More winter walleyes have found their way into a frying pan via jigging spoons than any other lure. Spoons lend themselves to the vertical presentation that ice fishing demands.
Not all jigging spoons are created equal, however. How spoons are manufactured – and their weight – determines their rate of fall and how we’ll fish them.
Whether a spoon is stamped, poured, or cast makes a difference in their action and performance. How they are manufactured determines how heavy they are and what the best presentation is for each spoon.
“Fishing spoons is all about the rate of fall,” says Andrew Hendrickson of Northstar Fishing Adventures. “How you fish them is more about cadence than anything else, which is dependent on the weight of the spoon. If you’re fishing deep water you want a spoon that gets up and down quickly. You’re going to fish it with more short snaps versus a gentle lift and fall.”
Cast spoons are going to fish heavy. They are great choices when you’re fishing deeper water from 30 to 60 feet. The addition of live bait doesn’t affect the action of heavy spoon like it might lighter, stamped spoons.
Cast spoons can be used as a vehicle to get your bait down quickly and double as an attractor. A trick guide Brandon Stanton uses to fool winter walleye is to add a short dropper to a cast spoon with a lively shiner minnow. The spoon attracts the fish; the bait seals the deal. Adding it to a dropper allows the bait to swim freely and more naturally.
Stamped spoons can be thick or thin and they each fish a little differently. Slightly thicker stamped spoons have a quicker rate of fall versus light, slender spoons. Medium-weight stamped spoons are versatile and are a favorite of savvy ice anglers. Medium-weight spoon are ideal for depths of 15 to 30 feet or more.
I add the head of a minnow to my favorite medium-weight spoon for a little added scent. Replace the hook with a size or two larger premium treble. Because of the triangular shape of some spoons, when you lift and let it fall, it flutters like a dying minnow with a medium fall rate.
I watch my ice rod like a hawk and as soon as I see a walleye sniffing my panicked minnows – telegraphed by my float – I start jiggling, fluttering, and activating the spoon. Quite often that’s more than a walleye can stand, especially if there’s more than one in the vicinity.
Sometimes the fish are attracted and interested in the jigging spoon, but lose interest and just slide over and inhale the quivering minnow. It’s a one-two punch that has paid big dividends over the years.
One problem with jigging is it can create line twist. Whether you choose fluorocarbon or monofilament, use spoons with the lightest line that remains practical. Most ice-anglers choose 6-pound-test for walleyes. Although fluorocarbon’s refractory qualities make it less visible under the ice it tends to be stiffer in the cold and more inclined to twist. Mono is softer and less prone to tangles, but to each his own.
I’m not a big fan of braid for ice fishing because of its tendency to collect water and freeze and the fact it’s highly visible underwater.
Because you’re only using a relatively short length of line when ice fishing, don’t be afraid to replace your line on a regular basis. Every other trip is not too often. Peel off 50 feet of line and add new line.
Add a small barrel swivel about two feet up the line from you lure to prevent line twist. Use a quality snap or snap swivel to connect your lure to your line. Add a split ring to the lure to allow it to swivel freely. Occasionally lift your lure out of the water and let it spin out before letting it back down.
The attraction of spoons can be enhanced by the addition of rattles, flippers, or trebles with a small spinner blade. The added flash and sound can stimulate aggressive fish and call them from farther away. Spoons that accept glow sticks can be particularly deadly in low light conditions.
Stamped spoons on the lighter side of the scale fall in between the heavier cast spoon and light, flutter versions. Thin spoons produce a slow rate of fall. Adding live bait can slow their fall rate even more. That can be critical in shallower water where you want the spoon in the strike zone as long as possible.
The lightest flutter spoons can be fished with or without bait. The trembling quiver of a falling slender spoon does a perfect job of mimicking a dying minnow and that can be a powerful trigger.
Size does matter. Larger spoons have the ability to attract fish from longer distances. A mistake ice anglers make is to not fish spoons higher in the water column. Fish can see a lure from a greater distance the higher it is off bottom.
Don’t just drop a spoon in front a fish you see on the graph. Start above it and see how it reacts.
Combining a larger cast spoon to act as an attractant that you can pound on the bottom with a lighter spoon to finish the deal is a dynamite technique. Fish attracted by the commotion suddenly see the light spoon dancing above.
Rip the spoon in short bursts while slowly reeling it up. Keep reeling if the fish shows interest. If the fish turns away or drifts off, repeat the process. Underwater cameras have proven that fish that leave the cone of your graph may only move off a short distance, turn around, build a head of steam and crush the lure on the next pass. Just when you think they’ve left, they return with a vengeance.
Hold on to your rod!