Spoons for Walleyes 101
By: Daryl Christensen
Because of my tournament success in catching walleyes using jigging spoons, I can rarely do a fishing seminar anymore without folks asking me to explain how to properly fish with a spoon. Although the presentation may seem simple to the untrained eye, there is certainly a “right” way and definitely a “wrong” way to fish a jigging spoon.
First of all, spoon color, style, weight and design can make a really big difference, so choosing the right spoon for the body of water you are fishing is very important. I always want to try to match the forage that walleyes are feeding on and here’s where color and size really matters.
For example, we know that most walleyes weighing five pounds and under, prefer to eat 1-2 inch forage. So if that is the size fish you are targeting, staying with a spoon with that size profile is very important. However, if you are fishing the Great Lakes or other bodies of water with larger forage, then bumping the spoon size up will put more fish in the boat.
I’ve fished spoons for a lot of years and I’ve tried and tested most of what is out there in the angling marketplace. When fish are “hot” it seems they will hit most spoon designs if the overall length and profile comes close to what they are eating. As we all know, however, walleyes can get pretty finicky at times and that’s when it becomes critical to have the right spoon.
My “go-to” spoon most of the time is the Hopkins Shorty® in the hammered silver or gold weighing a quarter or half-ounce. I use silver in clear water and gold in dark or stained water to match the color of the forage fish. If small crappies or perch are the preferred forage, I will use a spoon with green tape on it, otherwise I prefer bare spoon.
If the forage is longer than an inch or two, I will fish the NO=EQL® in those same two colors. I also like to fish the NO=EQL® when pitching in weed pockets as they do not get hung up as often as the Shorty®.
If the forage is smelt, alewives, cisco or chubs, or if I’m fishing trophy walleyes, I will increase the size of the spoon to match. Of course I must then make some changes in tackle which I’ll explain later.
Whether I’m casting and retrieving or vertical jigging with spoons, I always use 10 or 12 pound-test monofilament and prefer the lines that are on stiff side. I never use powerbraids with spoons, simply because it changes the presentation and I get way fewer strikes with braids compared to mono.
I always attach a crankbait snap to the line instead of tying directly. This allows the spoon to flutter and dive like an injured minnow and also allows me to make quick changes in size or color if I want.
Medium to medium-heavy rods no shorter than six and a half feet and a spinning reel are my preferences when fishing the lighter spoons. When I go with the larger, heavier spoons, I switch to a baitcasting combo and sometimes bump my line test up to 14 pounds.
My favorite presentation is casting spoons along sharp-breaking shorelines or sand cuts as well as weed edges. I position the boat at an angle toward the edge and work the spoon from shallow to deep, popping the rod tip and then allowing the spoon to fall all the way to the bottom before repeating the process until the spoon is all of the way back to boat.
Sometimes walleye will follow the spoon to the boat, so I always vertical jig it a few times just in case. I’ve caught a surprising number of fish right at the boat doing this. I also like to allow the spoon to sit on the bottom for a few seconds before snapping the rod tip, as walleyes often grab the spoon while it is lying still.
I will also vertical jig with a spoon, especially when fish are in deep water on a hump or along a sharp break. Again, I will pop the spoon off of the bottom about two feet and allow it to flutter back to the bottom, allowing it to sit for a few seconds before repeating the presentation.
Vertical jigging is best if you can drift an edge or work it with your trolling motor.
Northern pike love jigging spoons and are a real bother when fishing this presentation for walleyes. If I’m plagued with pike, I will attach the spoon to a very thin wire leader to prevent bite-offs. Although I prefer not to do this as it does change the action of the spoon, a little due to the swivel on the leader, it’s better than having a dozen or more spoons end up in the stomachs of hungry northerns.
Line twist can be a problem when vertical jigging. If that happens, a barrel swivel attached a foot or so above the spoon will alleviate the problem. That said, I still prefer not to add the swivel as once again, it takes away some of the natural flutter of the spoon.
Instead, every few minutes or so, I will suspend the spoon above the bottom and let it unwind itself, or make a few long casts with it to unravel any line twist.
Sometimes walleyes can be found in wood or stumps in deep water. If you want to fish this type of structure or thick weeds, try replacing the treble hook with a single hook. You will get snagged less often and if you use a wire hook, you should be able to pull out of most of the stumps.
TIPPING THE SPOON
Tipping the spoon with live bait might be a good idea when ice-fishing (in fact, I recommend it) but it is a terrible idea when fishing open water. Here’s why: any live bait, piece of plastic or any other dressing will cause the spoon to “parachute” and that is not a natural presentation. The whole idea of the spoon is to make it look as natural as possible and you are already doing that with your presentation. The design of the Hopkins spoon is doing the rest for you.
Adding live bait will not improve your presentation. In fact, the opposite is true and you will catch less fish, if you catch any at all!
WHAT FISH SEE
When fished properly, walleyes see that spoon as an injured baitfish and will readily grab it. When minnows are dying, they flutter to bottom and lay on their sides, just like the spoon. It is a very natural presentation to the fish. Also, placing a stick-on “eye” above the hook will encourage them to grab the spoon at the hook instead of the front.
Spoons also kick up dirt and dust off the bottom, attracting predator fish.
I have fished spoons in lakes all across North America and caught walleyes, smallmouth, spotted and largemouth bass as well as panfish in just about every one of those lakes. I’ve caught them in 3 feet of water and 75 feet of water and every depth in between.
Thanks to Hopkins jigging spoons, I have won tens of thousands of dollars in tournament competitions and have had them work on days when nothing else is going on. I find them especially deadly from post-spawn to freeze-up in the North and all winter long in the South.
Sometimes jigging spoons are the only way to go during cold fronts and extremely clear water conditions.
If you have any other questions about jigging spoons, e-mail me at [email protected] or attend one of my upcoming seminars nearest you.