By Jack Penny
It was a case of hero worship on that fateful day back in the late 1950s when I watched my Dad catch a pike of about 40 inches. Like all little boys, I had my heroes. Guys like Mantle and Maris, Tarzan, and Davy Crockett were at the top of my list. That pike put my Dad above any of them. It was also my introduction to two things that would forever be constants in my life. The first was pike. When I saw my dad catch that monster it set something in motion in my mind that I wanted nothing more than to catch some of them. The other thing was the lure he used to catch that great fish. A red and white spoon with a devil’s head on it. I remember him telling me that if I wanted to catch pike, this was the lure I needed. That advice has stayed with me for over 60 years.
I travel a lot to fish for pike and I never go anywhere without my spoons. On one trip to Saskatchewan, my baggage, which included all of my tackle, was lost. On my next trip, not trusting all of my tackle to the airlines, I took the hooks off all of my spoons and stashed them in my carry-on baggage. Of course I don’t limit myself to just spoons on pike trips. Swimbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, plastics—I use them all and more.
My favorite lure is whatever is triggering the most bites at the time. But I have a special affection for spoons. They don’t develop leaks or get chewed up. There are no wires to get bent or broken and they never need tuning. Keeping a sharp hook is the biggest concern, making them the most maintenance-free lure out there for pike fishing. On top that, in the absence of traditional silverware, spoons make fine utensils for eating shorelunch.
When I started to get serious about pike fishing 40-plus years ago, I began traveling to renowned waters and I met others with the same affliction, mostly older guys, some of whom became lifelong friends. Several of them fished with spoons exclusively. One man I met was Bill Tenney. I learned of him through the pages of In-Fisherman when the magazine annually published a list of his top-10 pike of the year. He traveled the world searching for the biggest pike and was successful.
I called Bill on the phone and we began to fish together. On a pike trip to the Northwest Territories, Bill pulled a spoon out of his box and told me that it was his secret weapon. It was a Luhr-Jensen Krocodile. A short, thick, narrow spoon in silver with a narrow red stripe down one edge. I watched him catch a 29-pound pike later that week on it. At that time it was the biggest I’d ever seen.
As I grew older and more successful in my search for pike, I tried to analyze about every aspect of fishing for these fish and came to several conclusions, some spot-on and some way off. One thing I learned about fishing with spoons was that pike were attracted to them for two main reasons: sight and sound/vibration. Various paints and patterns coupled with the metallic backside supply the visual needs, and size, shape, and retrieve speed dictate the audible aspects. Retrieve speed is often overlooked. Every spoon has its own optimum retrieve speed. Spoons are designed to rock back and forth without turning completely over. If a spoon turns over, it means speed is excessive.
Some folks consider spoons old school and out of date. They are one of the oldest artificial lures out there. But if pike are the target, take some spoons along. Consider the case of Mark McCauley. Mark puts on a lot of miles every year chasing big pike. He’s one of the best pike fishermen I know and a magician with soft-plastic lures. In 2018, he did a tour of a couple of secret locations in Alaska with fellow pike ace Mike Podracky. Mark told me that Mike had fished this area several times and relayed to him that small spoons were all he needed. He also told me he thought he was going to show them all by cleaning house with his plastics. He couldn’t have been more wrong and ended up borrowing spoons from Mike.
Mark said the pike wouldn’t even look at plastic lures. “Heavy metal is what these fish wanted and small metal was key. We got most fish on the standard size Dr. Spoon, small Red Eye, Johnson Silver Minnow, and 3/4-ounce Little Cleos. Rainbow trout, blue/silver, and green/white color patterns were hot.” He told me they fished 10 to 12 hours each day and caught big pike steadily most days. The biggest was 50¼ inches and they both saw and lost fish that were bigger. Forty-seven- to 49-inchers were caught daily. “I used spoons more this year than I have in the last five years combined because they caught fish when other lures wouldn’t,” he says.
Pike can display distinct preferences for lures in different bodies of water. Back in the mid-1970s, over several years, I discovered that big pike in Kississing Lake in Manitoba loved the Len Thompson #2 in Five-of-Diamonds, while on Neosap Lake 30 miles down the road, you couldn’t buy a hit on that spoon but they jumped all over the Eppinger Dardevle in the same pattern. These two spoons are nearly the same size and weight, but are shaped slightly different and that seemed to make the difference. I’ve seen many times when a Dr. Spoon produced better than tear-drop shaped spoons and vice versa. Experimentation is your best mentor.
Pike also can show strong color and pattern preferences. There are no set rules, but a few guidelines help you choose. The first I learned from an elder statesman early in my piking career. “Silver on a sunny day, gold or copper on a cloudy day.” That’s solid advice that holds as true today. But color selection goes further than that. Water clarity is a big factor.
In clear lake trout waters of the Far North, pike utilize their sense of sight heavily. Muted, natural colors draw more strikes when visibility is best. Browns, black and white, red and white, and greens are all good choices. Farther south in classic mesotrophic lakes water is darker. It’s clear but tannin-stained from decomposing vegetation. Color choices for clear water still produce well, but brighter colors and metallics factor in, too. Yellow, gold, chartreuse, reds, and greens produce well here. Moving even farther south to the agricultural areas of pike country finds muddier stained water. Pike here use their sense of feel more than sight. Bright hot fluorescent colors get noticed long before other colors.
The metallic finish on a spoon, either on the back or the whole spoon, is another option to consider. Again, the old adage “silver on a sunny day, gold or copper on a cloudy day” has served me well for over 40 years. Several spoon manufacturers offer their products in different metallic finishes and at least one, Eppinger, offers their painted patterns with different metallic finishes on the back. Spoons can be ordered with backs of nickel, brass, or copper.
On a rainy overcast day in May or June, one of my rods likely has a red and white Dardevle with a copper back, and on nasty days in July it’s the same color combo on a Troll Devle. Williams offers spoons in genuine gold and silver plating. They have a new offering called the “Bully.” It’s the same size and shape as their classic W50 Wabler but with twice the weight. It ought to cast like a bullet, and while I haven’t tested it, it looks like it will catch a lot of big pike.
As effective as spoons are, some modifications can at times increase your catch. The first is the addition of a split ring to the head of the spoon, if it wasn’t supplied with one. The split ring increases the swing of a spoon and makes changing lures easier. The other modification is the hook. Most spoons are sold with a treble hook on the rear, but there are several advantages to removing the treble and installing a good single hook, with the hook-point side pointing to the inside (concave side) of the spoon. Single hooks penetrate easier and fish don’t dislodge them like trebles.
The rocking nature of a spoon combined with a single hook pointing to the inside helps make it more weedless, and when weeds are picked up, they’re easier to remove with a few jerks of the rod during the retrieve. Unhooking fish is simpler, making in-water releases easier and quicker. Additionally, when you sharpen your hook, there’s only one point to be honed, putting you back in action faster.
I prefer Siwash hooks as replacements because their round bend and wide gap provide a good bite. A Siwash hook with a medium-sized shank and short point is preferred. Excellent examples are the Gamakatsu Open Eye Siwash and Eagle Claw Trokar TK440 Siwash. Both come in barbless as well as barbed models. The proper size is easily determined by laying the hook on the back of the spoon. The closer the edges of the hook are to the edges of the spoon without going beyond, the better. Hooks that go beyond the edges of the spoon grab more weeds.
Pike and weeds go together like bears and woods and nothing moves through the watery timber better than weedless spoons. Weedless spoons feature a wire line tie extending out the pointed front and usually bent to assist in a freer wobble. A large single hook is welded to the inside of the spoon, although some companies use a small set screw through the eye of the hook. The Johnson Silver Minnow is the best known of the bunch and it certainly deserves its excellent reputation. Its weedguard is a heavy single wire that is flattened on the end and deflects weeds well. It comes in several painted finishes as well as gold and silver, and in several sizes. These spoons are plated after assembly, including the hook. Straight out of the package they’re dull and need to be sharpened.
Eppinger also makes several fine weedless spoons and they’re available in a number of finishes including cool metallics. Eppinger utilizes two wires riding up on either side of the hook that are effective in keeping weeds off the hook. They offer six models in different sizes, and some models come equipped with feathered trailers attached.
Attaching trailers to the hook has always been popular and is productive. A grub is a popular trailer and is effective, but not very durable. Softbaits not only get chewed up quickly, they also get pulled down the hook making it necessary to reposition the grub after nearly every cast. A better option is what we call the “Panfil Rig.” Salmon fishermen use plastic trailers they call hoochies and these are perfect for weedless spoon trailers. They don’t get chewed up as bad and they stay put on the hook shank better than other plastic trailers. And their wiggling little tentacles trigger bites.
Trailers on single Siwash hooks are effective, too, but face the same problems as on weedless models. Grubs work well but don’t last long. Bucktails look good but provide too much lift to be effective. A better option is using a few strands of spinnerbait skirt material. As long as a minimal amount is used it won’t affect the action of the spoon and gives it an attractive look. Spinnerbait skirts can be purchased and trimmed, but a better option is to buy skirting material, skirting pliers, and skirting bands. Thread a few strands of material through the eye of the hook and even the lengths on each side. With a band on the pliers, stretch it over the eye of the hook and onto the shank. Release the pliers from the band and you have a skirt that lasts quite a while. At least until a tooth breaks the band. Rigged in this manner it never slides down the hook.
One of the toughest times to get bites is during extreme weather changes. Whether it’s a cold front or a hot one or even after a thunderstorm, pike can bury in vegetation and become reluctant to bite anything. The best remedy for this situation is to downsize lures, and there’s no better lure for this than a weedless spoon. A couple of companies offer weedless spoons in smaller sizes that work exceptionally well for this tactic. Johnson Silver Minnows are available in small sizes, and the 1/4-ounce size in gold has proven effective.
Eppinger makes the Rex spoon in several models and is a favorite of mine. In addition to the basic Rex spoon, they also offer the Spin’N Rex, which has a wire spinner rig in front and is a great lure for fishing through reeds, cabbage, willows and the like where pike like to hide. I’ve found the Spin’N Rex to be one of the best weedless, snagless lures I’ve ever cast. Eppinger also offers the small weedless Red Eye Wiggler in both painted and metallic finishes and is a good downsized option. And while not weedless, the Dardevle Klicker is another good small spoon. It has tiny dual willowleaf blades at the rear of the spoon that add flash and vibration. When coupled with a single “J” hook, it fishes through weeds well. It’s offered in all of their colors and finishes.
In rivers, pike move to deeper sections and below waterfalls. Smaller spoons are still preferred, but weight is needed to get deeper in the holes and for spoon stability in currents below falls. The 2-ounce Eppinger Cop-E-Cat is a bit longer, but it’s narrow and holds steady in heavy current and gets down to deeper depths in river troughs. The Cop-E-Cat also comes in a 3½-ounce size and is a fine jigging spoon below falls in heavy current.
In late fall, whitefish make spawning runs in rivers, congregating in impassable areas like waterfalls. Big pike often move in to feed on them. On their way upstream, many big pike find spots to rest, usually in deep troughs and holes. Big pike also use these areas in times of extreme weather changes. Spoons can be most effective in these situations but proper technique is important. Most times these pike just lay on the bottom. An effective way to deal with these fish is to cast and let the bait sink to the bottom. Then begin a slow retrieve, dragging your lure along the bottom—the retrieve can’t be too slow. Pause the lure several times during the retrieve and let it sit for a while. The best spoon we’ve found for this technique is a weedless spoon. The shape of these spoons keeps the hook riding up and the weedguards right the lure if it tips over. Bites most often feel like a little nip.
There’s no such thing as that one special lure that covers every situation for the fish we seek, which is why so many lure options exist for so many situations. But when the target is pike, well-rounded anglers always include spoons in their arsenal.
*Jack Penny, Newton, Iowa, is a book author and freelance writer specializing in pike fishing. He has previously contributed to In-Fisherman publications.