September 28, 2017
It was the perfect lair, one she'd used many times to catch prey — positioned in thick vegetation near the edge, facing the opening where baitfish roamed. But she was in no hurry. Digesting a big sucker, she felt no strong urge to feed.
And then it came. She could feel the vibration from a distance, putting her on alert. As it approached, the rhythmic thump grew more distinct. Then she spotted it flashing through the weedstalks. The combination of flash and vibration was more than she could resist and with a powerful thrust of her tail, she pounced.
This scenario has played out countless times since man started using artificial lures for pike. And more times than not, that flashing, thumping lure was a spoon. Spoons as we know them came into existence in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Before that, lures commonly called spoons more closely resembled in-line spinners than the spoons of today.
The list of spoon manufacturers is long, and it's easy to see why. They were relatively simple to make and their effectiveness stirs anglers to buy more. In the early days, before crankbaits, spinnerbaits, or jerkbaits, spoons were the most effective lures available. And even today, with the staggering number of artificials, spoons still are the best choice in several situations.
Pike are attracted to spoons by a combination of sight and sound (vibration) factors. The visual aspects are supplied by the spoon's shape, which governs its action, and various finishes. The audible effects come from size, shape, and retrieve speed.
Most spoons are concave or cupped, meaning they're not flat, but resemble the utensil they're named after. The more cupped a spoon is, the more distinct the vibrations it produces. Cupping also adds lift to the lure as it wobbles from side to side. And the wider the spoon, the wider that side-to-side wobble. A narrower spoon, like the Eppinger Cop-E-Cat, has less wobble and runs deeper. Most spoons usually sport free-swinging treble hooks attached to the rear with a split ring. But some have a single hook attached to the spoon and held rigidly in place, often with a weedguard added. Commonly referred to as weedless, the Johnson Silver Minnow is the best known of these. Eppinger makes some fine ones, too. Some spoons are flat and heavy, mostly used for jigging applications, either vertically or on a cast.
Some spoons can be made more effective by modification. A split ring added to the front of any spoon increases its action. A snap swivel makes changing lures easier and helps prevent line-twist.
Exchanging treble hooks for a single hook is easier on hooked pike, and it makes the unhooking process quicker and less perilous. Moreover, single barbless hooks are required in many top pike fisheries north of the border. A single hook picks up far fewer weedstalks and it takes a lot less force to get a good hook-set than with a treble. I've also found that fewer pike become unhooked during the fight with single hooks.
The proper sized single hook can be determined by laying the hook on the backside of the spoon. The gap of the preferred hook comes close to the edges of the spoon, but not beyond. Another simple modification is the addition of trailers. For single hooks, a grub with a twistertail or a paddletail works well, but too much trailer can limit the action of a spoon. Instead, attach a few strands of silicone skirt material to the eye of the hook. This adds to the profile of the spoon and doesn't affect its action. This is also a way to add color and flash to the lure. Grubs are another fine addition to weedless spoons, but they're not durable. A 3- or 4-inch plastic hootchie, used for salmon, makes a great trailer for weedless spoons. They're tougher and don't readily slide down the hook.
Timing the Spoon Bite
In spring, once water temperatures reach 45°F or so, pike become active in shallow dark-bottom bays, the best of which feature incoming water in the back end and wind blowing into them. Small spoons like a #2 Len Thompson, Johnson Sprite, or Eppinger Dardevle, produce well in pockets in vegetation and near tributaries. White suckers, which are present in most North American waters, spawn when waters reach 50°F in shallow creeks like those in many lake bays and big pike lay for them. Spoons can be a great way to cash in on this bonanza. If timed right, this can be the hottest bite of the year — strikes on every cast. Some big fish and some medium-size, but rarely a dink.
But it's not an all-day affair. Suckers run in waves and when a school moves toward a creek, packs of pike greet them. A spoon equipped with a single barbless hook allows the angler to get back in the game quicker than about any other lure and stands up to abuse. Doctor Spoons, Eppinger Troll Devles, and Williams Whitefish all work well. The main requirements are castability and flashy finishes.
Another excellent spot in the backs of windblown bays is patches of old dead reeds left over from previous years. Dead reeds pile up against the shore and provide excellent cover for pike. But trying to penetrate this matted mess is challenging. I've had success dragging a Johnson Silver Minnow across the top of the mat, allowing it to flutter down into openings. Keep casts short and use heavy tackle. This is heavy cover and pike bury in it quickly, shake loose, or break off.
As water temperatures rise, pike move out of the extreme shallows and many move to deeper water and beds of cabbage in the deeper parts of bays. Vegetation can be expansive so anglers should investigate any irregularities in the weedline such as cuts and turns. Upsized spoons with single hooks, like the Eppinger Troll Devle or Williams Wabler or Whitefish work well here. The Johnson Silver Minnow is a top option, too.
Summertime comes with unique challenges for pike anglers. Bays often warm to the point where big pike move to the deepest areas with vegetation in search of more comfortable surroundings. Some big pike head out into the abyss of the main lake to follow schools of whitefish and ciscos. Others head to deep main-lake weedbeds or deep reefs to feed on suckers and perch.
Many top pike lakes are huge, so finding schools of baitfish can be a shot in the dark. But searching for key habitat with maps, sonar, or your reading of lake characteristics can point the way. Rocky points and reefs, underwater humps, and the base of sharp drop-offs can all hold big pike during the warm months. Trolling is a great option, but trolling a big spoon and keeping it deep requires a bit of ingenuity.
My good friend, the late muskie expert Jack Burns, showed me a trick he learned while trolling for muskies on the St. Lawrence River and it has worked well for big pike, too. He'd take a 10-inch Drifter Tackle Believer and remove the trebles. He then attached a 3- to 6-foot leader to the rear hook eyelet and tied a spoon, like a Williams Whitefish or a Doctor Spoon, to the leader. With the mainline attached to the deep line tie (the one farthest from the nose), a Believer runs 18 to 20 feet deep and its tight vibrating shimmy coupled with the flashing, wobbling spoon make an attractive package in deep water.
Windblown points and rocky shorelines are high-percentage spots in summer, but they don't all hold fish. It doesn't require a stiff wind, but at least a slight breeze is vital. Points with wind blowing straight in or across can be covered by casting the entire point. Deeper sections can be reached with slimmer, thicker spoons like the Eppinger Cop-E-Cat or Luhr Jensen Krocodile. Rocky shorelines are best when the wind is blowing straight into them. If the waves are big enough to create a mudline, all the better. Waves crashing into rocks fire up the food chain and pike take full advantage of it. Big spoons with plenty of flash work best here. The Eppinger Troll Devle and Husky Jr., Len Thompson #4, and Williams C80 and C90 Whitefish are all top choices.
Main-lake weedbeds are pike magnets but some are better than others. Pondweed, also known as cabbage, is present across the pike's range and represents ideal cover. Main-lake beds are best approached at the point where the vegetation is no longer visible at the surface, then work deeper from there. Choose spoons like the Troll Devle or the Williams Wabler. But for deeper areas off the edge, select a slimmer spoon, like a Cop-E-Cat or Luhr Jensen Krocodile that runs deeper. When the wind blows parallel to the edge, it's often best to approach by drifting along the bed, making casts parallel to edge to cover different depth ranges.
When the leaves start to turn colors, pike experts get ready for the "Season of Heavyweights." As water temperatures drop, big pike start feeding heavily. Points leading into bays are prime for casting or trolling. But the hottest bite begins when whitefish start to spawn in late fall. On lakes, rocky reefs, and shoals with fist to gravel-size rocks are prime spawning grounds and big pike attend this all-you-can-eat buffet faithfully. Try casting spoons across a reef and across shallower sections, then allow them to flutter down at the edges. Pike also stage out away from a reef or shoal, waiting for the whitefish, so check adjoining deeper water with heavy, deep-running spoons.
In some systems, whitefish run up creeks, sometimes as far as they can go. This often leads to an impassable waterfall. En route, they stage below rapids and smaller falls. Casting up into the fast water and reeling a 1- to 2-ounce spoon through it can create incredible whitewater action. You need a spoon with enough weight to get down into the current and track true.
On the outside edges of fast water, you can find a seam where fast water meets slower current. This edge is always a key feeding zone. Casting parallel to the seam keeps you in the zone throughout the retrieve.
Another good technique below falls is snap-jigging heavy spoons. Spoon weight depends on current speed. Hefty Cop-E-Cats work well and I have a 4-ounce Luhr Jensen Krocodile that cuts through current and has put many monsters in the boat. You can drift and vertically jig them or make short to medium casts and jig the spoon back, dropping it to the bottom before snapping it up 1 to 3 feet again.
Pike often stop at troughs on the lower end of a creek to rest on their way upstream. In these areas, they lie on the bottom in a mostly negative mood and often won't chase anything. But put a lure in their face and they often can't resist nipping it. In these quieter areas, anchoring and fan casting is productive. I like to cast and allow the spoon to sink to the bottom, then drag it slowly along. You can't drag it too slowly. Stop it occasionally and let it sit for a few seconds, then slowly drag it forward six inches to a foot.
Sometimes you feel the spoon going across something that feels different. Often it's the backs of pike lying on the bottom. Snagging them several times after feeling this sensation convinced me of what was happening down there. Bites tend to be very light and hook-sets must be quick. But at times, these spots yield the best action on the entire river. The Johnson Silver Minnow is the most productive lure I've found for this tactic, since it slides across bottom smoothly and doesn't snag.
Whether you're a long-in-the-tooth veteran or a newcomer to the wonders of pike fishing, never sell spoons short. These old timers show why they've been around for so long and are often called the greatest pike lures of all time.