Late Fall and Winter can be a rewarding time of year for bass anglers. You can catch some big fish if you know the right tactics and can deal with the harsh conditions. Unlike the frenzied bites of Spring and Fall, and the steady summer morning and evening bites, Winter bites are few, but can produce some of your biggest bass- even in the dead of the winter. Perhaps one of the most productive winter weapons is the jigging spoon. They come in different shapes and sizes, with some of the most popular brands being Acme Kastmasters, Hopkins Shorties, the Cotton Cordell C.C., and the Luhr Jensen Krocodile.
A spoon is a great way to target schooling bass suspended deep in the water column. Spoons deliver a fluttering, fish-attracting descent that will vary in speed depending on the weight of the lure. Spoons are typically uncomplicated being composed of sturdy metal hardware with strong, rust-proof hooks. The same spoons are often used for fresh or salt water. The particular shape of a spoon indicates a specific design intent- a particular flutter or “swing” to the decent, a particular rate of decent, and even specific performance characteristics in swift current, rougher wavers or windy conditions. Spoons for this type of fishing typically come in hammered nickel, silver or gold finish for extra flash. They range in weight from 1/4- to 1 1/2-ounces. Heavier spoons are used when there’s a strong wind. Despite design differences, the one shared objective of all spoons is to resemble a dying shad.
I have found that these lures can be very effective whether you cast them and slow flutter hop them back to the bank or whether you cast them or vertically jig them from a boat. They are known to be effective on largemouth bass that, during this time of year, frequently mix with striped bass, white perch, white bass and spotted bass when present. Spoons do lend themselves to use as a search bait by making long casts left to right or right to left and slow rolling or hopping them back with twitches of varying sharpness and pauses of varying lengths. If you are working a specific piece of structure or a specific pod of bait being attacked by feeding fish, you can vertically jig them as you would with any jig. I like to cast them and let them hit bottom. Giving it a pause, I then begin to rip them hard, trying to get a reaction strike. As the water temperature gets colder, the bass will suspend and not chase the baits a long way. Therefore the strike window is not nearly as big as it would be in the in the warmer months. As is often the case with such presentations, it is not an exact science and does require some variation, some trial and error experimentation on the part of the angler.
There are definitely some do’s and don’ts when it comes to spooning. Anglers fishing a spoon need to allow the spoon to fall on a tight line. If not, it will likely be difficult to know when a cold water bass takes the bait. Remember, they are looking for an easy meal.
Waiting for a dying baitfish to literally fall on their plate. Whether using a vertical jigging presentation or casting the spoon and hopping it, “keep your line tight to feel the bite”. Even a dying shad has a reflective nature- no rust spots- so if your spoon is tarnished, use some fine steel wool to polish the finish, maybe even apply some chrome polish before you hit the lake. If you are vertically jigging in the presence of feeding fish, make sure you slowly drop your metal into the feeding mix.
You certainly do not want it to fall too fast or unnaturally through the bait ball. The spoon must have a natural fluttering decent through the pod, falling as would any dying shad. In death there is very little horizontal movement. Therefore your boat control becomes critical because you need to maintain a position directly over the feeding fish and forage ball or pod. Your electronics should be reading the baitfish formation on the screen. Not only should location be evident but also whether or not big fish are feeding. Baitfish form a tight round ball (“pod”) to appear “larger than life” and in doing so, intimidate the predators in an attempt to discourage them from attacking. If the ball of baitfish appears broken into smaller segments or if spaghetti-like lines appear to dart out from the concentration, this is often an indication that predators are feeding and, by their activity, are dispersing the large pods into smaller, easier to attack units.
As always, in selecting your spoon, try and match the size and color to the baitfish that are in the water you are fishing. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques, the more you learn the better and well-rounded you become as an angler.
Clear water is typically a pre-requisite for successful vertical presentations. Although slightly stained water may work in the right light conditions, vertical spooning is typically not effective in murky, dingy waters. Fishing the spoon seems to work best on sunny days when the spoon flash of the “dying bait” can be highly visible. Even under ideal conditions, vertical jigging can be tiresome, requiring constant wrist action on the part of the angler to give the “dying life” to the spoon. When everything comes together, vertical jigging can result in good winter action. Live the Passion!