Spoon-fed Bass

Everyone knows that the best time to go fishing is early in the morning, right? For much of the year, dawn is synonymous with feeding bass. But in the winter, for me, dawn just means my breakfast-time. Time to belly up to the biscuits and gravy, because more than likely the bass are sleeping “in”. Its winter, and for this one season bass are more active after having absorbed the sun’s rays, all day.

When I push away from the table, and make it to the lake, more likely than not at least one of my rods will be rigged with a spoon. And no, I’m not talking about one of my breakfast utensils, though this lure’s origins came from its namesake. The spoon I am referring to is a jigging spoon, one of the best deep-water lures for catching winter bass.

There are different styles of jigging spoons, but all have some common qualities. As their name implies, they are made of metal, and they are heavy (between one-half and four ounces). Most of them sport a treble hook, and they all have the annoying habit of twisting your line unless you take the necessary precautions. Heavy metal has another common trait; most, when properly worked, will catch big bass.

The traditional jigging spoon is the slab spoon, aptly named because it looks like a slab of metal with a treble hook. The venerable Hopkins Shorty and Kastmaster spoons have duped cold-water bass for more than 30 years, and my tackle box still has a healthy supply. But for the past three years, my hand goes straight for the compartment that holds my favorite slab spoon, the “DUH!” spoon. As soon as you gaze upon one of these quality spoons, you will see why bass find them appealing. But their 3-dimensional eyes, life-like shape, and shimmering paint finish is only part of the story. The real attraction is in their balance, which produces a wiggle that moves lots of water and sends dying-baitfish vibrations that appeal to spotted, largemouth, and smallmouth bass.

The “Silver Buddy” is another type of jigging spoon, though it is often called a “blade bait”. Picture a lead jelly bean with a flat slab of stamped metal shaped like a fish body stuck in the bean, with a belly hook and multiple line ties on top of the fin, and you get the picture. Famed smallmouth bass legend Billy Westmoreland put this lure on the map, but bass anglers in the west have been slow to ply western waters with this killer lure. You may have trouble finding one in your local tackle shop, but search them out and you will be glad you did.

More than 20 years ago I had found a jig to use on deep winter bass that was absolutely stunning. I was fishing Irvine Lake in southern California in 1981, and was graphing shad and bass actively feeding on them in 40 feet of depth, and deeper. My paper chart recorder showed my jig descending toward the bottom, and then another line moved up from the bottom and intersected with the line produced by my jig. Fish ON! This scenario repeated itself over and over that day, and continued day after day for years until my “secret” got out publicly. What was my secret jig? I was fishing the Rapala Ice Fishing jig. In the clear water bass just couldn’t resist this lure swimming in a circle while moving up and down like an injured minnow. This lure still produces for me when I’m facing deep clear water and active fish, but does not work as well on lethargic fish. Just be sure to swap out the stock treble hook for a size 6 Gamakatsu EWG treble, or you will lose too many bass after hook-up.

These days it seems there is a “specialty” rod built for every possible technique. So far “spooning” seems to be immune from this concept. My suggestion is to use whichever model rod will comfortably handle the heavy weight of spoons. I prefer a Lamiglas 4-power model for spoons up to three-quarters of an ounce, and a 5-power for heavier spoons. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you use a glass, graphite, or composite rod, just so it is comfortable and sturdy. My preferred length is 6 feet, as anything longer tires my wrist more quickly from repeated lifting of the spoon off the bottom.

The reel should be chosen with just a little more discrimination, though “high tech” isn’t necessary, as you don’t need to cast. Focus your selection on two features: high-speed retrieve, and a thumb bar spool release. The thumb bar allows you (with one hand) to instantly let more line out as your boat moves over deeper water, so you can easily stay in contact with the bottom. During the winter doldrums, most bass will belly down tight to the bottom. If you are not bouncing against that bottom, you will not be catching all that you can catch. High-speed (6.1-1 gear ratio) is an advantage in two ways. Spoon-hooked bass often race to the surface. When this happens you risk losing the fish if you can’t keep up with the fish to maintain tension on the hook. You will also appreciate rapid line retrieve when you decide to retrieve your spoon so you can drop it once again in a new spot. I retrieve a jigging spoon frequently so I can let bass see it flutter down from above with renewed interest, and also because I always want the spoon directly below my boat for control. High-speed retrieve allows me to spend more time fishing, and less time and effort “retrieving”.

I prefer to use 12-15 pound test McCoy copolymer line, since it is low stretch and has great tensile strength. If you tend to fish where there is a lot of submerged wood, you should also consider the new McCoy Braid. Since you can use 50-pound test braid with the diameter of 10-pound mono, your spoon reaches the bottom more quickly, and when your spoon gets hung on wood you can pull hard enough to straighten the hook, saving your spoon. With mono you can keep from losing snagged spoons by patiently jiggling the spoon so that the weight of the spoon acts as a plug-knocker, dislodging the snagged hook.

If you have read any of my articles, you know I favor Gamakatsu EWG treble hooks. With the exception of the Rapala Ice Jig, I actually prefer the round bend versions for jigging spoons because they are easier to get “un-snagged” when they grab submerged wood. Another tip is to use a quality ball bearing swivel to prevent line twist. I have the best luck by attaching a 15-inch leader of Sugoi Fluorocarbon between the spoon and the ball bearing swivel. Not only does this reduce line twist, but also keeps your sharp hooks from cutting your line.

OK, you have the gear, now you need the technique. This is where those biscuits and gravy come in. Unless you have Popeye arms, working a spoon for even minutes may leaving you wondering just who is getting “worked”. Spooning is a calorie burning exercise. The technique is pretty basic, and involves quick snaps of your wrist to cause your spoon to jump up off the bottom about 2-3 feet. Almost every bass will strike as the spoon flutters towards the bottom. To get the proper fluttering action, you have to pay attention to how fast you lower your rod tip while the spoon drops. The proper speed is one in which you allow the spoon to fall on slack line that allows it to flutter, but not so much slack that you can’t feel a bass strike the lure. You can test your speed by jigging your spoon next to the boat near the water surface, where you can see it flutter as you lower the rod tip. Most people figure that if a “little slack” is good, then a “lot” of slack is better. Wrong. Bass can hit your spoon and reject it without you realizing they even bit. If you find your spoon keeps getting snagged on your line, you are dropping your rod tip too quickly.

Don’t be afraid to vary the height of your jigging, or how fast you pull the jig off the bottom. Often the best tempo is different from what worked the last time. My friend from the Sacramento area, Dean Sault, taught me another variation of jigging that he learned from the designer of the DUH! spoon, Rick Tietz. He refers to it as the “flip-flop”, and it produces his biggest spoon-caught bass. In this technique, after his Duh! Spoon settles on the bottom, Dean gently lifts his rod tip just enough to stand the spoon up vertically on the bottom, and immediately lowers the rod so that the spoon flops down on its other side. He repeats this procedure so that the spoon looks like a dying shad flip-flopping back and forth in its death throes. This action is too much for Mama Pesce to ignore!

Try spoon-feeding winter bass on top of submerged humps and rock piles, or in submerged timber. Also give it a go next to deep bridge pilings. Cold-weather bass are likely concentrated in each of these areas. Just don’t hurry to the lake until you finish those biscuits and gravy! Ciao. You can reach me at LimitBy9@aol.com.