By Nick Simonson
Lift-fall-WHAM! Fish On!
It’s hard to tell exactly what part of a spoon jigging sequence, and the slight adjustments worked in, that will set a fish off. Sometimes, they’ll rise right up and smack that shiny piece of metal as it makes its way down from the frozen surface above. Other times it takes some work, but when it comes to crappies, perch, pike and walleyes, a spoon is a great lure to gauge the activity of the fish below and a fun way to trigger an exciting bite on the ice.
In the last fifteen years, the spoon market for ice anglers has expanded at an exponential rate. Where two or three models once dominated, now spoons of all shapes and sizes line tackle shop walls, with colors and size options for every quarry. This selection allows anglers to experiment with different tactics under the ice and find new ways to hook fish.
What makes a spoon so great at helping anglers locate fish is its size and profile and it can be tipped with a bait of any kind – waxworms, minnow heads, or full baitfish – on either a treble or single hook. Stamped from heavy metal, it gets down the water column quickly and can be deployed in several ways to draw fish in. The first option – when fish aren’t readily visible on a sonar unit – is to pause the spoon above a target area, such as a few feet off the bottom. Here, the spoon can be jiggled, jumped and jerked erratically to attract fish. As most species’ eyes are angled upward, any fish in the area should be able to view the spoon. The wild motion can attract fish and bring them in for a closer look.
Another search method that draws fish in frequently is “bottom bashing.” Drop a spoon into the mud or sand below and repeatedly lift and drop it into the substrate, raising a small cloud of dust and debris which tends to attract feeding fish in the nearby area, especially those fish like perch, which key in on insects and other prey living on the bottom. The debris cloud serves as a longer-term beacon and can draw fish well after the initial bottom bashing has ceased.
An advanced tactic similar to bottom bashing is the slow drag. Cups and angles on certain models of spoons allow the lure to glide several feet out from the hole as they drop, especially when fishing deeper water. Ultimately the lure lands in a spot angled away from the hole, letting the angler above either slowly drag the spoon across the substrate, stirring up dust, or gently pulse or hop the lure back to a spot directly under the hole mimicking a baitfish on the bottom. This technique lets anglers create a large area of attraction.
Moment of Truth
Many times, these tactics, followed by a jigging pattern, will draw fish in. This is the moment of truth, or at least one of realizing what mood the fish are in. Watching a sonar screen, coupled with whatever pattern an angler employs, will allow for a chance to gauge a fish’s reaction. A standard lift-fall-hold is a great place to start. If a fish rises on the lift, there’s a good chance it is in a feeding mood and a strike might be close at hand. Sometimes, a fish will only take on the fall, or the hold between the fall and the next lift.
Still other times, the fish may only sit and watch, not rising to any of the occasions.
Increasing the length of the lift, or doing multiple lifts of the lure before letting it fall is another tactic. There have been many instances where a fish will follow on the first two lifts before striking on a third, as if that third lift caused the fish’s instincts to take over saying, “this meal is going to get away – BITE!” Sometimes, however a fish may sit and observe a bit longer – say 12 or 15 repetitions – before some subtlety triggers a reaction. So, until the fish fades away on the sonar display, don’t give up!
Still, for those instances where no amount of jiggling, lift-falling, or ripping will trigger a strike, a spoon helps bring neutral or negative fish in for a look and a more natural bait nearby – such as a minnow on a plain hook – serves as an easy secondary target that doesn’t turn fish off. This one-two combination, where two lines are allowed through the ice, helps anglers be more productive. If a fish shows up under an active spoon hole, but then fades away on the sonar screen, chances are it is moving over to investigate a dead stick or bobber rod hole and may take a minnow. Keep an eye out while vigorously working a spoon, which now serves as an attractor to these finicky fish.
As with all presentations, it takes time and experience to find out what spoon tactics work in a given situation, and as always a bit of luck and timing to each species’ mood and activity level in a given moment. Remember the previous pattern that set off the last fish, and keep employing it when others come through during that same time period. More often than not, they are in a similar mindset and will bite on the same combination of moves. Be adaptable and open to the multitude of spoon options and tactics, record how fish react to them on each trip and odds are figure out some new secret spoon methods to trigger more fish this winter.
(Featured Photo: The author with a 24 inch walleye coming on a Lindy Flyer spoon.)