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A pretty kettle of dyed baitfish
Robert H. Boyle
October 05, 1964
Largemouth bass see red better than other colors. They love minnows, but minnows are drab. What to do? Dye them red to catch more bass
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October 05, 1964

A Pretty Kettle Of Dyed Baitfish

Largemouth bass see red better than other colors. They love minnows, but minnows are drab. What to do? Dye them red to catch more bass

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The race is on

But there is nothing like live bait for bass, and so in the interests of statistical accuracy, I have repeatedly fed the bass equal amounts of red and natural killies. And on almost every occasion, the bass have gobbled up the red killies faster. For instance, at 11 a.m. on June 20, I fed the bass 14 killies—seven of which were dyed—even though the bass had been fed worms earlier that day. Within half an hour, the bass had devoured four red killies and only two naturals. By 2 in the afternoon, only one of the seven reds was left while four naturals remained. At 4 o'clock, there were no reds and two naturals.

There can be no doubt but that the bass can see the red killies better than the naturals. One evening while I was lying on the floor catching the action—and it can be pretty exciting action—the largest bass, a burly two-pounder, had a go-at the last red. That killie raced up and down the top of the tank four or five times with the bass in hot pursuit. No matter which way the killie dodged, the bass hung in there and finally nailed him in a corner with a mighty rush that sent water slopping over the sides. That red color simply stood out too much for the killie's own good. On other occasions, drab killies have shaken a pursuing bass by blending into the background of the weeds and rocks in the aquarium.

It is far harder to keep accurate statistics for fishing in the field, but what statistics I do have give the edge to the red killies. The first time I cast a red killie in a local pond, I accidentally cast short. While I was cursing and unsnarling the line, it began to move. I reeled in an 18-inch pickerel. A friend who wanted to take pictures of bass hitting a red killie in the wild asked me to take him along. We went to a lake, and a bass hit at once. But my friend asked me to do it again since his camera was not set up. I cast out again, and at once another bass grabbed the red killie. This time the photographer complained that the water was too murky for a picture. We went to another pond where the water was clearer. I cast again and caught still another bass. This time the photographer called it quits because the red did not look dramatic enough.

Seagoing barber's pole

On several occasions I have fished with two rods, red killies on one, naturals on the other. I recall one steaming July day when no fish seemed around. I used a red killie on a fly rod and a series of naturals on a spinning rod. I did everything I could to entice fish into striking at the naturals. I let the bait sit, I fished it low, I used small killies, I used big killies. I did not catch a fish on that spinning rod, but I caught four crappies with the red killies on the fly rod.

If the dosage of neutral red is small enough, shiners can also be dyed. For some reason or other, perhaps because they have a lower metabolism than killies, shiners will retain the dye for two or three days. Creek chubs can also be colored red, but since they are often a natural pink, there is little to be gained by dyeing them. I once tried to dye a foot-long eel, but it died. I have the feeling that some factor other than the dye was involved, and I am going to try again. I have a mad dream that a bright-red eel, or better yet, one with bright-red stripes like a seagoing barber's pole, would prove deadly with striped bass.

This is slippery business, but it can be solved with stick-to-it-iveness.

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