If you were to search the Internet back in 2005 through roughly 2008, you would find 150 listings–give or take–for “custom painting” of hardbaits. Run that same search today and you’ll get nearly 1,500 hits. Not only do you find loads of custom painters, but also mass cloning of old colors under new themes like “pro designed” or “super natural” from some of the big-box lure manufacturers. The questions of the hour are do you need to think about custom paint, and if you do, what should you be paying for it?
They’re not easy answers, as the worth of a custom paint job–one that’s tailored to your specific wants and needs–versus a production paint job is going to be based on personal preference, personal confidence, and personal results. I can recall a few times fishing a crankbait around schools of spawning yellow perch up north where a custom-painted bait made all the difference for me. And given that there are thousands of anglers like me that do feel the occasional need in niche situations for having an exact color and pattern, the custom paint market has proven profitable.
It’s kind of a catch 22. If you buy a custom-made hardbait, you’re looking at spending $15 to $20. Add a custom paint job, and the price rises far higher. Then we have the five-dollar baits you find on big-box store shelves, the bulk of which are manufactured with simper designs, inexpensive components, and mass production paint jobs. These baits will produce, no doubt. The thing is, with many of them, not only will you be changing hooks and split rings to assure better performance, but rapidly developing hook rash thanks to lower quality primer, paint, and clear coat. If you choose to spend the money to apply custom paint and components to these five-dollar baits, you’re close to the $15 mark again. I’ve gone that route, and sometimes it makes the most sense. If a five-dollar bait is a killer on your lake, and you think it’ll be even better with more purple and a hint of black, have them painted. I have found more quality bait manufacturers with staff lure artists out there now than ever before, and little research can help you find the right mix of bulk production and custom look. My recommendation, however, would be to at least have a dozen baits painted at the same time, as the more you have done at once, the fewer times you’ll have to go back for more, and the better the odds of the painter cutting you a little bulk discount.