February 15, 2014
One slips out and flutters on the drop. The other wobbles and swings. One sets up quicker while the other articulates. One is quiet. The other clicks. One is slow, the other fast.
One is a "spoon hook," with blade and single hook welded together into a solid unit. The other is a classic spoon, sporting an independent treble hook on a split ring. When spoon and hook are one, the spoon turns as the hook does. The gyrations of a small minnow make it do the Macarena, its surface turning back-and-forth, catching light and creating flash. On a spoon, the hook follows its own path. The lure folds on the drop, swings on the stop, and creates subtle noise when worked.
Which is better for crappies? Depends on conditions, who you are, where you are, what you're doing, and what mood the crappies are in. We asked a guide, a pro, and a spoon designer to describe their own criteria for choosing between these two basic styles. Shape, weight, action, and color are the usual suspects when determining which lure to pluck from a spoon box. But does one style of spoon appeal more to aggressive crappies, the other to spooky fish?
Guide Brian "Bro" Brosdahl says almost any shape can be natural. "Aquatic insects come in almost every shape imaginable," he says. "So crappie spoons can be any shape. I don't think it matters until it affects action. Action matters. I sum up everything I know about spoons like this: Get the aggressive fish first. I start with a dense, fast-dropping spoon that lets me move fast and I adjust from there."
Brosdahl starts a day of crappie hunting with spoons clipped onto several rods, but hits his first holes of the morning with a compact, 1/8-ounce Northland Macho Minnow or Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon. "Most active crappies bite it," he says. "Start big and work down in size. Spoons up to a 1/4-ounce are sometimes right for taking numbers, but I use 1/8-ouncers about 80 percent of the time for bigger crappies.
"I match crappie spoons to depth, too, but having patience and letting a light spoon flutter down produces more action some days. I occasionally go as light as 1/64-ounce. But for crappies most days, a 1/32-ounce Northland Forage Fry is about as small as I need to go. If I want to go smaller, I dig into my jig box."
Brosdahl uses single-hook crappie spoons for deadsticking with a crappie minnow on a second rod. "When I'm jigging, I like the quick drop of a dense spoon," he says. "When I drop a deadstick down, the lure has to do all the attracting."
Walt Matan, chief lure designer for Custom Jigs & Spins, says his world has two kinds of crappies. "You have flowage crappies and you have all the rest," he says. "Flowage crappies are different from any others I've fished. In Wisconsin, flowages like Petenwell and Castlerock contain aggressive crappies. They're bigger, they school tightly, and they rip spoons. White bass school with the crappies in open water in those flowages, and I think that makes the crappies feed more competitively. The 14-inch and bigger crappies are most aggressive and I use larger 1/4- to 5/16-ounce Custom Jigs & Spins Pro Series Slender Spoons. Flowage crappies have taught me not to be afraid to go big when I see crappies snap the rod tip down on the strike."
When crappies are less aggressive, Matan favors the single-hook Custom Jigs & Spins Demon. "Aggressiveness is related to spoon size," he says. "When you slightly move the rod tip and crappies disappear, it's time to downsize. Sometimes merely the movement of the treble seems to startle them. When fishing is tough, you can't beat a #10 glow Demon. And at times a deadstick with a whole crappie minnow and the bigger profile of a #6 Demon calls fish to the bait by creating flash as the spoon turns to follow the minnow's every move."
Tournament angler Joe Balog divides time between Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and the smaller lakes of southern Michigan. "I like jigging-style spoons best for crappies," he says. "My favorite is a 1/16-ounce Lindy Frostee. I've caught lots of perch on single-hook wobble-style spoons that kick out erratically. For crappies, though, it seems like a jigging spoon is best most of the time."
Work It, Work It
"Jigging strokes need to be fairly light for North Country crappies," Balog says. "I use a Frabill 32-inch QuickTip rod, which is parabolic and has a great tip. While you need a spring bobber in most softbait presentations for crappies, it's not necessary with a spoon. Crappies hit it pretty hard."
Brosdahl feels the reason for a spoon's allure is the "easy pickin's" illusion. "Crappies see it as a wounded minnow," he says. "So I dance it over their heads to get one to rise. You keep the school under you that way — not spooking them off. I call it plucking a star off the Christmas tree. You try to make them react to the lure as far above the school as possible."
Like Balog, Brosdahl advocates "slight action" jigging. "I don't like to rip spoons for crappies," he says. "Lift, drop, and stair-step it back down. Let it drop a little then stop it. Drop a little and finally stop it about 5 feet above them and make it shimmy with subtle, nervous twitches. When they won't respond, I space the treble away from the spoon with a short section of line. Create a 3- to 6-inch dropper, depending on the mood of the fish. Use a speed clip and you can tie droppers ahead of time. You get more action with a speed clip, too."
As often happens, lure designer and guide are in agreement. "The Custom Jigs & Spins Pro Finesse Dropper Chain turns sniffers into biters," Matan says. "Take the treble off your spoon, clip on a Drop Chain, add a waxworm, a few spikes, or a minnow head and crappies respond differently to the presentation. Drop it down to a foot or so over their heads and work it.
"If you can't get them to come up, downsize. Sometimes you're off to the side when you think you're right above them. A camera tells the story. If so, I jiggle-pause, jiggle-pause, jiggle and raise the spoon 6 inches and let it fall. I'm fishing clear water. No need to rip or snap the spoon. With those aggressive flowage fish, though, I make deliberate rod sweeps of 2 to 3 feet, then let it fall on a tight line."
Matan often tips with a Custom Jigs & Spins Wedgie, "I go with a Wedgie when crappies are aggressive," he says. "Most days a Wedgie produces better than bait and it doesn't kill the action of the spoon. I hang it across two tines of the treble of a Slender Spoon so it's horizontal when the spoon rests. Crappies try to suck it in just like they would any jig-plastic combo. Those sticky little treble hooks swing to them and catch their papery mouths." Another point for standard spoons.
Brosdahl likes to "chandelier" his treble hooks with maggots at times. "When you do, the spoon articulates and imitates a wounded baitfish. The treble makes a clicking sound that can trigger even lethargic fish. Sometimes I add a small crappie minnow head. Hanging a Northland Slug Bug Tail that's ripped in half works well. Or I drape a Northland Bro's Bloodworm on the treble. Bloodworms make up a large percentage of what panfish eat in winter, so it might represent a minnow making off with one."
In the waters of central Minnesota, the PK Lures Predator Spoon, with its little flicker blade on top, and the PK Spoon tipped with a waxie score more crappies and walleyes than any other lures when fished side-by-side in my comparisons during the past two years. Work a Predator Spoon in the hole and it looks rather awkward. The blade seems to kill the normal turn-and-flutter horizontal action of a spoon on the drop. But crappies see extra flash and a three-part articulation that mimics wounded minnows. On a hot bite demanding a quick drop, I rely on the PK Spoon. Other favorites include the Acme Kastmaster and Northland's Forage Minnow in 1/16-ounce or smaller sizes in clear water.
When Brosdahl needs something extra to trigger fish, he creates a crappie clacker. "Before tying on a spoon, I slide on a light sliding sinker then a couple beads to create a clacker," he says. "You can play with the color and size of beads, but the sinker should be less than 1/16 ounce. You can use little cone sinkers — anything with a center of gravity directly above the beads. Little vertical snaps call crappies to the lure in cloudy water. And when it's dark or the water is dingy, nothing beats a spoon with a clacker."
Bay de Noc Lure Co. Swedish Pimple
Custom Jigs & Spins Demon
Custom Jigs & Spins Pro Finesse Drop Chain
Custom Jigs & Spins Slender Spoon
Jig-A-Whopper Hawger Spoon
Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon