Casting Colors – The Art of Hooking Fish

“What those crazy fish see, I don’t know. But it matters.”

Todd Haleen is the owner of First Choice Charters in Baileys Harbor and anglers across the county echo his statement.

Photo by Len Villano.

Photo by Len Villano.

The fishing lure may be the single most important variable between a big haul and driving home with an empty cooler. The science behind choosing lures is scattered and incomplete. Most fishermen find that it changes every day.

“Fish, they have a simple mentality. They will go for what they see, what they’ve been eating that day. That’s all they’re looking for so that’s what you want to use,” said Haleen, who explained the match the hatch theory.

Anglers will use lures that resemble what the fish are already eating. Depending on weather, time of the year and location in the county, this can change by the day. To figure out what fish have been eating, catch one in the morning, look in its stomach and match what you find with a lure.

“As you can see, there are a billion different colors,” said Lance LaVine from Howie’s Tackle in Sturgeon Bay. “Each boat, each charter captain has their favorites. It all depends on what they want that certain day.”

While this practice is intuitive and abstract, there are some universal truths to hooking fish.

The lure’s job is to attract the fish and get them to investigate, hopefully leading to a bite. The lure you choose depends on the color, size and water depth.

Photo by Len Villano.

Photo by Len Villano.

The deeper the water, the darker it gets. In the color spectrum, dark colors need less light to reflect their color than reds and oranges. So the deeper you go, the darker your lure should be.

“Fish see different colors at different depths. The last color in the spectrum is purple so the deepest fishing is purple. If you put an orange down there, they won’t see it,” said Haleen. “One color will catch all your fish one day. Maybe it’s the sunlight, the algae bloom that blocks some of the light.”

Even more simply, the deeper you go, the larger your lure should be. Big lures are more visible in dark depths.

These ever-fluctuating variables keep fishermen experimenting with different lines every day. In Door County, visitors have come to rely on the local fishermen when they plan a trip out on the water.

“Most of the guys coming up now don’t even bring their own tackle,” said Haleen, who is open to sharing what is working for his crew at any time. Boats coming back from their haul will often stop by and tell Haleen what worked for them that day. The process creates a matrix of information that supports everyone’s goal in coming home with a boat full of trophies.

“Everyone comes in here and says, ‘Oh you gotta have a Mountain Dew with a Little Boy Blue or a Jumpin’ Donkey fly,’” said LaVine. “Every fly has got a name. It’s hard to explain to a non-fisherman but you hear these guys coming in here and they’re nuts.”

Crazy fish are caught by fishermen who are nuts in this oddly colorful sport.

Colorado blades

Willow blade



Primarily used for fishing bass, spinners are effective in almost any condition and depth, including winter and murky water. A teardrop-shaped metal blade is attached to the lure, creating erratic movements that mimic small fish. Blades can vary in size and shape, which affects the sound the spinner makes upon reeling in. Broad blades, known as Colorado blades, rotate widely around the line and produce a deeper sound than narrow blades, or willow blades, that spin faster and are quieter. The lure is usually hidden in a colorful skirt, increasing its attractiveness to fish. There are two main varieties of spinners.











The blades are in straight line with the hook and they rotate around the lure.












The spinner is shaped like an open safety pin so the blade and the hook are running parallel in the water.

plastic worms










Plastic worms

Best used for largemouth bass and often fished in timber, brush and weeds, plastic worms appear as live bait. A hook is threaded through the plastic worm, completely concealing it from the fish.









These hard plastic lures are meant to be reeled in, or retrieved, in order to mimic the movement of a small fish through the water. Crankbaits come in different shapes to look like minnows and other small fish. The concave designs of some crankbaits can change how the water catches the bait and makes it “swim” through the water.

Eppinger Dardelve Spoon











The concave shape of this lure, named for its resemblance to the eating utensil, wobbles from side to side as it is retrieved. Small spoons are used for fishing trout while larger spoons are used for bass and walleye

Mirage Howie Fly










The fly is used for trout and salmon fishingand consists of a single hook with a skirt. Anglers use different colors and patterns for different fishing conditions. Howie’s Tackle in Sturgeon Bay is developer of the Howie Fly, which they make in house and ship nationwide throughout the year.

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