Chances are good that chartreuse is one of the primary colors in your tackle box. It’s a standard for spinnerbaits. As a dip, it sweetens the tails of soft plastics. On crankbaits and topwaters, it brightens bellies and sides, as do lime, citrus, parrot, and a palette of other variations that have evolved from chartreuse.
But where’s the color that started it all? Where’s the respect? In other words, where’s the school-bus yellow? Unless you carry some of the retro baits, such as the Heddon Lucky 13 and Arbogast Hula Popper, it’s probably not in your box.
“Chartreuse is brighter and yellow has been forgotten,” said Stephen Headrick, a lure designer and owner of Punisher Lures and Dale Hollow 1 Stop near Dale Hollow.
“Yellow now is one of the most underfished colors. But it can be a great color year around.”
“Bandit has a Spring Craw crankbait that’s about 75 percent school-bus yellow,” he added. “It’s a killer in spring around mud flats, when crawfish are starting to come out and move around.
“Crawfish start spawning at about 60 degree, earlier than most believe.”
A little later in the year, floating yellow worms, fished straight with a wire hook, will take both smallmouths and largemouths when worked around grass.
“Using yellow at that time of year has nothing to do with the water temperature, the way it does in winter,” he said. “It works then because yellow is just a good color.”
Especially, though, school-bus yellow can be great during winter, when adorning an aspirin-head hair jig, also known around Dale Hollow as a “hoss fly.”
Those who have discovered its effectiveness on smallmouth bass try to share the wealth from time to time. But they’ve discovered that many just will not believe that a bait that seems designed for crappie will catch big bronzebacks.
“I’ve given seminars on the school-bus yellow jig, and people will just not believe me,” said David Duvall, a part-time guide and Dale Hollow regular.
Aside from the color, the fact that advocates say that the jig usually should not be fished with a trailer makes the technique seem even more a tall tale.
“People think that I must be putting minnows on the jig, but I’m not,” Duvall continued. “The school-bus yellow jig is just the best wintertime bait that you can have for smallmouth bass, especially on clear-water lakes like Dale Hollow.”
What makes this bait so effective? The hair that appears dark yellow out of water turns lighter as it sinks below 10 feet or so, explained Headrick, who makes the jigs in a variety of sizes. When water temperature falls below 55 degrees, crawfish turn a similar shade.
“You pop that lure off the bottom and it looks like a crawfish,” he added. “Smallmouth bass can’t resist it.”
And it’s not just in Dale Hollow that this little appreciated bait is effective. It will work in just about any lake or impoundment that has smallmouths, according to Duvall, who also has used the jig on Tim’s Ford and Center Hill.
The key is to fish it in the right places. “I like flats, humps, and long gravel points,” he revealed.
“Personally, I like black shale rock,” added Headrick. “But any place holding crawfish can be good. Depth will depend on the weather.
“If you have clouds and wind, the fish could be in 10 feet. If it’s slick and sunny, they could be 20 to 30 or even more.”
Headrick’s favorite size is 3/16-ounce, but he will switch to 1/8 for shallower water or ¼ in high winds. Duvall also prefers 3/16.
“I’ll make a long cast, close the bail with my hand, and watch the line as it sinks,” he said. “Many times, you won’t feel the bite. You’ll just see a slight movement of the line.”
Once the jig hits bottom, Headrick advises holding the rod at a 60-degree angle for the retrieve. “Give it two quick, little jerks and let it fall back,” he said. “And watch the line.”
If you can’t provoke a reaction strike, he continued, then try dragging the jig on bottom.
Headrick first learned about the hoss fly from his father, but smallmouth legend Billy Westmoreland is the one who convinced him of its effectiveness nearly 20 years ago. “I was using the float-n-fly and he kicked my butt with the school-bus yellow jig,” he remembered.
“Outside this area, I don’t think that he ever told anyone about it. But he always had lots of yellow jigs with him.”
(A variation of this article was published a few years ago in B.A.S.S. Times.)