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Spoon Feeding Smallmouth
By Pat Xiques

Oct. 9, 2001

Inside Line Magazine's Eastern writer Pat Xiques has been cruising far offshore to spoon feed monster smallmouth down deep! Check out this awesome article and leave the banks behind. The big bronzebacks await you!

If I had to pick one bait that has intrigued, yet scared me to death over the years, it would be the jigging spoon. Like most modern day bass fisherman, I have had VERY little experience with it, which made me afraid of wasting my precious time on the water by trying to learn the insides and outs of this little gem. Growing up in mainly a saltwater environment on Long Island NY, I was no stranger to this small hunk of polished metal, however when it came to using it for freshwater bass, I might as well be waving a size 22 dry fly on a flipping stick for native brook trout somewhere in Maine – it was that foreign.

It was not until a phone call this past spring with fellow Inside Line writer Dean Sault from California, that I decided to give spoons another try for the offshore smallmouth bass that I have been targeting the last year or two. Dean enlightened me not only on styles and weights of spoons, but assured me that this was a big bass bait which played a large part in his tournament experiences. After the successes that I had with the Senko Jig (see the upcoming Jan/Feb 2002 issue) on deepwater smallmouth this year, I felt that the jigging spoon must be added to my list of offerings for the virtually untapped fish that lurked the offshore depths where no one bothers them. The spoon just had to be a natural when it came to imitating baitfish here in New York State - and it was! Let's just say that I’m glad that Dean and I spoke that day – he opened my eyes to a rarely used (or perhaps forgotten about) bait – the Jigging Spoon.

Getting Started

A large element of fishing spoons revolves around proper rigging. I cannot stress enough, "You need to add a ball bearing swivel to the front of your spoon – period!" After experimenting with various styles of both spoons and swivels, I can tell you that this tip alone will make the difference between a successful outing and a disastrous experience. You see, spoons are meant to wobble and twist. That's how they're designed. If you don’t add a quality swivel, you can be as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow that your line will be twisted to unbelievable lengths within the first hour of fishing. I have tried to add cheaper versions of swivels (good ball bearing swivels cost over a buck apiece) to the front of my spoons, but have found them not nearly as effective as their higher-priced ball bearing cousins. You will also have to also add a split ring to the swivel as you place it on the eye of the spoon. Again, the more expensive stainless steel split rings work best here, but are not as crucial as the ball bearing swivel. Brass models will also work almost as well. I suggest you use the smallest swivel and spit-ring you can find. Snap swivels are out. They're just too much hardware that will just foul the hooks as you work the bait up and down. The idea is that the less hardware that hangs off the top of your bait, the less likely the spoon will foul in your line as you jig it up and down in the water column, or bounce it off the bottom.

Second, change the factory-provided hooks to premium grade treble hooks. This is important because many strikes come as the spoon is falling. If you use the factory- provided hooks (most of them are relatively dull), you will loose fish. I personally use a #2 or a #4 Gamakatsu treble hook depending on the size of the spoon, but you can use any of the premium hook companies that are on the market today like Owner, Daichi, VMC, etc. Be sure to also have extra hooks with you as you leave the ramp that morning. Most days, I have to change my hooks twice a day to ensure that I won’t miss too many fish. As the spoon bounces off of the bottom (if I’m fishing the bottom), the hooks will dull throughout the day if, like me, you are fishing in and around rocks. A quality set of split ring pliers can speed up this process and is a necessary part of any spooner's tackle box. It sure beats jabbing either your thumb nail or another hook point into the split ring as you attempt to change the hook. "Smile" – we all have done this!

As for the spoon itself, I have been using spoons from two different companies. My first choice is the legendary Hopkins Shorty 75. This spoon weighs ¾ oz and I find that it will work for the majority of jigging spoon applications. Second, is a spoon from a Japanese bait company called Mega Bass. Here, I prefer the 1 oz model since I found it to work very well on windy days. This spoon has a slimmer profile and is less apt to give you the wider "fluttering" action that the Hopkins does – allowing you to keep in contact with the bait as you are fighting the wind. Again, make sure to add split rings to the top and the bottom of the bait, along with a swivel  where you'll tie your line. These minor additions will ensure that any model spoon will work well as long as it is relatively heavy (1/2 – 2oz).

As for colors of spoons, I prefer to use the most natural colors possible. This means the polished, hammered nickel finish for the majority of my spoon fishing. If you are faced with dirty water conditions, I have had success with white and chartreuse spoons as well. Let the water conditions tell you what color to use, relying on your knowledge and experience with plastics to be your guide.

The Spooning Technique

Most of my spoon fishing for smallmouth revolves around the presence of baitfish in the area, but not always. Personally, I decide what I want to fish for first (largemouth or smallmouth), then I decide what I want to search for on my electronics. For instance, I have found that while fishing for smallies, I want to see large numbers of baitfish on my electronics first. It has been my experience that large smallmouth (at least on the lake that I live on, although I am sure that this will hold true on most places that have large schools of baitfish) are more apt to follow schools of bait than set up on structure. Once the bait is found, I drop the spoon straight down to the desired depth and hop it up and down (like a yo-yo) on a relatively tight line just under the school. Be sure to keep in contact with the spoon, since better than half of the strikes come as the bait is falling. Once you feel the spoon stop falling (knowing that it hasn’t actually gotten to the bottom yet) or a sudden "thud" as you snap the bait upwards, quickly set the hook. You will find that most of the fish that come from within the water column are smallies, and those that are closer to the bottom are largemouth.

Another note while fishing for smallmouth is that these schools of baitfish and bass are moving very fast. Once you get one, quickly tell your partner exactly where the strike came from. My partner and I communicate via the 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 etc, method. It seems to work well for us. Better than half of the time, you are pinpointing exactly where the schools of bass are, and you should get a second fish on immediately. A great jigging spoon tournament tactic is to rig multiple spoons on multiple rods. Once you get one, dump the fish still on the line (spoon in mouth) in the livewell, and quickly cast another spoon into the school. You should be able to double up. You can take the fish off the hooks after you lose the school – or after you have ran out of rods! We have had 20lb limits of smallmouth in the boat using this technique within 5 minutes time. When they are hot – they are HOT!

Quality electronics are also important here. Due to their incredible sensitivity and high scroll rate, I use Bottom Line electronics on my boat. My preference is the NCC 5300 at my console and the 4300 at the trolling motor. Whatever brand you use, make sure to adjust the sensitivity as high as it goes, and shut off all the filters that may inhibit you from reading the bait. This will allow you to actually watch the spoon lift and fall right on the screen – making sure that it is in the desired depth. Some industry people have told me that with very high-end units (like PinPoint depth finders) you can actually watch the fish come towards the bait due to their incredibly high scroll rates and sensitivity!

Either way, crank up the sensitivity so that you can get the best picture possible on your unit. Also keep in mind that you may have to re-adjust your machine to give you a picture once you begin to run with your big motor again. The high adjustments you made while looking for baitfish, will usually scramble your picture once you start moving fast. At best, you will see a double "echo" on your screen, causing you to have to divide by two to have an accurate reading. For instance, if you have the sensitivity all the way up, your machine might read a depth reading of 46ft. You will actually be in 23ft of water at that moment.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it is a necessary evil that the spoon will occasionally hang in the line. I have noticed that the more the boat moves (whether it is from the trolling motor or the wind), the more often the spoon will foul. Try and keep the boat as still as possible and then begin to jig. Once you feel that you have covered an area sufficiently enough, move the boat on a low trolling motor setting, or allow the boat to drift slightly in the wind. Trust me – the spoon will occasionally foul. Its not that you are doing something wrong, or that your spoon is not working properly. I typically find that the more slack that I snap into the line on the yo-yo, the more often the spoon fouls. Keep the line relatively tight both on the way up and down to reduce this nuisance.

Spooning Rods, Reels, Line

I rig two different spoon rods when I leave the dock. My primary rod of choice is a 6’ Team Daiwa medium heavy baitcasting rod, spooled with 14lb line. I use this rod for the ¾ and 1oz spoons. I also have been playing with a spinning rod set up as well. I use a 6’ G Loomis GL3 heavy action rod, spooled with 8lb line for smaller spoons – 1/8 to ½ oz spoons. I have found that on the slower days that the smaller spoons work a little better. The only drawback is that you do get many smaller fish using the small spoon, including crappies, perch and bluegills. Some days, smaller is clearly better, especially in the spring when the bait tends to run smaller. The shorter 6’ rods will allow you to keep the rod tip closer to the water as you hop or drop the spoon down – also allowing you to snap the rod upward quicker once a strike is detected. This might be a personal preference, since I have fished with guys that prefer 6’6" rods and even 7 footers. So, experiment with different lengths to see what fits you the best – keeping in mind that stiffer rods seem to work better.

When it comes to line, I suggest that you use a no-stretch line. I personally use Sugoi fluorocarbon, but have had some success with braided lines (the only time I use braid I might add). The key is to use a line that will be sensitive enough to pick up even the most subtle hit on the way down, but will also allow you to get all the slack out as the bait is falling to ensure a positive hook set. Also, make sure to use line that is heavy enough diameter-wise, so that it can’t foul and tuck itself into your split rings. This will definitely fray your line, resulting in broken off fish once you get in contact with a big bronzeback – and trust me, you will!

So what are you waiting for?

As with all new techniques, I have found that the hardest part is getting up the nerve to try it. When I first started jigging with spoons, I told myself that I would not fish anything but the spoon. It’s a hard thing to do when you have only limited time on the water, but it will take commitment on your part to perfect any new technique, particularly spoons. Bring only one or two rods with you that day – both (or just the one) rigged with spoons and do nothing else that day. I have to admit, this does take self-discipline, but it’s do-able. Trust me, in the long run, it will pay off.

As you're learning to spoon in deep offshore water, you'll at first find yourself gazing longingly towards those frequently-fished honey holes along the bank, but do it enough to become productive with spoon-feeding smallmouth, and you'll discover a whole new world of offshore fish. Personally, I have logged over 30 smallmouth from 4 to 5 plus lbs. this year from depths over 35 feet in the lakes I fish in south central New York. That's quite a few more than I've logged by fishing up tight to the bank. Best of all, I have these deep smallmouth almost all to myself...and you can too with spoons!

See you on the water!

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