By Joel Nelson
There’s more than one way to skin – catch, actually – a walleye, and it’s true that a variety of presentations can work well on a given day. Usually, however, there’s a better fish enticer for a certain water body, weather pattern, or depth range.
Often too, certain fish species can be attracted to a lure or presentation based simply on their biology and what they like to eat. To make matters even more confusing, there are times of the year when one type of presentation will outperform the other based solely on metabolism and activity levels. Here’s a stab at sorting out what’s best and when.
Walleyes, perch, and even panfish love to eat jigging spoons, which come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Yet for the most part, you can often separate them into two basic classes: rattle or flash spoons.
Yes, there are more types than this, but it’s safe to say that 80% of the spoon market fits into these two categories. That fact makes your job in selecting a winner just a bit easier, although there are a host of diverging classes within each: the spoons that rattle and those that flash.
Rattle spoons are a class that relies on that rattle to draw fish in from distance, but not all rattle spoons are created equal. Most are heavy, lead spoons that serve as much as a dumbwaiter for bait delivery as they do a rattling presentation that’s meant to attract fish from afar.
These spoons are good for dropping to the lake bottom to create a “cloud” that may attract fish, along with the noise the spoons make underwater. Some rattles are made of metal, and now a new glass rattle option exists to really call fish from a long distance. Glass simply performs better to really draw fish in, but there are times when a more subdued “tick” from the metal versions is better. Less can be more in some situations, especially during midwinter.
Flash spoons are a broader category yet, with the term “flash” being not limited to spoons that have a metallic or otherwise flashy appearance.
Flash, in this instance, can mean any spoon that attracts visually more than it does from an audible or felt-vibration perspective. Some of them tumble, while many dance and otherwise flutter seductively when dropped on a free line.
They’re definitely a more subtle approach compared with the rattle spoons we all know and love, but can really be an upgrade in certain scenarios.
Color can play a huge role with this spoon type, given that they’re purely based on the visual, so it’s hard to cross this type of spoon off the list without trying a few standards from the fishing color wheel.
Rattle and roll
For this angler, and for others, it’s hard to imagine starting out with anything but a rattle bait of some kind. The advantages are numerous.
Fishing vertically, and stationary, you do need to rely on drawing power to get fish from far distances to observe and eventually eat your offering. Rattle spoons effectively do this, especially in murky water. They’re the perfect starting bait.
Speaking of bait, their appeal can be upgraded by tipping with a minnow head, plastic flicker tail, or both, creating yet another reason to use them first.
I’m of the opinion that it’s best to work rattles until the fish tell you not to, for a number of reasons.
I mentioned the calling power of these baits, but it’s also worth mentioning that the fish willing to respond to rattles are often fish in a more positive mood for feeding from the start. I’d always rather drop an offering in front of an active fish than a neutral or negative one, and rattles have the power to attract those with an interest.
Additionally, rattle spoons offer a more hybrid approach to noise than the louder, lipless style rattle baits that have become popular for ice fishing.
Truth be told, I’m a huge fan of those too, but I realize that even fish that may be interested in these baits from afar don’t always strike them when up close and personal. That’s where the rattling spoons shine, however, because they tend to be a bit more snack-sized, and also subtle in comparison when it comes to their ability to fish “small.”
We can impart tiny wiggles and shakes to these baits to fish them in a more finesse manner than your average lipless crank, giving you the option to rip hard when attracting fish at a distance, then slow down to tease fish into finally eating.
Simple flash spoons have been tearing it up from the beginning of time, so for many anglers it’s a case of why fix what isn’t broken? Especially in clear water, there’s a distinct advantage to fishing a flash spoon, which has the ability to be even more of a finesse lure than the tiniest of rattle spoons fished slowly. Usually this is because they’re of a thinner metal, rather than lead-based construction, but also because of the action imparted in the baits when free-dropped.
Flash spoons are the more boring, yet often effective, brethren to the rattle spoon in that they aren’t as multi-faceted in their approach. Again however, they’re deadly effective, especially when fished a bit higher in the water column.
For clear-water anglers, it’s important to note that fish at a distance can see higher baits better, simply because of the angle at which fish are observing, along with the fact that they can more easily silhouette it against the light and/or the bottom of the ice.
Fans of these kinds of spoons often report fewer fish marked on electronics, but they tend to convert more of these marked fish into biters. That can make all the difference, although it can be frustrating, especially in shallow water where it can be hard to mark fish.
Whether it’s walleyes or perch, it’s addicting to see fish on the screen that respond to your rattle bait. But when fish aren’t roaming far and wide to inspect baits, it’s often the simple approach of the flash spoons that can get it done.
Again, fewer fish marked, more fish caught. I’ve seen it happen too many times to call it a fluke.
In my mind, the decision is an easy one given enough anglers in a group working together. Let the fish decide.
I’ll still typically start with a rattle spoon, even in clear water, although I’m more ready to change it out if fish are being caught via other presentations.
Clear water also means, however, that colors can make a big difference, as can small details such as swivels, line thickness, and the way you work a bait. Those variables can make it hard to sort through the mess, given a certain angler with a certain setup who’s fishing a certain jigging cadence can catch all the fish regardless of which spoon is being used.
That said, all else being equal, make sure you’ve got someone in the group leaning hard in both directions, and dedicated to the bit. Make them fish through the first few pickups and bites, even if they’re not the ones getting them.
As a general rule, panfish tend to prefer flash spoons in many scenarios, but rattle spoons can be effective when fish are aggressive.
There are also a handful of rattle spoons that allow crappie anglers, especially, to cover deeper water, more easily, simply because of the weight of the spoon.
It’s a big topic, and breaking it down is a day-by-day procedure, but the rattle vs. flash divergence is a good place to start sorting through the wills and wants of a fish’s preference for any given trip.