At first glance, a
jigging spoon doesn't do much to grab an angler's attention.
Aside from a shiny finish, most spoons are nothing more than an odd-shaped
blank of metal with a hook attached. Many anglers don't even include them in
their walleye fishing arsenal. Those who do, however, know exactly how
effective, and explosive, this lure can be during certain times of the year in
certain water conditions.
Maybe it's a confidence thing. Non-spooners always seem
fascinated when word of a spooning bite gets out, but they always seem reluctant
to act. They simply don't know what they're missing.
Spooning is effective for three primary reasons.
First of all, walleyes in clear-water lakes tend to feed as much by sight as
by their olfactory senses. A school of flashy baitfish will catch those big,
marbled eyes from distances that scent and sound often can't cover through the
water. Nothing imitates the erratic behavior of a wounded shad or alewife better
than a jigging spoon, and that's what hungry walleyes are after during most of
The Great Lakes, where alewife and smelt are the primary forage for many game
fish, are a perfect example. For years, trout and salmon anglers have relied on
trolling spoons to get those fishes' attention. Shore anglers who venture out on
the breakwater walls cast heavier spoons for the same reason. Slowly but surely,
walleye anglers are catching on, too.
The second reason spooning is so effective is that it provides a presentation
that can reach fish in difficult places, such as steep breaklines and weedbeds.
A half-ounce spoon can be ripped effectively through most weeds, and it can also
be bounced and fluttered down every inch of a 20-foot breakline.
Finally, spoons provoke reaction strikes. Those neutral walleyes that swim up
behind a minnow, leech or crawler and turn away often attack a spoon with a
Not only is spooning a great way to catch walleyes, it's a method that relies
on input from the angler to bring the lure to life, and a method that produces
Over the past few years, I've crossed paths with a handful of anglers who
share my passion for spooning. Two of the most fanatical, and successful, are
Masters Walleye Circuit veterans Doug Newhoff and Neil Hammargren. More than
once, I've seen them salvage a tough day by spooning up a limit. A couple of
years ago at Green Bay, they had the rest of the field buzzing when they took
the first-day lead in an MWC event by averaging over 6 pounds per fish while
jigging with spoons.
"It's kind of funny," said Newhoff. "Everybody always wants to know about
spooning, but it seems like hardly anyone actually gets out and does it. We get
asked all the time to show anglers we know how to catch fish on spoons."
Hammargren said successful spooning starts with the appropriate equipment. "I
like a medium-heavy 7-foot rod with a baitcasting reel," he noted. "I don't have
to move my rod tip very far to make my spoon hop pretty good. It's more a flick
of the wrist than anything.
"I used to always spoon with monofilament line, but that's changed over the
last couple of years. We used to be concerned that Fireline was too visible for
clear-water fish, but that just hasn't been the case. I really think the flash
and action of the spoon takes the fish's attention away from the line. Now we
jig spoons just like we jig leadheads -- with high-vis green Fireline."
Several brands of spoons will work. Newhoff and Hammargren do well with
Northland's Buckshot Rattle Spoons and Hopkins spoons. Depending on the wind and
water depth, the size typically ranges from 1/2-ounce to 3/4-ounce. I've added
the System Tackle Rattl'r spoon that's new from Lindy-Little Joe to my arsenal
"The key things you want in a spoon are a profile and flashy finish that
resemble an alewife or shad and a fluttering action on the fall that doesn't
foul up the hook," said Newhoff. "If a spoon sinks like a rock when you drop
your rod tip, it's not going to be as effective as one that takes on the motion
of a pendulum or a swing as it falls."
As with conventional jigging, strikes usually occur when the spoon is
"They can be absolutely ferocious," said Hammargren. "Sometimes, they hit it
so hard they nearly yank the rod out of your hand. It's really a fun way to
When Hammargren and Newhoff decide to go spooning, they look for certain
types of structure.
"The best spots always feature a fairly steep breakline," says Newhoff. "If
there are weeds on top of the break and even part of the way down it, so much
the better. A lot of times the walleyes hang right on the edge of those weeds.
"Rock is usually pretty productive, too, when it falls off into deeper water.
We pitch spoons up shallow and work them down the break just like we would a
Hammargren said spooning isn't restricted to lake situations, either. It can
be just as effective in clear-water rivers like the Great Lakes tributaries.
"Changes in water level dictate how good the spooning bite will be in a lot of
those river cases," said Hammargren. "Most of those rivers are shipping
channels, so some of the breaklines are always good because they're so steep.
"What we like to see in rivers are sudden changes in the water level. That
often pins the walleyes tight to those deep-water breaklines. That's an ideal
situation where you can really knock some quality fish."
Tuck that information away and give spooning a try the next time more
traditional methods don't seem to be producing the results you'd like.
Sometimes, the best way to stick a fork into a crispy, golden walleye fillet is
to feed that fish a spoon.