The coldest months of the year are prime time for jigging spoons, those simple pieces of lead that really shine when the water is cold and the bass are sluggish.
Depending on your location, from November through early March the bass are likely to be concentrated along deep structure like creek channels, standing timber, river ledges and bluff banks in reservoirs and lakes throughout the country. In the coldest water temperatures of the year, largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass are unlikely to chase a lure. This is when a jigging spoon is the best choice because it quickly reaches these deep bass and allows the angler to work on schools of inactive fish with pinpoint accuracy.
“People have gotten away from spoons in some areas, and are trying a variety of new lures that they read and hear about,” says Alabama’s Jack Chancellor, a former BASS Masters Classic champion and one of the country's best deep-structure fishermen. “But they are just as dependable as ever for catching fish down deep.”
“Jigging spoons will catch the big largemouths that are down deep particularly in the winter,” tournament legend Roland Martins adds. “But, jigging spoons are super for catching bass from 2 to 5 pounds, and that’s the size I’m after when I’m in a tournament. That is also the size that most fishermen would be satisfied with during the average outing.”
A good jigging spoon will often catch fish right out of the box, but the experts modify the lure to fool pressured fish.
For most fishermen, the jigging spoon is a simple tool to exploit in the winter months. Using a depth finder to precisely position the lure, it is lowered vertically to the structure (or fish) below and then hopped rhythmically off of the bottom. Most of the strikes occur as the lead slab falls through the water. In the coldest times, a small (1/4- to 1/2-ounce) spoon is usually the most productive size.
Here are a few tricks developed by knowledgeable guides and tournament pros that greatly enhance the effectiveness of wintertime spooning:
One pro’s bag of tricks. Chancellor says the jigging spoon is “the fastest way I know to catch a limit in the winter.” And he has developed a bevy of spoon tactics to take full advantage of that allure.
One of his favorite tricks involves adding the element of sound to the spoon by gluing glass rattle chambers to the side of the lure. This can be particularly effective on pressured bass, but the rattle often won't survive encounters with stumps and rocks. Another method of adding noise to these lures is to attach two spoons to one large split ring. “This has two advantages—the spoons bang together loudly and has twice the flash,” Chancellor says.
When faced with the challenge involved with penetrating river current to reach deep-structure bass, Chancellor resists switching to a heavy spoon for the added weight (which could eliminate catching small fish). Instead, he positions a bullet-shaped sinker between the spoon and the treble hook. This provides a little extra weight without hampering the action or hooking ability of the spoon.
Chancellor makes one of two modifications when jigging standing timber—either replacing the treble hook with a weedless hook or cutting off two of its hook points. Both adaptations make the lead spoon considerably easier to work in and out of trees.
Important jigging spoon alterations. Roland Martin automatically alters the spoon as soon as it is removed from its packaging. First, he replaces the factory hook with a No. 2 light-wire hook. The lighter hook enables him to recover it easily in heavy cover.
Secondly, Martin adds a split ring to the line-tie. This gives the spoon more action and protects the line from the stamped-out hole in the lure, which can be sharp enough to cut monofilament.
Of course the jigging spoon shines in the cold months, but it's deadly anytime you're fishing structure.
A deadly spoon trick. Most fishermen simply hop a jigging spoon up and down vertically, using the rod to make the lure rise quickly and then pausing to allow it to flutter downward. While that technique is often effective, Blake Honeycutt takes an entirely different approach that has proven productive year after year.
The North Carolina angler was one of the first pros to master structure fishing, which he learned from the legendary Buck Perry. In a three-day tournament, Honeycutt utilized a simple tactic that enabled him to weigh 138 pounds, 6 ounces of bass (a B.A.S.S. record for 15-bass limits) in Alabama's Lake Eufaula.
Instead of vertically jigging the spoon, Honeycutt has long advocated simply holding it about a foot off of the bottom without moving the rod. Any underwater current will turn the spoon slightly as it suspends; and the line twist caused by vertically dropping the lure will cause it to tantalizingly rotate as the line straightens out.
Dress for success. There are several ways to change the appearance of a spoon, which can be particularly important when dealing with heavily pressured concentrations of bass.
Some bass enthusiasts add a spinnerbait skirt to the spoon, while others use waterproof markers or highly reflective (and colorful) prismatic tape to the body of the lure.
Perhaps the most effective way to dress up the lead lure is to insert a spoon into the hollow body of a tube jig. The “soft spoon” changes the look, action and descent of the lure. The spoon falls more slowly through the water, while the tube jig tentacles breathe and flare out. And knowledgeable fishermen claim that bass seem to hold onto the soft plastic body longer than the bare metal.
Veteran California guide and pro Don Iovino super-charges most jigging spoons by adding a No. 4 treble hook that sports thin chartreuse or chartreuse-and-white feathers. “I use the feather because it gives it the look and action of shad following one another,” he says. “It looks like two or three shad following each other.
“I always use a good Sampo-type barrel swivel for spoon fishing… except in the winter,” Iovino adds. “I will tie the line directly to the spoon when I'm fishing straight up and down in the winter when I don't want much action. But that's the only time.”
Jigging spoons will produce plenty of strikes; the real challenge is trying to keep a bass on during the fight.
Keeping bass hooked. Few anglers understand as much about fishing jigging spoons around offshore structure as well as Texas pro and guide Randy Fite. And Fite cites losing bass as the most frustrating aspect of spoon fishing, particularly in the winter when the bite is often tentative.
“The most common mistake I see with jigging spoons is failing to land the fish,” explains Fite, a past Classic qualifier who has caught five 11-pound-plus largemouths on slab spoons. “I've caught a lot of big fish on jigging spoons, but the problem is that if he jumps he has about a 50-percent chance of shaking the spoon.
“So I always upgrade the hook, I go to a large hook on a jigging spoon, but most importantly, I fish it with a moderately light drag setting. When I set on the fish, I immediately start to wind. As soon as I feel it's a big fish, I'll start easing off on him—not ever allowing slack in the line. But if you don't pressure a fish, he will not come to the surface and automatically jump like people think they will.
“In deep water, you'll tend to have a large bow in your line. As a result, you're not exerting as much power with the initial hook-set that you think you are. Then it's a matter of backing off the drag or free-spooling the reel once you get the fish up near the boat. They tend to jump because people exert a lot of pressure on them, and the only way they can go to ease that pressure is to come up. So by easing up on the fish, they will tend to turn back down and start dogging. As long as he can take a little line every so often, he'll keep his head down and will not come up to jump.
“Then I play the fish out, and by the time I get him up he's ready to roll over. Again, I don't want him to jump by the boat, and by not exerting excessive pressure you can keep him down.”
The jigging spoon is traditionally the hottest lure of all during the coldest of times. And these tricks and tactics can convince even the most sluggish bass to come to life.