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The “Match the Hatch” Theory Explained

The “Match the Hatch” Theory Explained

“Match the hatch”, it’s a slang phrase many experienced anglers know and use, and even if you’re new to the world of bass fishing you have probably heard the phrase before, but what exactly does it mean? Matching the hatch?

The match the hatch theory was originally used by trout fishermen, but later adapted by bass anglers. Matching the hatch simply means observing the type of forage in the body of water you are fishing and choosing a lure that mimics that forage in size, species, and perhaps most importantly, color. So the forage in the water, whether it be shad, minnows, night crawlers, herring, crawfish, frogs, etc. is what would be considered the “hatch”, and based on word of mouth about the body of water as well as your own observations, you would want to match lures as close as possible to the “hatch” according to this theory.

Match the hatch jig color matched to crawfish color

The theory is very popular in competitive bass fishing and a common phrase used on the FLW and Bassmaster pro tours. For pros that travel to new bodies of water constantly, it is a must to be able to determine what forage and colors will work where they are at in a timely matter. This is where matching the hatch becomes an extremely useful tool. When fishing an unfamiliar body of water it is one of the first things to consider, along with time of the year and water conditions.

Here’s where it gets dicey though. Should the match the hatch theory be the absolute determining factor when selecting a lure, and most importantly the color of the bait?

While matching the hatch is an excellent tool for getting started and developing a pattern, and something I use myself all the time, I say no. I should NOT be your absolute determining factor when selecting a lure.

Let’s flashback to a tournament my dad and I were fishing earlier this summer on the James River in Virginia. We were fishing laydowns and brush piles with skirted jigs. I was using a black & blue jig and he was using green pumpkin & chartreuse jig, we were flipping the structure. We quickly caught 2 good sized bass that morning, and after we landed them, they both spit up fairly large full sized crawfish (as pictured below). Using the match the hatch theory, I quickly sorted through my tackle box and found a skirted jig perfectly matching the size and color of the crawfish those bass had just spit up. I was hoping to get some extra bites by using the exact color of the crayfish the bass were eating at that moment.

regurgetated crawfish from a bass belly shows color of forage to match the hatch

Surprisingly enough, that turned out to be a mistake.

For the next hour or so, my dad continued to catch bass with his pumpkin & chartreuse jig, while I couldn’t get a bite on the new jig I just tied on matching the hatch perfectly. After frustration set in due to lack of getting bit, I switched back to my original black & blue jig and began getting bites again.


According to the match the hatch theory, this makes no sense whatsoever. However, in hindsight, I understand my mistake and why I didn’t get those bites that day by matching the color of the crayfish. This is where the match the hatch theory is flawed in my opinion and goes from a theory to get started on a body of water, to more advanced observations to select a lure and color.

The reason I wasn’t getting those bites on the jig I switched to that matched the hatch, was most likely because it was a very natural looking jig with colors that did not show up well at all in the James River water we were fishing that had been slightly dirtied up by rain earlier that week. Whereas the black & blue and pumpkin & chartreuse jigs were showing up in the dirty water better and easier for the bass to find, even though it wasn’t the exact color of the natural crayfish hatch in the river.


Another example was later that same day. The bass in that river that day were obviously feeding on crawdads. However, we had some light breeze that morning. This definitely helped our jig fishing pattern by masking those bulky baits slightly. The breeze died later that day around noon though, and the sun came out high in the sky. Knowing these bass were feeding on crayfish made it tempting to keep with the jig, but with the flat calm water and bright sun, I switched to a popper top water bait to make noise on top of the calm water and landed 3 nice bass in a row through a short stretch of bank. While those bass were clearly feeding on crayfish, the conditions called for a different style of bait that worked better, even though it wasn’t the exact “hatch” the bass may have been searching for to feed on in that area.

As I said, matching the hatch is an excellent way to get started on a new body of water and many times is the way to get a competitive advantage by using the right size lure if you notice the baitfish are rather large, or a certain color if the forage has an obvious color to it. However, as I pointed out, I don’t believe it should be used as an absolute definitive way of selecting a lure or lure color for the water you’re fishing.

It’s always smart to keep the match the hatch theory in mind as forage changes with the time of year on all bodies of water, but my best advice when it comes to selecting color and bait sizes is; if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If you’re getting the bites you need on the lure you’re using, then you’re doing something right and you’re already passed the need for the match the hatch theory. Simply put, use it as a starting point, but trust your gut and go with what works!

Tight lines friends!
Ben Hudson

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August 2021

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