Applied Science: The Color-C-Lector

Perhaps the most influential tool in fishing since the graphite rod.

Perhaps the most influential tool in fishing since the graphite rod.

There’s no doubt that color is one of the most important features of any bait no matter how you look at it. That importance lies in the fact that whether you think it’s critical to match the right color to the right water conditions, or whether you could care less if your jigheads are painted, your color beliefs (or lack thereof) still drive your decision-making process when you pick out what to buy in a tackle shop. It’s all fine and good as a matter of personal preference and opinion, that is until a researcher goes out and studies what colors a bass sees and reacts too most easily under all kinds of conditions. At that point, the subject crosses the line into the realm of appplied science. Such begins today’s topic.

Many of you might remember the Color-C-Lector from days gone by. Some of you may even still have one stashed in your boat or garage. The current version is now under the ownership of the Spike-It company, those guys who make the worm dyes and color pens. Love the Spike-It bottled dyes, especially chartreuse! Back on subject, Loren Hill was the inventor of the Color-C-Lector, which was applied for patent-wise in April of 1986. Loren took largemouth bass into the lab, and through a combination of training, positive and negative controls and reinforcements, and a lot of simulated light and water color scenarios, supposedly determined exactly which colors bass could see best under a variety of circumstances.

Fluorescent orange Spooks? Blasphemy!

Fluorescent orange Spooks? Blasphemy!

After compiling all his data, he then developed a type of light meter that could measure the ambient light at any given depth and under any degree of brightness. This light meter had his color data applied to it such that a needle would point to the exact color combination that should work best for a given depth, water clarity and time. You then simply had to choose lures that mimicked that supposed preference, and you’d know you were fishing the best possible colored bait for the conditions.

Before going any further,  I must say that whether you believe in the device or not, his patent application entitled “Method and apparatus for selecting fishing lure color” is a must read. There are some great details including his lab and field trial research, similarly designed devices and previous color research by other scientists. Scroll past the ads at the top of the page and get right to the meat of the discussion.

With that out of the way, we can move on to one of the more fascinating aspects of this whole deal, at least to me. That is the degree to which this simple invention altered the industry, literally changing the product lines and packaging of many major manufacturers. For example, who can forget the many “weird” color combinations that all our tried and true baits started being manufactured with? Even the packaging was relabeled to list the particular color codes for that bait that matched the codes on the Color-C-Lector.

Did you own a Color-C-Lector organized tackle box?

Did you own a Color-C-Lector organized tackle box?

Another great example were the tacklebox manufacturers that created pre-labeled holding systems to organize your baits by. Then  there were the numerous television shows at the time that had their respective anglers using the device or rendering opinions on it. A couple that briefly come to mind were Bill Dance Outdoors, who appeared to be a firm believer in the system, as well as In-Fisherman, who would go on to look at the relevance of the meter to other species beyond bass.

In the end,  whether you believed in the unit or not, you might be hard pressed to find a more influential piece of tackle on the industry short of the invention of graphite (carbon fiber) rods. And based upon the websites and catalogs of the various tackle manufacturers and distributors, color will continue to be one of the largest drivers of sales in the industry, light meter or not.

  • I was a huge believer in the colorClector. I drove my partners crazy dropping that probe down when we could have been fishing…

  • Jeff Hahn

    While I never had a Color-C-Lector, I did get a few of the Fenwick boxes pictured above. I still have 4 of them that I use for storing old tackle. Maybe my grandkids can use them for their first hard boxes.

  • At the peak of the Color C Lector craze, the Hunting and Fishing Library brought in a number of scientific minded anglers to do a symposium of sorts on the topic for one of their books. They also had Dr Hill in by phone, and the head of the department he worked at (was it at OSU or OK – I can’t recall now), also by phone. One telling fact to come out of that interview was that the head of his department would not approve article based on the findings of Hill’s research, for publication in a scientific journal, for insufficient research data.

    Further, the H&FL compared a number of them side-by-side and got a wide spectrum of different reading under common conditions.

    My own feelings on it st the time (which remain unchanged to this day) were that bass don’t automatically prefer the easiest color to see. Hell, most of the prey they attack is naturally camouflaged. Further, Hill never considered (nor does his unit measure or calculate) color balance based on the available light. It measures light intensity only, and expected the angler to interpret dirty, clear or stained water. What is stained water? Green? Tannic? Grey? Each of these water colors will affect the color balance immensely. So even if the units were consistent, and even if the idea that bass don’t necessarily eat the most visible color is ignored, the fact that it didn’t factor in color balance made the unit a sham.

  • Ralph Manns

    Dr. Hill held his study info very tightly. I was privileged to obtain a reported copy. Assuming it was an accurate report of the actual research, there were some very significant limitations to the study: Limitation that I believe make the Color C-lector more of a marketing scam than a real help to serious anglers..

    The differences between colors were not tested for scientific/statistical significance (not mentioned in the report). The data appear to be merely ranked, with no real attempt to prove one color superior to the others. Many rank comparisons involved very small statistical differences.

    The tests were all made in either aquaria or shallow tanks. There apparently was no deep water experiment to compensate for the attenuation of light color frequencies with depth. There also was no attempt reported to evaluate the various degrees of water clarity associated with natural waters. Test were made in only “clear” and “murky” water, if I remember correctly..

    While the device likely does reveal colors that bass in captivity found more readily when threatened with electro-shocks, the basic data shows only ability to find a color quickly, not any preference. A warning bell started bass looking for their known color. Time to find the color placard was compared. The easiest to find won.

    Secondary experiment clearly revealed bass in aquaria tend to eat what ever food they see most easily and can get first. Those of us who follow behavioral studies in wild environments think bass in competitive wild environments can’t afford to pass up catchable food because it is the wrong color, taking almost anything that is a likely target at the time..

    finally—If visibility is the key to fishing success, Fluorescent colors far outperformed all natural hues. Thus the only color lure an angler ever would need, according to Hill’s report, was a firetiger colored bait. its three basic flourescent colors: red-orange, green, and chartrueuse are always predicted “best” or at least ‘good”. The C-lector is not needed if visibility is the only key to lure color choice. JMHO.

  • B. Mentjes

    I have a Fenwick Color C Lector for sale. How much should I ask for it? B. Mentjes