Dialing in on color: A system to find what the fish want

I’m a dedicated follower of fly-tying innovator Kelly Galloup, whose popular streamer patterns include funky names like Zoo Cougar, Sex Dungeon, Butt Monkey, Stacked Blonde, Circus Peanut and others. While the names may catch anglers, make no mistake – the flies catch fish. Big fish. And they’ve all been water-tested by Kelly himself before being put on the market.

Galloup’s fly-fishing philosophy, notably when it comes to targeting big fish, has taught me a lot in recent years, including during a couple visits to his Slide Inn shop and cabins and float trips on the Madison River. But the lessons aren’t limited to trout and the West; they can easily be plugged into your own fishing waters no matter what region of the country.

One of the simplest tips I’ve gleaned from Galloup is a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that system for figuring out what color seems to be triggering strikes on any given day. It’s so simple and makes so much sense that I quickly mended my haphazard ways of trying different patterns – or lures; it works for spin fishing, too – in an effort to dial in on what the trout or bass, or even pike and muskies want.

Don’t just start grabbing patterns with a “maybe-this-will-work” shot in the dark. Put a little thought into it by working the colors of the spectrum and going from one extreme to the other, working back and forth between light and dark until you connect on the color the fish want. And color matters.

Start with black, for instance. If that doesn’t elicit a strike or two, go to the other end of the spectrum with a white pattern. No nice? Try brown. Then yellow. Then olive green or purple. Then orange or red. You get the idea. Bounce between light and dark with a system instead of reaching into your fly box like it’s a grab bag. It accelerates the learning curve and puts you on fish more quickly than your old “system,” which wasn’t really a system at all.

As I said, I’m a Galloup disciple and I use his patterns regularly, albeit not religiously. There are some other fine ones out there, including the time-tested Woolly Bugger or the Zonker and several others.

But more than ever I’m a believer in Galloup’s fly-fishing philosophies. They’ve had me reaching for the net and camera more often than ever, and his way of connecting with the fish color-wise is an easy and effective tip that has produced plenty of fish.

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