June 27, 2014
By Jack Penny
In the last 38 years of traveling to fish for big pike, I've never boarded a boat without a good assortment of pike spoons, and I never will. I love fishing spoons. What's not to like? They're great hookers, never leak, never need tuning, just a hook sharpening now and then. And they sure catch a lot of fish.
While details are hazy, it appears that spoons made their initial showing around 1820 when young Julio Thompson Buel took a spoon from the dinner table, cut the handle off, drilled a hole in each end, added a hook, and began making tremendous catches. After some twists and turns, he founded the J.T. Buel Company in New York in 1848. This fantastic new lure paved the way for a flurry of competitors throughout the rest of the 1800s. Men like Floyd Lobb in 1849, William Mills in 1852, G.M. Skinner in 1873, and E.F. Pfleuger in 1880 brought out similar products.
A few fishermen experimented with making their own spoons. One example was Lou Eppinger, who hammered one out to take to Canada on a pike trip in 1906. His lure produced so well that he started production that fall. His company, Eppinger Mfg. is a top maker of spoons today, and they're still producing impressive catches.
Other well-known spoons followed. In 1920, Louis Johnson brought out his weedless Silver Minnow and Charlie Stapf introduced his Doctor Spoon, and Williams Wabler made its first appearance on the market. Four years later, C.V. Clark unveiled the Wob-L-Rite and the Little Cleo, and in 1928 Frederick Hofschneider's Red Eye Spoon appeared.
In 1952, Art Lavallee started Acme Tackle, which soon offered a diverse line, including the Kastmaster, Phoebe, and Side-Winder. He then expanded by acquiring the Cleo and Wob-L-Rite from Clark. Buck Perry soon introduced the world to structure fishing with his Spoonplugs, an odd cross of a spoon and a crankbait. The pace of spoon invention has hardly slowed since and French angler and lure designer Patrick Sebile brought out the novel rattling Onduspoon in the last decade.
My own experience with spoons goes back to the first pike I ever caught. My dad taught me at an early age the power of the spoon with a devils head on it. The first traveling pikers I met nearly 40 years ago were older guys who rarely threw anything but spoons. And they caught lots of big fish. This was common in those days. There's little doubt that for the first 60 years of the last century, spoons were the main choice for pike. I later learned of many options to catch big pike, but spoons still remain a top choice in many situations.
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The reason for all the variations in shape is revealed when you examine the mechanics of a spoon. Imagine a line straight down the center of a spoon. This is its axis. By design, spoons are meant to rock back and forth on their axis, without completely rotating.
Retrieve speed can be important here. When these spoons were invented, gear ratios were far lower than now. If a spoon flips over during the retrieve, it's being cranked too fast. To avoid this problem, Williams builds a keel in several models to keep them from rotating.
A spoon's shape also affects its vibration and flash. The wider a spoon is, the more water is displaced; the more pronounced its vibration; and the wider its path of travel. Also, spoons that are wider in the rear swing more widely. The Doctor Spoon is a fine example. As a spoon travels through the water, a pike sees the pattern painted on one side, then the next moment there's flash from its metallic back. This action creates an blinking effect that attracts and triggers many species of fish.
Spoons often outfish other lures in extreme weather. Cold fronts, hot spells, or thunderstorms can spell trouble for pike anglers. But that doesn't mean big pike can't be caught. John Cleveland, marketing director for Eppinger, and I took a trip to Nueltin Lake one summer. For two days we enjoyed great weather and excellent fishing. Then the bottom fell out. Day 3 began with lightning, thunder, and driving rain. The drenching downpour cut visibility to about 15 feet for most of the day as thunder shook our cabin windows.
The next day was sunny with some clouds but few bites. We came to find out that the big pike had retreated into the dense stands of pencil reeds and Clevelend had the bait to get back into the thickets, Eppinger's Rex Spoon. We could cast this hefty lure way back into the tall reeds and bring it back without hanging. Some pike attacked it back in the vegetation, while others followed it out and bit as it reached open water. Excitement built as we watched the reeds part as big gators came up behind, then slammed it.
Spoons also excel in early spring when weedgrowth is starting to emerge from the bottom of shallow bays. In these confined areas, pike generally like smaller baits, like Eppinger's Dardevle or a Len Thompson #2. A small spoon wobbles easily over the vegetation. Later in spring, when pike have moved to mid-bay areas and points outside bays, upsizing to a Troll Devle, #4 Len Thompson, Little Cleo, or a Williams Wabler or Whitefish is the ticket.
I've also seen spoons shine in the heat of summer. Once warmer water pushes big pike from the shallows, their eventual destination may be either the open water abyss where they follow and feed on whitefish and ciscoes, or deep weedbeds where a sucker/perch menu beckons. Those open water wanderers can be tough to pin down and are best approached by trolling. Around deep vegetation, however, a narrow heavy spoon, such as Eppinger's Cop-E-Cat or Acme's Side-Winder, can be fished deep with a moderately fast retrieve. If they're holding high in the weedbed, the weedless Johnson Silver Minnow tipped with plastics draws vicious strikes. Big pike can also be found in weeds at the base of steep drop-offs and reefs. There a heavy spoon like the Cop-E-Cat or a Luhr Jensen Krocodile can be snap-jigged with good results.
And in fall, when whitefish and ciscoes make their spawning runs, few lures match the success of a spoon. One of my favorite locations is a river in the Northwest Territories that hosts a tremendous run of whitefish in fall. Huge pike concentrate below a series of rapids to dine on them. Large plastics work well, but get chewed up quickly. A good option is a large spoon like a Williams Whitefish or an Eppinger TrollDevle or Husky Jr.
This fall feed is typically fast, but not always. On a trip there in 2013, we found the fish surprisingly sluggish and holding on the bottom. Jigs worked, but I did well dragging a spoon across the bottom like a plastic worm. Bites were light, a mere "tick" on your line, but the action was fast once we got onto the pattern.
Many anglers put much stock in the color of spoons and pike can be picky at times. I suggest experimenting to determine what's best on a particular day. But over the years, a few guidelines have emerged. The old timers used to tell me, "Use silver on a sunny day and gold or copper when it's cloudy." I've found that pretty solid advice. Several manufacturers offer spoons plated with different metals. Eppinger has options with silver, copper, or brass on the back. I carry all three options in my favorite shapes.
For paint color and pattern, water color affects my selection. In the lake trout waters of the far north, the water is normally very clear and muted natural colors and patterns often are best. In the tannin-stained lakes of southern Canada, bright colors produce better and patterns can be gaudy. But despite these guidelines, experimentation is the key.
As productive as spoons are, a few modifications can increase their effectiveness. If a spoon doesn't come with a split ring, I add one. It makes changing lures easier and gives the spoon more action. Though most spoons come with a treble hook, a single J-hook offers many advantages. With a single hook, weeds slide off much easier. A few snaps of the rod tip generally clear it.€©It's also much easier to unhook fish, so releases are quicker, leaving more time for pictures. I've not noticed a reduction in the number of hookups with a single hook. In fact, I believe I catch more fish with a single hook because it's easier to get good hook penetration and pike can't get as much leverage to throw the hook. When changing to a single hook, the point of the hook should ride on the inside or concave side of the spoon. To select the correct size, hold the hook against the back of the spoon. The hook should come close to the edges of the spoon without going past it. Good options include the Gamakatsu open eye siwash or a barbless Lazer Sharp L308.
Another nifty modification is adding a trailer to the hook. This can be as simple as a plastic grub. A better option is to add a silicone spinnerbait skirt. Manufactured skirts tend to slide down the hook on the cast, so I make my own and thread a few strands of silicone through the eye of the hook, then stretch the skirt band over the eye of the hook and attach it to the shank. This keeps the skirt in place until a tooth cuts the band or gets into the hook eye and cuts the skirt material. I usually place two bands on the hook for insurance. This material is available from Skirts Plus, lurepartsonline.com, Janns Netcraft, or other lure parts outlets.
Note that too much skirt material hinders the action of a spoon. Five or six strands is plenty, bulking the profile a bit without altering the action. Bucktail tends to add too much lift. Other additions include a red plastic "flipper" on the rear split ring. Even a short piece of yarn tied to the rear split ring can boost your pike tally at the end of the day. At times, I've added a piece of reflective tape to the inside of a spoon to increase flash. Be sure to wipe the area with rubbing alcohol so the tape adheres well.
Spoons are not the answer for every pike fishing encounter. No single lure is. But if you're not using them at least part of the time you're missing out on some great catches. And the more types you try and the more situations you test spoons, the better they work.