then I’ll do the same thing again size and
profile-wise. As the ice changes thickness almost daily now
and we get some snow cover over it, the amount of light
getting down to the fish will be different day to day and maybe
even hour to hour. Minute to minute is more like it at dawn
and dusk! And all of these factors play on contrast. Your job
will be to find some color in the spectrum to contrast with what
you have at hand water/weather/light-wise. To make a point:
ever fish a lake where the red glow is the only color that you
can get a hit on at 10am , but at 6 pm if you do not have the
blue glow on you cannot buy a hit? It is unlikely that the water
changed any of it’s given factors. The only thing that has
changed is the amount of light IN the water and this concept is
Not only do the glow jigs show us color when glowing, but in
bright sunlit water they will show us the pretty fluorescent
colors they are painted. And this is where so many people get
derailed with color. The fluorescent color is only that when
influenced by ultra-violet rich light. Without the ultra violet,
those colors are simply reds, yellows, greens, blues,
…whatever in varying degrees of shading. Glow products
simply glow a greenish color. If you want both color and glow,
you have to get the products marked as super glow or new
Regardless of how much light is actually at a given depth,
there is still the water color to contend with. It too will act as a
color filter and change how different colors are perceived by
the fish. Water color itself will change, not in color, but in the
ability to filter different wavelengths of external colors…ie your
jig’s color. This is why as water becomes darker as the day
wears on you may find your favored red glow dwindle into
nothingness and the blue start to catch fire. The dark water
absorbs all of the fire put there from the red, while the blue is
being reflected and shines like a light. And this happens even
with the super glow colors because their colors they shine as
are prone to filtering.
In my original post I made references to “challenges”. They
exist, and have at the introduction of every “new” fishing tool,
and create a lot of scrambling to figure them out. Challenges
are good and in the end better angler emerge. What started
as a color thing forty years ago, evolved into “how bright can
we make these colors?”. And then the glow idea hit. Now we
are facing a whole revolution in color and glow and glowing in
living color. The latter will likely be the biggest challenge for
those who want to truly understand why these colors work like
they do…. regardless of fish specie targeted. This does not
imply that your average fisherman cannot go into a store and
pick up some super glows and follow the lead of his buddy
who has figured out some of the basics. Learning from
watching works and is likely the greatest teacher in fishing. I
have never been satisfied with just being able to go out there
and catch fish simply because I know how. I like to know why.
I enjoy what is found on the next level.
I do not know much about the way a fish’s eye works other
than what I have related here. But one thing I pay particular
attention to is contrast and how this comes into play with
colors that I can see, whether they are a plain-jane color, a
fluorescent color or a super glow color.
Glow paint will affect how the fish perceive a jig in over-all
size too…..profile. Yet another consideration to throw in here.
The problem here,though , is that the super glows cast such a
huge aura around a jig.
When you need to downsize the profile of your bait, think
about how the glow comes into play. One way to achieve this
task and still get your glow is to go backwards and use a
small jig with the standard glow paint. Custom Jigs and Spins
makes a small jig, the ratfink, (I think is the name)a jig with a
glow head and a hard plastic body that has some glow
characteristics too. They are available in lots of colors and
combinations as well as sizes. I prefer the smaller sizes of 10
and 12 when looking to become tiny and almost always touch
them up with a goldenrod grub. The white head with either the
pinkish orange body or the chartreuse green body are my
go-to’s for this task. These are horizontal jigs and for vertical
hanging hardware I go to the smaller “ant” baits and remove
all of the feather or plastic so that what is left has a very
narrow profile and again, these will be in the “old glow”
On the other end of the spectrum of size,JR’s, Scenic Tackle,
JB lures, Phelps can all fill the need for larger baits. They all
have excellent baits for up sizing and can be found with lots of
extras like flash blades or flash on one side of the lure body.
Many of these baits are heavier and are fitted with trebles for
loading with bait and are aggressive fish takers when the fish
are in the mood for larger offerings. I seldom use these baits
for crappies and sunfish, but do use them for trout and
waldogs. Actually I use these sorts of baits more in the boat in
the winter than through the ice! Regardless, these baits too
are proven fish-takers and belong in the box. They have their
place, but as far as glow goes you may want to be careful
when you use them….these are large profile and can scare
the bejesus out of fish with their enormity when charged.
Unless the fish are active and feeding hard and readily, you’ll
likely not see much action with these baits. It may be prudent
in some instances where the fish want something larger to
drop one of these bait down the hole loaded with waxies, but
with a minimum of glow paint or none at all. Maybe rely more
on flash than glow.
Like I have said before, this glow paint is good stuff and has
opened many , many doors. But not all of those doors are of a
positive nature. You have to think about how you are using
this and when , maybe, you need to back off a bit and use
less shine. The stuff may shine brightly, but it can be hiding a
dark side when it comes to your fishing.
*** Tom Sawvell, known as CrappieTom by many, has spent a
lot of time studying the intricate details of fishing and he has
dedicated hours upon hours to teaching others the way of
fishing. Tom is a Pro Staff Coordinator for
FishingMinnesota.com and is a huge contributor to the site.