In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange suggests that it's one of the most fundamental triggering moves in fishing — that is, the up-down movement of jigging walleye spoons. It flashes on the lift and the fall, in imitation of a struggling baitfish.
Stange: "Fish get programmed early in their lives to respond to this movement. It's a sure meal. And spoons are as efficient as they are effective. They can be cast and retrieved as well as fished vertically. You can cover a lot of water with them — and they work in reservoir, rivers, and natural lakes.
"Anglers use spoons all winter, but then leave them in the tackle box once open water sets in. Actually, that's an overstatement. I should say anglers in some parts of North America forget about spoons. They're a popular option all season long in many parts of the West and across the Mid South. I get to see spoons in action as we travel to shoot In-Fisherman Television.
"Two of my TV favorites are the Luhr Jensen Crippled Herring and the Luhr Jensen Tony Spoon. Lots of flash and vibration, but not much noise because there are no rattles. One of the big debates in a lot of areas where we use spoons is whether or not to rattle and flash, as opposed to just flash."
One of the first spoons to incorporate a rattle was the Rattle Snakie Spoon from Bass 'N Bait Company, developed in Ohio as a bass lure that soon benefited Lake Erie walleye anglers. Not long afterwards, John Peterson of Northland Tackle designed the Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon.
Peterson: "Before introducing the spoon, I had success with the Buck-Shot Rattle Jig, winning a Professional Walleye Trail event on Lake of the Woods. The water was muddy. More and bigger fish found the jigs with rattles — so I knew a brass rattle in a minnow-imitating spoon would be good. I wanted a versatile and effective spoon that would attract fish in low light or in stained and muddy water."
Clacker Backers Or Not
Stange often fishes at Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan, out of G & S Marina Outfitters, where the owner, Rob Schulz, has demonstrated how effective the ReelBait Fergie Spoon can be. The Fergie is a slab spoon with trebles top and bottom and a clacker system serving as the line tie, where two plastic beads surround a brass clacker sliding on a shaft above the spoon. "It makes a racket," Stange says. "More like a Rattle Trap than the average spoon."
Schulz says he started using the Fergie about 6 years ago. "We got to know Al Patterson (owner of ReelBait) through one of our guides," he says. "We did an Outdoor Quest segment on using jigging spoons. We started on a sharp break to 35 feet off the edge of a rockpile. Structure is great for jigging spoons, and we caught six walleyes between 7 and 10 pounds. That was my introduction to the Fergie and they've been a staple for us ever since.
"The two trebles up your hooking percentage," he adds. "We've had excellent results with the clacker system, on soft bottom as well as hard bottom. We've tried fishing silent spoons, but the clackers consistently outfish the non-clackers most of the time."
Pat O'Grady, designer of the PK Spoon had a clacker system atop his spoons over a decade ago. "We fished almost exclusively with clacker versions for 4 years," he recalls. "We assumed the clacker drew fish in because we fished 30 to 50 feet deep, in water that wasn't clear. One day on Glendo Reservoir in Wyoming, in a group of six guys, one of us took the clacker off. He caught 40 of the 80 walleyes the next two days.
"I started testing spoons again after that. I found that people using my spoons were taking the clacker off and catching more fish. Testing proved that the action of the spoon was more important than any sound it could make. On a subsequent trip to Glendo we caught 106 walleyes in 5 hours. During that hot bite, it became obvious the action of the spoon improved when we took the clacker off, giving it a more lifelike, wounded action.
"I'm first and foremost a spoon guy," he continues. "We can catch fish crankin' and with crawler rigs, but when I want to run and hit a lot of spots to find fish, spoons work best. It's fairly common to pull onto a spot and catch 40 walleyes with spoons in a few hours. Spoons produce more fish faster than any other method, and the best spoon is one that flutters freely on the drop."
Peterson falls between those two opposites. "A rattle is most effective in low light; in dark, stained water; and when fishing around hard-bottom areas," he says. "I fish spoons without rattles when the water's gin-clear and cold, or if I'm vertically jigging under cold-front conditions, when the fish want a slower, subtler presentation. Deadsticking a spoon on or just off bottom can work well in those conditions, just holding the spoon as still as possible under the boat or under the ice."
According to Peterson, "A subtle rattle is better than a loud one in cold water, during cold fronts, or when the fish are in a negative feeding mood. Loud rattles excel in warm water, dark or dirty water, or whenever walleyes are in a more aggressive feeding mode.
"But vertical jigging, casting, and snapjigging with rattling jigs or spoons over hard bottom is a big part of the story with rattles. Rock resonates sound better, and rattles attract fish to those areas faster than they do around silt and sand."
Dan Ferguson, inventor of the Fergie Spoon, also believes that sound is unnecessary at times. "When walleyes are aggressive, I can catch them on spoon that make no noise or limit noise; so I often take the beads off," he says. "But when I fish deeper than about 30 feet, I see a 3-to-1 difference in favor of noisy spoons."
The Rattlin' Way
Even though separated by mountain ranges and climate changes, experts often seem to come around to using similar equipment to fish the same lures. Methodology, however, is another story.
"We cast the Fergie, let it sink to bottom, then start to jerk-pause it back to the boat," Schulz says. "Once we find fish, the vertical approach works better. We keep the line slightly but not entirely taut on the drop. Leave a slight bow when it's dropping. When walleyes are shallow, on windswept sand points, we cast the Fergie up on top in 2 to 6 feet of water and start jerking them down the sand point. When walleyes are that shallow they often strike when the spoon first hits the water, or on the original drop. They're feeding fish.
"Casting or jigging from a boat, we use 61â„2-foot medium-heavy-action baitcasting gear spooled with 14-pound FireLine," Schulz says. "We tie the jig to a 4-foot section of 20-pound Trilene fluorocarbon leader, for abrasion-resistance around rocks. Casting, we jerk the bait 5 or 6 feet, then let it flutter back down. The key to fishing spoons is the timing. Knowing when it's going to hit bottom is important. You have to start jerking upward just before it hits bottom on Last Mountain, or you snag rocks or miss fish that hit on the drop near bottom.
"Same thing when vertically jigging. Start with the lure just touching bottom, with your rod tip 6 inches off the water so you know where bottom is when jigging. As soon as it touches bottom, snap it up 5 feet. The timing is critical. There are subtle things you have to learn, like letting the spoon wobble its way down on a semi-taut line.
"We also work a lot of breaklines, keeping a 20-degree angle to our lines, by slowly snap-trolling. We never tip with bait. The Fergie is our go-to lure for putting a trophy in the boat. But it doesn't work as well in the hands of guests. It takes time to learn the nuances. Experienced fishermen can hunt big fish with these lures, though. If I really want to catch a 12 pounder, I can do it every day with this lure. I find them with electronics, stop, drop, give 'em 4 or 5 snaps and, if they don't hit, I'm on to the next fish.
"That's the nice thing about a jigging spoon. It's aggressive. They're either going to hit it or not, so don't waste any time. They hit it more often than not because it's a perfect wounded-minnow imitation, which is particularly effective for walleyes. We use the 1-ounce Fergie most of the time, but we drop down a size in shallow water, where we don't want it to fall as fast."
O'Grady and Peterson also prefer baitcasting gear, but they do things a little differently, as local environments often demand. "I use Abu low-profile baitcasters on 6-foot medium-action pistol-grip rods," O'Grady says. "The finger grip makes it easier on your wrist, and the baitcaster pays out line more evenly on the drop.
"I use 10-pound Trilene XL, though a lot of my friends use braid because it doesn't stretch. I think I get more movement and more flutter out of the spoon with mono. I really concentrate on the line, the depth, boat movement, and the angle of the drop, and I think that has more to do with catching fish on spoons than anything. It requires diligence.
"If it's calm, I use a 1/2-ounce spoon anywhere from 25 to 45 feet deep," O'Grady says. "With a little wind, I size up to a 3/4 or 1 ounce. You don't have to rip the PK spoon. Just lift and drop. It has its own action. So many slab spoons designed to fish deep have no action unless you rip them all the time, leaving you with sore arms at the end of the day. I put 80 percent of the weight in the bottom of the PK Spoon, so it never tangles on itself, even with a treble on each end. It's all about weight placement.
"I drop it down to bottom, then tighten up my line. I bring it up 4 to 6 inches off bottom and work it a lift-fall that might range from a 4-inch pop to a 24-inch pop. I work it more vigorously as I continue, eventually popping it 4 to 5 feet off bottom. That way I'm working the close fish first and distant fish last.
"I like to start on a point with a lot of structure. I'm fishing almost vertical, but I'm not staying in one place. Slowly move the boat with the trolling motor. In these reservoirs, you lose 100 spoons a day pounding bottom all the time. I constantly monitor sonar. If bottom comes up, I bring the lure up. It's not a lazy way to fish, but once you've got it down, there's no better way to hook a lot of walleyes in a short time."
Peterson uses 61â„2- to 7-foot medium-heavy baitcasting rods with 10- or 12-pound Berkley Trilene XT. "Heavier line allows me to aggressively jig and snap the spoon to imitate a crippled minnow," he says. "The longer rod provides added leverage to set the hook with mono, which stretches. But mono provides resistance, too. It's thicker, so the drop portion of a jigging motion isn't so precipitous. This combo is light enough to fish all day long.
"If I fish vertically I raise the spoon 12 inches off bottom, give it a snap and let it settle back, then pause 5 seconds and repeat. One of my most productive techniques, especially during cold fronts or when fishing is tough, is to shake the spoon in place with short, quick snaps. The spoon rises and falls only 1 to 2 inches. Then I pause and deadstick for 15 seconds and repeat. It allows skittish fish time to approach and nip at the minnow head, where the treble is waiting.
"Walleyes often grab a spoon on the fall, so you have to be ready to set the hook immediately if you feel a slight tick. I cast a spoon when walleyes are in 15 feet of water or less, using 1/8- or 1/4-ounce Buck-Shots or the 1/2-ounce Live-Forage Casting Spoon. For this I prefer a 7-foot medium-action spinning rod with 10-pound mono. I make long casts, let the spoon settle to the bottom, and then aggressively snap the spoon back with quick, sharp, 8- to 12-inch jigging strokes. I catch a lot of fish as the spoon swings to vertical, directly below."
Editor In Chief Stange offers this parting shot: "I've often said that spoons can become the ultimate illusion. They don't look like anything in particular that a fish eats yet with the right manipulations they become something — just enough of a question mark in the fish's mind to get them to respond."
Matt Straw is an In-Fisherman Field Editor.