Spoons

Discussion in 'Fish Species and Techniques' started by Ragman, Jun 16, 2006.

  1. Ragman

    Ragman Moderator

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    I found this excellent recap of fishing with spoons from datasync (according to doc), that has helped me turn a slow day around!

    ""Doc's Perspective on Spoon Fishing

    One of the most effective, yet also most infrequently fished artificial baits is the spoon. Spoons of various sizes and configurations account for catches of virtually every type of fish species. In years past, the Mr. Champ spoon was the universal favorite of sports fishermen all along the northern Gulf; and this love affair with the Champ lasted for many years and produced many a full stringer. With the emergence of soft plastic baits, the popularity of the Champ began to wane. Some years ago, Weber developed a myriad of colors for the traditional Mr. Champ. Where previously only gold and silver-finished models were available, fishermen can now choose from blue, green, red, and even mirror-finished versions. Besides the perennial favorite Champ, there are also a number of other spoons that have proven their mettle with spotted seatrout. My personal favorite is the Johnson Sprite. Available in both gold and silver, this spoon is an excellent searching pattern that can be fished effectively during any time of the year. Bright pink plastic tinsel or a plastic, oval eyetab are popular embellishments for the Sprite; but even without them, this spoon is extremely effective in catching trout in both deep and shallow water situations.

    A third type of spoon that is home in many a speck fisherman's tackle box is the SideWinder. Unlike the Mr. Champ and the Johnson Sprite, which are most effectively fished using a jigging, whip-retrieve, the SideWinder is most effective when fished with a steady, swimming retrieve. More often than not, this spoon is also fished with a small yellow bucktail attached to the treble hook.

    There are countless other spoons that have, at one time or another, caught spotted seatrout. The red and white, 1/2 ounce Dardevle is an excellent trout spoon; and the Hopkins Shorty works well when jigged in deeper waters. Because of its considerable heft, the hammered Shorty is a good choice in deep water or whenever a long-distance cast is needed. The RedEye and Li'l Cleo spoons are yet other good spoons that will find a time and place in every trout fisherman's arsenal. For the most part, though, the Mr. Champ, Johnson Sprite, and Sidewinder spoons will provide the fisherman with all the versatility he needs to catch spotted seatrout on a spoon.

    The techniques for effectively fishing a spoon are relatively simple and easily learned. In a midwater situation or if the fish are feeding on the surface, a steady swimming retrieve will oftentimes suffice. If fish are seen to follow the lure without striking it, an occasional break in the retrieve, allowing the spoon to tumble down a foot or two deeper, will sometimes elicit a strike. The Sidewinder is perhaps the best of the spoons to use for a swimming retrieve, with the Mr. Champ the least effective for this technique. When the fish are feeding on the bottom in shallow water, casting the spoon just beyond the area of activity and retrieving it in short, jigging hops works best. More often than not, the strike will occur just as the lure begins its fluttering descent. This fluttering action is not difficult to master, as simply dropping the rod tip suddenly will achieve the desired effect. The trick is to maintain line tension all the while the spoon is dropping; and that takes a little practice. Too much line tension will impede the spoon's action, and too little will result in an occasional fouled bait and loss of control when the strike finally does come.

    With the new sensitive graphite and boron rod blanks, the fluttering action of a properly fished spoon can be felt; and the fisherman can gain comfort in knowing that he is fishing the spoon effectively. The final proof in the pudding comes when a fish is caught; and then, and only then, will the angler realize that he is doing the right thing.

    Among Chandeleur Island fishermen there is a strong following of Johnson Sprite enthusiasts who fish the spoon exclusively and almost religiously over the island's western grassbeds and so-called blue holes. Fueled by the successes of Chandeleur great, Rudy Grigar, these fishermen specially rig the Sprite to render it almost weedless. Removing the stock treble hook and replacing it with a long-shank, number two stainless, single hook, these anglers also add a six-inch section of piano-wire leader just ahead of the spoon. The entire affair is then fished with a moderate, but frequent whip retrieve. Known locally as "Rudy's Lope", this sporadic whip retrieve is extremely effective on fish that are holding at or near the bottom in the shallow grass beds that cover the Chandeleur's western shores. The lope retrieve and the resulting undulating path that the spoon takes is apparently more than the trout can resist. As it passes overhead and dips low, and then darts just out of reach again, the fish literally explode from the grass to get at it.

    Both the Johnson Sprite and Mr. Champ spoons are good choices when fishing predominantly sand flats for trout. These baits offer a lot of flash as they tumble their way down and end their flight with a puff of sediment on the bottom. A sharp whip retrieve works well in this situation also; and in clear waters, it may help to pause a bit longer to allow the spoon to fully settle.

    Fishing for spotted seatrout using spoons will frequently result in a hookup with red drum as the gold Sprite is a favorite of the spot-tails as well. Most all spoons are available in at least three different sizes and in silver as well as gold coloration. A fisherman should carry a wide selection of each in his tackle box if he hopes to catch trout consistently.

    The smaller, one-inch spoons work best when the fish are feeding predominantly on small anchovies, menhaden, or mullet. These small fish are little more than slivers of silver in the water, and a wary speckled trout might easily be repulsed by anything much larger. As the season wears on, the larger spoons can be used to keep pace with the increasing size of the predominant prey species at that time. By summer's end, when most of the forage species are quite large, the two to two-and-a-half-inch spoons will catch more fish.

    Generally speaking, the silver spoons will produce more under varying conditions than will their gold counterparts. Under certain conditions, though, having a gold spoon can make the difference between catching and not catching fish.

    If the water is extremely clear, a dull, gold spoon will garner more strikes than a shiny gold one; and its advantage over a shiny silver spoon is greater yet. In dingy or off-color water, the silver spoon is my choice; and whenever the visibility is really poor, the silver spoon may be the only lure that will catch fish.

    When sight fishing, a spoon should be cast just in front and to the side of the fish so that the retrieve will be parallel to the fish's path. Some care should be taken to avoid casting the rig between the fish and the sun, as oftentimes the shadow of the bait will be enough to spook the fish. If the fish makes a move towards the bait, an immediate retrieve is called for. In shallower water, if the lure doesn't try to "get away", the fish are apt to run. At times, the fish may only turn towards the bait and fail to respond with a strike at the spoon's initial burst of speed. At such times, the fisherman should slow the lure down until it's barely moving above the bottom. Often a big speck will quickly close the distance between itself and the spoon, flare its gill covers, and inhale the lure from behind. The hook must be set immediately in such a situation, before the fish has had the chance to feel the cold steel of the spoon and spit it out as quickly as it was first taken.

    Fishing a spoon is particularly effective during the late summer months when schools of Spanish sardines abound along the shores of the Gulf's barrier islands. From Mustang and Padre Island in Texas to Louisiana's Grand Isle, Mississippi's Ship and Horn Island, Alabama's Dauphin Island, and the Florida Panhandle's Santa Rosa Island, casting a silver Johnson Sprite into a pod of fidgety sardines will more often than not produce good results.

    The spoon is also effectively fished in the many shallow water oyster reefs that abound off the Louisiana and Mississippi Coast. Flatboat Key, a long shoal area that extends northwestward from Isle Aux Pitre in Louisiana is one such area. Strong current flows in the area tend to concentrate schools of mullet and other baitfish on one side or the other of the mile-long shell key. Depending on the prevailing current, spotted seatrout will nose up to the key on the downcurrent side to lie in ambush for these schools of forage fish that will be driven overhead by the strong currents. While a number of different techniques will effectively catch fish in such situations, the spoon is a good choice for starters.

    Once the fish have been located, the technique is to have a good enough aim to drop the spoon so that it will land on the upcurrent side of the key. On a falling tide, the water over the key itself will be quite shallow, so an immediate retrieve is necessary to keep the spoon from fouling on the shell bottom. The strong current will then sweep it over the key and towards the waiting fish. Strikes will come suddenly, oftentimes just as the spoon enters the whitewater rip on the downcurrent side of the shoal. At times, and particularly on a rising tide, the water over the reef will be up to four feet in depth; and then, the productive zone on the downcurrent side will not be nearly as obvious. Even then, there is usually a distinct line on the surface, produced by the meeting of the tidal current and the longshore rip on the downcurrent side of the key. At such times, it is prudent to retrieve the spoon as before; but, just as it passes over the shoal area, drop the rod tip and slow the retrieve to allow the spoon to tumble downwards. More often than not, a big speck will strike the bait before it has a chance to hit the bottom; and frequently, the strike will come precisely as the spoon begins to drop.

    In deeper waters, particularly where strong currents prevail, fishing a spoon can provide fishermen with the quickest route to the strike zone if the fish are feeding on or near the bottom. During the fall and winter months, when trout are tightly schooled in deep holes in the bays and backwaters, a jigging spoon like the Hopkins Shorty, because of its weight and streamlined shape, will get to the bottom when other baits might fail. A slow whip retrieve as the spoon is falling will attract any fish that might be holding at midwater; and once the spoon has hit bottom, that same whip retrieve, snatching the spoon upwards a foot or so, will frequently elicit strikes from fish that may be holding on the bottom.

    All spoons can be fished with a variety of hook dressings. The yellow bucktail is a traditional and nostalgic favorite; but in recent years, the plastic yellow, pink, or chartreuse skirt has gained in popularity. Plastic eye tabs are an alternative used by many fishermen as well. There are times when the fish are selective enough to demand such adornments; and I can well remember one such time fishing the sand flats along the north shore of Ship Island.

    Even without the discouragement of nearly three hours without a strike, the searing sun that afternoon was enough to wilt anyone's enthusiasm. I am quite certain that it must have been a hundred degrees in the shade, but there is no shade on the island so the point is moot. Despite the oppressing heat, I still managed an occasional cast into the emerald green waters that surround the old lighthouse jetty. Gafftopsail catfish, filled with the vigor of their spawning season, could be seen milling about in the shallows. They too ignored my offerings.

    Then, near high noon, I spied a pod of tightly schooled Spanish sardines near the surface. An occasional explosion at the school's perimeter was encouraging. Tying on a silver Johnson Sprite spoon, I quickly lofted a cast towards the activity, hoping that just maybe trout were causing all the fuss; and maybe they'd mistake the silver spoon for one of these morsels.

    The Sprite literally hummed as it sped out over the water, its flight terminating in an abrupt splash. In the gin-clear water, I could see its strobe-like flash as it settled to the bottom. Sharply raising the rod tip to the vertical position, then dropping it back to the horizontal while reeling in the slack line, I began my familiar whip retrieve. Some prefer to carry the entire action out in a, more or less, horizontal plane, whipping the rod to one side or the other. This is of no practical consequence, however, as the important action is that of the spoon on the end of the line.

    When the whip retrieve is properly done, the spoon jumps off the bottom at the apex of the whipping action and settles down again in between. Most of the time, strikes will come as the spoon begins its descent to the bottom. And in clear waters and sandy bottoms, oftentimes the strike will come when the spoon kicks up a puff of sand as it hits bottom. Such was the case this day.

    My first cast went far beyond the end of the rocks and onto a shallow bar that runs northward. No sooner did the spoon settle to the bottom than I noticed a series of more prominent silver flashes in its vicinity.

    Snatching the Sprite off the bottom in a whip retrieve, I immediately elicited a fierce strike from the nearby fish. As rapidly as I brought the rod to the vertical, it was sharply jerked back into the water. For just a second, the usually smooth drag on my Ambassadeur hung up - long enough for the big fish to break free. Luckily though, a second fish - or maybe it was the same one - picked up the loose spoon and headed for the deeper waters immediately adjacent to the flats, a tactic that is common with big trout. I could see a dark trail of sediment that followed the fish's path toward the blue-green water of the nearby channel. Doubling back into the relative shelter of that plume of turbid water, the big fish made a run straight towards me. I cranked furiously in an attempt to regain slack line. When the line grew taut, I could see the yellowmouth, now played out, cruising towards me near the surface. Moments later, the nice five-pounder was at net. The Johnson Sprite had once again done its stuff.

    For the next several hours, I would hook and release fish nearly every cast. Then, as quickly as it begun, the action stopped. I noticed that the pink eye tab on the Sprite had been torn off by the voracious trout. A few more casts convinced me that the fish had either left or that they weren't interested in the plain, unadorned Sprite. Pods of Spanish sardines still moved past the distant point; and an occasional spray of fish revealed that something was still going on. I headed for my tackle satchel on the beach and returned with a new Sprite.

    On the first cast, I was back into action, catching trout after trout. Just for the record, I tried a few casts with the plain Sprite; nothing doing. With the addition of the pink eye tab, the spoon was irresistible to the fish. Without it, the spoon might as well have been invisible. Since then, I always carry a good supply of the pink plastic tabs on my fishing trips. . . While bucktails, plastic tabs and skirts may make your spoon more appealing to the fish, there is at least one accessory that may be more important - the O-ring.

    The SideWinder spoon comes complete with a leading O-ring to attach your line or leader, but the Johnson Sprite and the Mr. Champ spoon don't. Without the O-ring, the relatively sharp edges of these spoons will quickly sever monofilament tied directly to them; and since a steel leader is not advised for trout fishing, spoon fishermen will also want to keep a supply of these O-rings on hand. Then an improved clinch knot, palomar knot, or other reliable knot for attaching terminal tackle can be used to attach the spoon directly to the monofilament line.

    If Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish or other toothsome critters should decide to interrupt your trout fishing; it may become necessary to add a short, nine-inch steel leader to your terminal gear. Twenty-pound-test Steelon Leaders are a good choice here; and they are available in a matt black finish which is by far preferable to the shiny steel ones. Not only are the shiny leaders more conspicuous to the trout, mackerel and blues will oftentimes strike at the shiny barrel swivel at the top of the leader, severing your line in the process.

    With a long history of successful fishing and with so many good spoons available to today's angler, it is difficult to understand why more fishermen do not switch to this terrific bait. Spoons are perhaps the most castable of artificial lures; for distance, the heavy Hopkins Shorty is hard to beat. This feature alone should make it popular with trout fishermen in the surf that prefer to keep their pinkies in the dry sand and away from the likes of sharks. Spoons are also among the least expensive and most indestructible of all artificial baits. That $2.00 piece of solid brass or stainless steel will not suffer much damage from sharp mackerel teeth. And its finish can be easily restored with a piece of steel wool and some metal polish. Finally, as pointed out here, fishing a spoon requires virtually no skill. The weight of the lure will take it to the bottom where the fish are lying, almost in spite of the overzealous fisherman that retrieves his bait at breakneck speed. Even as the spoon sinks to the bottom, its built-in action and shiny finish flashes like a beacon to feeding fish. Furthermore, during most times of the year, a spoon can be fished in such a way as to resemble any of the many small prey species that predominate coastal shallows - anchovies, Spanish sardine, menhaden, and the like. And finally, because spoons are so small and compact, it is easy for a fisherman to carry a complete trout selection in just one pocket. The following spoon selection should provide trout fishermen with successful fishing under a variety of different conditions:

    Johnson Silver Minnow Sprite:

    * 1/4 oz. gold finish
    * 1/4 oz. chrome finish
    * 1/2 oz. gold finish
    * 1/2 oz. chrome finish

    Mr. Champ:

    * 1/4 oz. gold finish
    * 1/4 oz. silver finish
    * 3/8 oz. gold finish
    * 3/8 oz. silver finish
    * 1/2 oz. gold finish
    * 1/2 oz. silver finish

    Sidewinder:

    * 1/4 oz. bronze finish
    * 1/4 oz. silver finish
    * 1/2 oz. bronze finish
    * 1/2 oz. silver finish

    A small, rubber-gasketed aluminum box serves as a nice storage box for your spoon collection and for any additional bucktails, plastic skirts, or eye tabs that you might wish to carry along. Learn to fish a spoon effectively, and you will always manage to catch your share of fish...