by Jeff Beckwith
There’s no argument, the vertical jigging spoon is ice fishing’s dominant lure. Fish have surrendered to hammered metal and forged lead since, well…since folks decided that ice could no longer separate them from quarry. I’m talking eons.
In contemporary times, spoons are linked to the pursuit of walleyes, lake trout, and perch, although, when given a chance, flashing hardware will swindle crappies, whitefish and tullibee (ciscoes), bass, northern pike and bluegills too. And yes, I said bluegills.
Despite the spoon’s universal appeal, though, going to war with an arsenal of metal only is foolhardy. There are situations, for instance, where swimming jigs outperform spoons, as well as times when a plain hook and agitating minnow is the preferred tonic.
But having said that, times are few when I’m not pumping a spoon. Honestly, I’m sort of passionate about ’em. I’d much rather rifle through a montage of spoons – testing different shapes and sizes – than resort to an alternate bait.
And over years, while assessing various types of spoons, I’ve established that certain styles of spoons excel in certain situations. And while size and weight would seem to be the chief characteristics of a spoon, I’ve found that “action” is equally as influential.
On the ice, my attitude is to open with vigor and calm down as conditions warrant. Regardless of species, that initial drop is executed with a high profile jigging spoon – something that sends a message, attracts fish, and challenges aggressors.
The lure must make a spectacle of itself, generating vibrations and kicking out all sorts of color and sparkles. Scenic Tackle’s Glow Devil, JB Lure’s Pro Varmint, and Northland Tackle’s Buck-Shot Spoon go beyond the call of duty to entice fish. The Glow Devil sports eye-popping colors; Pro Varmint an onboard propeller; and Buck-Shot an internal rattle chamber.
Now, despite the dazzle and fuss, all three lures run pretty much straight up and down. That’s typical of lead lures. They rise and fall like a yo-yo, but can be jigged powerfully, jerked toward the sky and pounded on the bottom. But in turn, elongated lead spoons can be jigged timidly too, catering to fussy fish. They’re that versatile.
When fish are clearly “on,” I dorsal hook a whole minnow and employ exaggerated jigging motions, raising the rod tip 6 inches to a foot while monitoring how fish react to on the flasher. Oftentimes, active fish are furthest from the bottom too, walleyes included, so it’s important to study the screen.
If fish aren’t receptive, though, or seem to be nibbling not biting, I downsize my dressing, switching from a whole minnow to a head. That change is accompanied by a subtler approach too. Jerks are replaced by quivers – rod tip motions of only an inch or two. And I incorporate more pauses as well. It’s not uncommon for me to hold a lure motionless for 30 seconds when there’s a curious but passive fish on the screen. Nibblers are known to hit idle baits.
That’s the lead gig – the opening volley – but not necessarily the final act. After that, my inclination is to dump lead in favor of thinly stamped metal. Wide profile, flapping spoons occasionally convert sniffers into feeders. They also cover more water, winging away from the hole and drawing fish from great distances.
A great example of a stamped metal spoon is the Scenic Tackle Angel Eye. The slender minnow-shaped spoon features a unique arched tail that generates a floating and fluttering action on the drop. It’s been hotter than pistols. And the new Angle Eye Jr. delivers the same gyrations to crappies and perch.
Speaking of wintertime crappies, far too often their appetites and capabilities are underestimated. Fact is, crappies are pigs. They’re constantly eating. And last time I checked, native minnows weren’t much if any daintier than a small spoon.
Spoons do a tremendous job of attracting traveling crappies to a fixed location. And normally, the larger and angrier fish arrive first. They won’t be bashful about bashing a spoon either, particularly something luminescent, like a glow red Angel Eye Jr.
Normally, though, I support jigging with a setline. I’ll fix up a small shiner or crappie minnow beneath a bobber and position it in a neighboring hole. It’s quite typical to lure crappies in with a jigging spoon only to have them wallop the setline.
At some point, though, if nothing’s happening, the minnow’s performance warrants reconsideration. Meat failed and it’s time to reach for the tin of grubs, maggots or wax worms. For perch, crappies, bluegills, and even walleyes have been known to swing at larvae when minnows are completely shirked.
The spoon is king. Say it, “The spoon is king.” Feel better? I do. Whatever trials and experimentations you engage in this winter, make sure spoons are knitted into the tapestry. Dust off the old ones and procure a few new ones. Fish ’em with confidence and don’t be afraid to change up with frequency.
By winter’s end, you’ll have built an ice fishing system around spoons too.