Fishing the Winter Spoon Phase

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Sometimes I try and think of my first catch with a certain piece of tackle and most times I can come up with an interesting story about that piece of tackle but in the case of the spoon I honestly don’t remember spoons being used for the kind of fishing we did in my younger days. About as far as my memory goes back with a spoon is back to my military career, during the Cold War of the 80’s we used Red Devil spoons for Canadian Pike on our squadron trips to a small Canadian air force base in the far northern province of Alberta. To our fighter pilots, going to northern Canada was an opportunity to play with the Russian fighter pilots and for me it was an opportunity to play with the local pike population. That kind of fishing was mostly casting and retrieving and I’ve never really spent much time with jigging spoons till coming to the south. I’ve been fishing the lake for 18 years now and the way I figure it, there are 2 spooning phases here. The first occurs in the hottest days or the “dog days” of summer from July through September as the surface temps top out for the year and the bite is more striper oriented. The other occurs at the other end of the spectrum when the surface temps drop during the coldest months of the year and the bite is more bass oriented. As a striper fisherman that primarily used live bait, spoons didn’t get used that often in my boat and there wasn’t a big window of opportunity for me to catch a big striper on a spoon. You’ve got the hottest part of the summer using a big spoon like the 8 inch Ben Parker spoon and the colder months of the winter with a much smaller spoon like a 2 inch Flex-it spoon, but other than those times catching a striper on a spoon is the exception more than the rule.

Since channeling my fishing efforts to bass the spoon has taken on a different role and this is the time of year the spoon comes out for the bass portion of the “spoon phase”. Last year was my first year for using the spoon for bass and I found it to be a helpful tool in 2 separate scenarios when the water temps dip into the lower 50’s and below. The first scenario is a shallower bite and plays out over and over again in our creek pockets. There is a good population 1-2 inch threadfin shad cruising around the creek right now and some of the backs of the creek pockets are just loaded with schools of these threadfins. At the same time there are a lot of hungry bass that are feeding up before their metabolism slows from the winters coldest water temps in the later part of the winter. Since all this transpires under the surface, without the help of birds, good electronics and/or the luck of being at the right place at the right time these annual clashes of bass and bait go unnoticed time after time. Last year a friend and I were fishing on the north end of the lake during a bass tournament and early in the morning we saw some gulls diving in the back of a pocket near the area we were fishing. We decided to investigate the diving birds and eased into the pocket with the trolling motor. Almost immediately we saw some dead 1-2 inch threadfins floating and started marking fish on a 20 foot bottom so we dropped the spoons down on the fish and within seconds we had our first fish of the morning in the boat. This was a school of cookie cutter 2lb largemouth but they provided us with a limit of fish in less than 30 minutes to start the morning. This all happened in less than 20 feet of water in the back of a pocket and was over 15 minutes after it started.

The second scenario with the spoon isn’t quite as exciting but can yield some very nice fish and nice numbers nonetheless. The number of fish moving out to the deeper channels and ditches is growing and a friend of mine has been working the deep spoon bite for the last 2 weeks. While I’ve been concentrating on the first scenario my buddy has been in his boat moving around the deeper valleys and ditches of pockets and cuts in the creek. His efforts have been focused on deep bass moving around the edges of deep timber in these areas and it’s been paying off for him with bigger rewards. Generally we text pictures back and forth while we’re both out fishing and I’ve been noticing his bass are just a bit bigger than mine lately. His bites have been fewer and far between at times, but the quality of the bigger fish makes the down time worth it, I’m sure.

Those 2 scenarios have been playing out for us for the past 2 weeks and I’m pretty sure the bass bite during the winter spoon phase will continue throughout the winter. Although I haven’t done much spooning for bass around docks yet, that’s something that we had a lot of success with last winter and we’ll be doing a lot more of as the water temps drop lower and the fish start hanging around the deeper docks. Basically the pattern for me has been finding pockets and cuts that hold bait and then look for signs of fish either on the graph or on the surface in the backs of the pockets in 25 feet or less. There has been some subtle surface activity early in the mornings and late in the evenings and is a dead giveaway for the fishes location. Sometimes the loons will get worked up and get very active diving for bait which attracts the fish and starts a feeding frenzy under the surface. It’s always good to watch the loons if they are in the area and if they start actively feeding there’s a good chance there are bass underneath. If I mark a few fish in an area, I’m basically dropping a 1/2 ounce white spoon like a War Eagle or Flex-it down to the bottom and using slow choppy bounces and a few bigger bounces but always keeping my spoon oriented to the bottom. You have to be careful and watch your electronics because we all know that there are a lot of obstacles down on the bottom. If it’s a flat smooth bottom it’s no problem but if there is structure it’s best to work the spoon above the structure in a suspended mode. Most of the time the fish will hit the spoon on the drop or fall so a bite can be as subtle as the rod tip just unloading. For me, I like to use a controlled fall so I can feel the bite. By a controlled fall I mean that I never really loose tension in my line during the fall, so it’s not really a flutter or free fall. The free fall tactic will work better during a shad die-off but for right now I’m slowly bouncing rather than a big pull and freefall drop.

At the same time I’m working the backs of the pockets I can usually see my buddies boat sitting out in the deeper center of the pockets and cuts more towards the mouth. Good electronics are useful to find the deeper fish, sometimes hiding in the timber. My buddy uses a bigger spoon bouncing it around the timber in 50-70 feet of water. His spooning in the deeper water is more pronounced and he uses bigger pulls and drops around the deep timber edges. Sometimes the bigger bass have been coming out of the timber and hitting the bigger spoon while suspended. The bites on the bigger spoon in the deeper water aren’t that frequent unless you’re lucking enough to find a nice group of fish holding in an area. Most times when the fish hits the spoon in the deeper water the feeling is nothing more than the rod just loading up. I think the bigger spoon may weed out some of the smaller fish but it slows the process of catching fish.
A couple more tips I can offer during spooning can help put more fish in the boat; the first is to watch the surface of the area you are fishing for floating dead bait. If you’re seeing a lot of 1-2 threadfin on the surface, be sure to match the hatch with the size of your spoon. Another tip would be to put your caught fish in a live well if they are legal instead of releasing them boat side. IMO opinion a caught and released fish can spoil a good bite so I put the fish in the live well for a bit as to not alarm the other fish. Here’s a couple pictures from earlier this week and matching the hatch with the spoon.IMAG0338

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