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What color do walleyes want?

When it comes to jigging up walleyes, start with natural or primary colors in clear water and shallower depths. Go brighter with more depth and water coloration. (Photo by Rob Drieslein)

By Glen Schmitt

Contributing Writer


Most walleye anglers have one color of jigging spoon they really trust. Doesn’t matter how clear the water is, how deep, the type of lake, or the season’s natural forage: Everyone has a specific-colored spoon that gives them confidence.


Research shows what Old Marble Eye sees best below the ice. But without getting too in-depth with scientific mumbo-jumbo involving a walleye’s retinas and cones, here’s what you have to consider when picking the right color during the hardwater season.

Water clarity and depth

Natural or primary color patterns are a good starting point when fishing clear water or relatively shallow depths.


Walleyes have very good eyesight and have no problem seeing a presentation, especially in clear or shallow water. From an angling perspective, these conditions are less about drawing fish in and more about getting them to bite.


Silver, black, blue, and green provide a natural, subtle offering that walleyes will see and eat. When conditions are favorable for them to see your lure, brighter offerings often will even spook walleyes.


On the other end of the spectrum, the golds, oranges, reds, and glows tip the odds in your favor over deep water or stained, dirty water scenarios.


Consider situations that involve more coaxing for walleyes to see what you’re offering. Even though there’s nothing in their natural environment that screams red or glow, it gets their attention and they’ll react to it. And that ultimately sets the bite-triggering mechanism.


While you don’t necessarily have to “match the hatch,” do consider what walleyes are targeting in a given system.


If there’s a heavy forage base of perch, use soft green, chartreuse, darker blues, or silver-colored spoons. Minnows in the way of shiners or shad might call for dull golds, silvers, and black or a combination of all three.


If it’s dime-sized bluegills they’re chewing on or you have a wide range of natural, forage options in a given system, a multi-color approach might do more damage. Work clown, parrot, and fire-tigers.

Light/time of day 

Always note the amount of light penetrating the ice. With thinner ice or less snow, you have a brighter depths to work. Deep ice and thick snow cover obviously makes it a darker environment.


Address light as you would water clarity when choosing color schemes. You can often get by with natural or subtle colors when there’s maximum light penetration, while golds, reds, oranges, and glows are best during thick ice, deep snow, or at dawn and dusk.


Again, walleyes see well during low-light periods and in dirty water. There’s just more of an opportunity to get that reaction bite or pull them in from a greater distant with something that shines brighter.

Walleye mood

We’ve all seen a scenario where certain colors work better on some lakes, so don’t ignore reality if it prompts bites. Still, pay attention to what walleyes are telling you. If they’re feeding aggressively, color might not matter.  


But if they’re being stubborn, or somewhat lethargic with the way their reacting, don’t be satisfied or conclude that they just aren’t biting. There is no right or wrong answer with color selection in these negative feeding windows. 


Revert to trial and error with your baits. While sometimes frustrating, steadily switch things up until you get a few of those lookers to commit.

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