September 08, 2011
By Doug Stange
In the May issue of In-Fisherman we ran an article by Bill Modica, outlining a system for fishing modified spoons for bluegills. As I sat reading his manuscript for the first time, I couldn't believe that I'd never though to try his method for myself. I was anxious to experiment as soon as I could—and if it worked as well as Modica said, we'd shoot a little TV footage of the method in action. We did that last week.
It's typical for bigger bluegills to shift into deep water during late summer and early fall. They like to eat tiny crustaceans that hold along the bottom near rock and gravel substrate. I've caught fish as deep as 40 feet, but key depths in both lakes and reservoirs are from 20 feet down to about 30 feet. The spot we fished to shoot the TV segment was a rock and gravel ridge running about 20 feet deep, with the drop-off edge breaking into 32 feet. The fish were along that edge, but didn't like the base of it where the bottom went soft. That's typical.
I used two spoons, one an Acme Kastmaster weighing 1/12 ounce and the other a Luhr Jensen Hus-Lure, weighing 1/8-ounce. The Kastmaster is classic straight spoon that has a nice action when you shake the rod tip just a little on the retrieve. Meanwhile, the Hus-Lure has a bent butt section that gives it a nice little dance. I'm pretty sure that many of your favorite small spoons have the potential to produce nice fish.
The only modification necessary is to replace the treble hook with a single hook. This makes it easier to tip the hook, which is necessary to trigger fish. I use the Eagle Claw 210, a short-shank design that has an open hook eye. Slip it on the split ring and pinch it shut with pliers. A #8 couples well with smaller spoons and a #6 with larger spoons.
Tip the hook with either a tiny soft plastic like a 1-inch tube or curly tail or with something from the Berkley Gulp! lineup. On our TV shoot the fish were all over the 1-inch Gulp! Minnow. Never had to experiment farther; but other good Gulp! shapes I've fished include the 1-inch Fish Fry and 1-inch Cricket. Have on hand brighter colors like white and chartreuse and neutral colors like Pumpkinseed.
Go ultra light with the rod, but it needs to be at least 6 feet long and better 6.5 or 7 feet. I want to make long casts when necessary and a long rod helps to poke stuff out there.
Another key to longer casts and smoother retrieves is coupling the rod with a bigger reel. My favorite spinning reel of all time is the Pflueger Supreme. Most panfish anglers would pick up the 25-class model, which is the ultra-light version. At a minimum go at least one step larger with a 30-class reel typically considered a smallmouth- or a walleye-sized option. I step it up even one more notch with a 35-class reel. The wider spool allows the line to slip off the reel easier on the cast and wind back on the reel more smoothly on the retrieve. A smoother retrieve increases sensitivity because you're not making so many quick movements with the reel handle.
Given that I often want to make long casts it also helps to fish with a superline like 4- or 6-pound Sufix 832, the smoothest-casting superline that I've found so far. These lines don't stretch, so it's easy to feel what's happening at the end of your line, even at long distance. Rigged with the right rod, reel, and line, even tiny spoons can be almost cast out of sight.
Watch your electronics and you can see how high some of the fish are holding off bottom. Typically, if you keep the lure running within about 2 feet of bottom you're into fish holding in deeper water. On our TV shoot I made several passes over the fish, dropped a waypoint on a group of them, then anchored up wind so I could cast back to them.
Make the cast and let the lure sink to the bottom. Raise your rod tip to about 11 o'clock and start slowly reeling. Stop the retrieve about every 5 feet and drop the rod tip to 10 o'clock to let the spoon fall back. Sometimes they eat the spoon on the drop back, other times they're all over it on the straight retrieve. At times it helps to shake the rod just a bit to add a dancing action to the spoon. Experiment.
Many times you feel fish attacking the spoon but they're not quite getting the hook in their mouth. Keep reeling slowly and they often follow right along, keep pecking away, and eventually hook up. Don't set the hook until you feel the weight of a fish on the line.
When I can use two rods, I make casts with each of them. When one lure hits bottom, I start retrieving with that rod. Finished retrieving, I make another cast, and set that rod down and pick up the other rod. It's just a matter of alternating rods.
It's that simple—and the results for me have been beautiful fish. Bluegills are great on the table, but harvest selectively, keeping some of the medium fish, letting the big grunts go. The idea that big gills are still out there to be caught is its own biggest reward. They aren't worth nearly as much in the pan as back in the water.
Still plenty time left in the season for spoon-time gills. For me, learning this technique has been a fishing-life-changing event. But then that's what each article in each issue of In-Fisherman magazine has always been about—helping you change the way you fish for the better. Good fishing to you!