Fast and flashy, spoons drive through slush-filled holes, get to bottom fast and draw fish off all sizes and shapes in from a distance. When compared to more subtle presentations, the weight of spoons also aids in pulling line through ice-clogged guides. At times fish move in for no other reason than to see what all the commotion is; but as long as they stay in the sonar cone, they're catchable even if it means switching up lures until we find what they want.
One aspect of this game that has changed for me is the increased awareness of just for how versatile spoons are. In the past, if I drew a fish into view — either sight fishing or on sonar — yet couldn't get a bite, I usually followed up with a subtle option like a tube jig or a Lindy Fat Boy tipped with bait — textbook In-Fisherman strategy and undeniably productive at times. I now believe that changing up to a spoon sporting different qualities can be just as effective at times, and perhaps more efficient overall.
To a run-and-gun angler, sticking with a spoon alleviates the need to finesse a subtle offering into the productive zone — a task that often takes so much time the fish is gone by the time the finesse option gets there. Yes, I know we can leave the spoon hang while feeding the lighter lure down to the fish. Many times the fish hold there, transfixed by the spoon. Yet it is hard to beat the simplicity of reeling up one spoon and quickly delivering another with different qualities such as size, color, and profile configuration.
What works best overall, though, is quickly reeling up one spoon and delivering another. The success of this approach suggests just how sensitive fish are to changes in what we might consider minor details. It shows how much altering color, profile, vibration, sinking speed, and eliminating line twist can matter.
Here's an experiment I suggest you conduct. Take two spoons that are almost identical except for one major attribute such as weight. I choose weight rather than color, because it's among one of the most important spoon attributes affecting sink speed and vibration. Use either the light one or the heavy one until you get a looker that won't bite. Quickly follow up with the alternate weight to see if weight alone is enough to trigger a different reaction. Invariably one weight triggers better than another.
When choosing a spoon for the conditions, lighter spoons tend to be best suited for shallower water — less than about 8 to 10 feet. But in deeper water a lighter spoon also spends more time flashing as it's dropped and on any subsequent lift-fall once it's positioned in deeper water. At times the slower fall and increased flash draws more fish and may also trigger more fish.
Especially in clearer water, fish can see a spoon from a long way off. If a fish comes in and is unwilling to strike, quickly switch to the alternative size spoon. It's remarkable how often switching from one to the other elicits an immediate strike.
Tinkering offers another outlet for refined experimentation. Over the years I've caught countless fish on experimental contraptions ranging from the simple to the Frankenstein-like. The majority of these concoctions eventually are abandoned in spite of their ability to catch a few fish. Anything that encourages tangling, poor hook ups, or is damaged after only a few fish, gets put aside in favor of something more practically efficient.
Modifications To Consider
Change Hook Location — Many spoons have a fat end and a narrow end. Spoons fish differently based on where the line and hooks are attached. The difference is more pronounced on certain spoons than others. Apart for altering the spoons action it also influences hooking efficiency. My preference usually is to fish with the hook attached to the narrow end of the spoon.
But it's not quite as simple as that, because often this switch also affects spoon action. The classic Acme Kastmaster, for example, arrives in package with the hook on the heavy end of spoon. On the up lift, this arrangement creates distinct vibration from the front end of the spoon — and when the spoon falls, it does so very accurately and quickly back into place, without a lot of side swinging, because of the heavy butt end. Change the lure around and everything works almost exactly the opposite. Sometimes it's better not to tinker with a good thing and just go looking for another spoon with different design features. But no lure's sacred in the face of difficult fishing — and a tinker here and there can get you catching fish when others are having a difficult time.
Add Eyes to Focus Attention — Painted or 3-D stick-on eyes add a distinctive touch to spoons and can be a confidence booster. This addition works best on the money end of a spoon, that being the lowest hanging end of the spoon.
Here again though, as with everything mentioned, a little addition can be too much already. The eye might attract and trigger, but at times it might also distract and not trigger. In general, the focal point should be on or near the actual hook.
Color Modifications — Another important experiment is with color. Panfish and bass see greens and oranges well, while walleyes are more sensitive to shades of orange and yellow. In waters with ciscoes, at times various blues often are key, although apparently panfish and larger predators don't see it that well. Adding a touch of glow sometimes does it too.
Tipping with Tubes, Plastics and Softbaits — Even though the spoon draws fish in, once they're close enough they usually switch their focus to specific aspects of the spoon. We want the fish to concentrate attention near or at the hook. This is the reason tipping is so effective.
One of my favorite tactics is to slip a small tube over the treble hook. It's especially effective for perch and crappies, but also works for pike, walleyes, lake trout, and a host of other species. Remove the treble hook from the lure and slide the tube over the hook shank. Then replace the treble on the lure or on the split ring. Once attached like this the tube lasts a long time before it needs to be replaced. Match the size of the tube to the treble hook, trimming where necessary to get the right look.
Other soft plastics can be rigged similarly or simply hooked directly onto one prong of the treble or slide directly on a single hook. Dozens of different options on the market, ranging from heavily scented softbaits like Berkley Gulp!, to plastic creatures and critters from companies like Northland, Custom Jigs & Spins, and Lindy Legendary Tackle, to name just a few.
Sometimes adding a colored bead does it too. Or add a feathered treble hook. Or again, switch the treble hook to a single-hook design. Turn to the final article in this Ice Fishing Guide to see detailed discussion of this.
Most importantly, these switches allow the angler to experiment with color. The spoon stays silver or gold, but the "focal color point" changes. Or, keep the fundamental spoon color and plastic color the same and experiment with the shape of the softbait or plastic.
Meanwhile, spoons like the Williams Ice Jig offers predrilled holes that can be used to attach all kinds of accessories. Remove the double hooks and add split rings to attach small blades or tie on flashaboo, tinsel, or a few rubber strands from a spinnerbait.
Droppers — In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange has written extensively about using droppers since his early days at the magazine, starting in about 1980. The first designs were simple home-made models with the treble hook removed from a spoon like the Acme Kastmaster, replaced by a short (approximately 2.5-inch) portion of line with either a small single hook or a small jighead. This design allowed all the attracting and trigger features of a spoon coupled with the additional subtle triggering factors added by a tiny jig or single hook, usually tipped with maggots.
Meanwhile, in Europe, where ice fishing is popular in some regions, similar designs were being brought to life, many with small chains hanging below the spoon — again short lengths of chain to keep the combo from tangling. These droppers remain as deadly an option today as before, with many companies joining the fray, offering a variety of droppers. Check companies like Northland Tackle, Custom Jigs & Spins, and Nils Master USA. Of course you can still make your own.
In the end, the most productive days of fishing often are the product of hard work. It's rare to drill a hole or two, sit there and have a big day. Most of the great ice anglers of our day move. They search until they find, then fine tune in a variety of ways to get the fish to go; then fine tune some more to maximize the catch; then fine tune farther to maximize the catch of big fish.
This annual Ice Fishing Guide has long been a testament to the continuing search for efficiency on ice. Tinkering and exploring each presentation option, including spoons, is just part of the process.
*Expert ice angler Lonnie King lives in Ottawa, Ontario and works as a fishery scientist.