The Scoop On Spoons

The Scoop On Spoons Spoons may be one of the oldest styles of lures, but these lures still catch bass, from top to bottom.

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Tennessee fishing and hunting guide Ben Parker has made a large splash with the giant flutter spoon he helped design. Photo courtesy of Ben Parker

Tennessee fishing and hunting guide Ben Parker has made a large splash with the giant flutter spoon he helped design. Photo courtesy of Ben Parker

Kentucky Lake was flat on this clear summer afternoon. Ben Parker, a former Bassmaster Elite Series angler and current outfitter who guides waterfowl hunters and anglers in western Tennessee, was fishing solo. He was catching bass on a small flutter spoon, but they weren’t the giants that make the ledges on this 160,300-acre Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir so popular with anglers. Those bass had something else on their mind.

   Every now and then, Parker noticed big bass “jumping” baitfish that were much larger than the spoon he was casting. They were skipjack herring, which can grow to more than 1 foot long. At that moment, he had an epiphany. “If you’re going to match the hatch,” he asked himself, “then why aren’t you throwing a spoon the same size as the bait?”

   Parker supplied designers at Nichols Lures with the length and width of the spoon he wanted, but it took several versions to refine its cup, which causes the action. When they finished, they had Parker’s namesake Magnum Flutter spoon, which measures 8 inches long and 2 inches wide and weighs 3.5 ounces. It looks more appropriate for saltwater fishing, but it has made a large splash in bass fishing. “We’ve sold a ton of them,” Parker said. “We’ve sold thousands to Japan.”

   Japanese anglers are catching big bass with them at Lake Biwa, where Manabu Kurita caught the world-record tying 22-pound, 4-ounce bass in July 2009. In the U.S., Parker said the spoons are popular choices anywhere bass school deep, including Lake Eufaula and big Texas impoundments such as Toledo Bend. They have ruled tournaments on TVA lakes, and he used one equipped with a front stinger hook to catch two bass on one cast that together weighed 13 pounds. Nichols has since introduced larger and smaller versions. The Mini Magnum has been catching smallmouth on Lake Champlain and the Great Lakes.

   Parker’s design is the biggest change to spoon fishing in many years. Every bass angler can remember when their tackle box had spoons, maybe a Hopkins, Daredevil or Moss Boss. As their skills advanced, those spoons were replaced by other lures. That was a mistake. Spoons are simple lures that simply catch bass. These lures can be used on the bottom, mid-depths and surface.

Bottom

Jigging spoons are the only spoon that can be consistently found in the arsenals of today’s bass anglers. These spoons, such as the Hopkins Shorty, are compact, heavy and fished with short hops off the bottom. They are usually fished vertically, but they also are productive when casted and hopped back to the boat, especially when targeting smallmouth bass.

FLW Tour angler Bryan Thrift keeps a jigging spoon on his deck, but he only throws it when he sees bass schooling on the surface or on his graph. Photo courtesy of Bryan Thrift

FLW Tour angler Bryan Thrift keeps a jigging spoon on his deck, but he only throws it when he sees bass schooling on the surface or on his graph. Photo courtesy of Bryan Thrift

   Parker’s spoon adapts that latter presentation to largemouth fishing. “One thing that it has is a big profile,” he said. “It has a whole other thing with its shape and weight.” If you cast the spoon out and let it sink on a free line, he said it will quickly move away from you. How far? He said as much as 20 or 30 feet on a deep ledge. During swimming pool tests, he said a spoon cast to the middle would hit the back wall before the bottom. After he strokes the spoon off the bottom — quickly moving his rod from about the 3 o’clock to the 12 o’clock position — he lets it sink on a slack line, allowing it to backtrack. That forces following bass to make a decision: eat it or get out of the way. Most eat it, he said.

   Parker said fishing big flutter spoons demands a rod that’s stiff from butt to tip. “You can’t throw it on any rod,” he said. He worked with ALX Rods to create one for fishing giant spoons. It was released at 2016 ICAST show. The 7-foot, 7-inch rod casts spoons far and easily sets the hook at that distance. He uses 17-pound test fluorocarbon line and a reel with at least a 7:1 gear ratio. When a bass hits the spoon just after it starts falling, you’ll need to pick up the slack line before setting the hook. A speedy reel does that before the bass can let go of the spoon.

   Parker’s spoons catch suspended bass, too. When he sees a school on his electronics, he’ll cast the spoon past it and let it sink to the bottom. He’ll start reeling, stopping once it passes through the school. It flutters back through, enticing strikes.

   Bryan Thrift also likes to swim a spoon. The 2010 FLW Tour Angler of the Year, who has qualified for the Forest Wood Cup in each of the 10 years he has fished the FLW Tour, has begun targeting bass schooling on the surface with a Damiki Backdrop spoon. Originally designed for saltwater fishing, it’s being released in freshwater sizes, which he said closely match the size of baitfish that most bass eat, in fall 2016. “It’s unique because most other spoons are designed to be fished one way,” he said.

   Backdrop spoons are flat on one side, but the other features a keel. On a slow retrieve, Thrift said, the spoon will stay near the surface and wobble, something schooling bass can’t resist. He also fishes the spoon vertically, like a traditional jigging spoon. After the spoon settles on the bottom, sharply snap your rod up a few feet. Follow the spoon as it sinks with a semi-tight line. That will allow the spoon to wobble and flash and you to feel a strike, which happen mostly on the drop.

   When fishing the Backdrop just under the surface, Thrift spools his reel with 12-pound test P Line fluorocarbon line, which gives him extra casting distance. He steps up to 15-pound test when fishing it vertically. The Backdrop spoon features two free-swinging hooks rather than the usual single treble hook. You shouldn’t worry about hooking bass with them. In the short time he has experimented with the spoon, he has caught about 20 doubles. The hooks also make the spoon less likely to be thrown by a hooked bass.

   Jigging spoons — whether the time-tested Hopkins, Parker’s super-sized flutter spoons or Thrift’s best of both worlds Backdrop — work best when you know where bass are swimming. “Rarely do I go out and fish a spoon all day,” Thrift said. “It’s more of an opportunity bait.” Parker agrees Thrift’s statement. If he doesn’t see a school of bass, either on the surface or his electronics, he won’t cast it. When he does, he’ll try it for 15 or so casts, and if there are no takers, he’ll put it down and try a different lure. The best opportunity to catch a bass on his spoon is the first two or three casts into the school, he said.

Mid-depths

When you tied your “beginner” spoons to your line, you had one presentation in mind. You were going to throw them out and wind them back. Swimming along in the mid-depths, spoons generate flash and a gentle, rhythmic vibration. That still catches bass.

Spoons can cover bass fishing situations from the surface to the bottom. Photo by Pete Anderson

Spoons can cover bass fishing situations from the surface to the bottom. Photo by Pete Anderson

   Smaller spoons with a deep cup, such as Acme’s Little Cleo, are best for swimming. Spoons with metallic finishes put off the most flash. If you choose a painted one, make sure the underside is raw metal. Sometimes the combination of flash and color can be the ticket. Use a small ball-bearing swivel, or at least a split ring, between your line and the spoon. It will twist your line otherwise.

   A perfect situation for swimming a spoon is when bass school in the back of pockets and creeks in the fall. Like Thrift does with the Backdrop spoon, cast it toward the breaking bass, and slow roll it through them. It’s easy to cast a spoon far, so stay back to avoid spooking the school.

   Spoons give bass bombarded by spinnerbaits, jerkbaits or square-bill crankbaits a different look. Their compact size, flash and vibration will draw bass from submerged aquatic grass, laydowns and even docks, but you will have to be more particular about your casting angles; its dangling rear treble hook snags easily. If you think that action is what the bass want but aren’t convinced a spoon will make it through the cover, try a weedless spoon such as a Johnson Silver Minnow. Its single hook is protected by a weed guard.

Surface

Besides the Hopkins style of jigging spoon, the Johnson Silver Minnow is probably the best known bass spoon. Its design has spawned similar weedless spoons, including Strike King’s Timber King, Northland’s Jaw-Breaker and Heddon’s Moss Boss, that draw ferocious topwater strikes.

   Weedless spoons are effective when aquatic grass is matted in sparse clumps or large fields. When matted grass is thick, heavy spoons leave an impression that’s deeper than hollow frogs or soft-plastic toads. That makes them easier for bass to find. That also helps entice unaggressive bass. With the spoon riding lower in the water, they don’t have to go as far to grab it.

   A weedless spoon is perfect for swimming between patches of emergent or matted grass. Let it sink some, and then wind it under the surface before pulling it back over the next clump.

   You’ll want to use a trailer on your weedless spoon. Some, such as the Jaw-Breaker, come fitted with a silicone skirt. Those are ready to go. But others, such as the Silver Minnow, come with a bare hook. Good trailer choices are straight-tail spinnerbait trailers or even a plastic or pork chunk.

   Not all surface spoons are made of metal. Lunker City, the company that started the soft jerkbait revolution in the 1980s with its Sluggo, makes one from soft plastic. The Salad Spoon, when viewed from above, has the same general shape of a spoon — narrow in the front  and wider toward the back, where a large grub-like tail protrudes from the lure. Texas rig it and throw it cover or open water. While it lacks most of the side-to-side shimmy of traditional weedless spoons, its grub-like tail kicks up a commotion that’s only slightly quieter than a  toad.

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