SPOONS
Give 'em something different
By Steve Wickens - Strike Zone Muskie Charters

I started experimenting with spoons for muskies in 1993, after having witnessed their effectiveness for big chinook salmon on several occasions. I asked my many of peers in both U.S. and Canada about using spoons for muskies, and each time pretty much got the same response… "Oh, they're great for pike, but muskies won't touch 'em." I found that a little hard to understand. It took some time and considerable experimenting before I was able to track down some suitably large baits, and even longer to figure the mechanics of how to run them effectively.

In July 1994, I scored my first muskie while trolling a spoon. She was a solid 43 inch fish, that was suspended over open water. That spoon was an Eppinger 300 Husky Devle in five of diamonds. Before the end of the 1994 season, I scored a couple more decent fish on Len Thompson #4 spoons. With each progressive year, I began taking fish more consistently on spoons. I began to search out other models and other presentation tactics until I came up with my present collection of close to 100 spoons from a half-dozen manufacturers, and ten different models. On Thanksgiving Monday in October 1999, I had my most memorable day on the water with those spoons, catching and releasing 46 and 49 inch muskies in less than ninety minutes of fishing! To date, spoons have accounted for over 60 muskies in my boat, with close to 50 of these of 40 inches or better; so much for muskies not liking spoons!

I have had some success casting spoons, but seem to end up with predominantly smaller fish. But troll spoons, and things take on a whole dimension. Trolling spoons takes finesse, a keen eye, and a thorough knowledge of boat speed and water current. Your worst enemy is too much current or speed, which will cause the spoon to flip round and round once its action "breaks". Fish won't bother with it, and even with the finest leader and swivels money can buy, your line will quickly get twisted into one awful mess. The best place to start is to put the spoon in the water with about 10 to 15 feet of line out and watch its action by gently increasing and decreasing the throttle. Once you know where the spoon's action "breaks", you have achieved your first victory. Current will change this action, depending on whether you run with or against it. If you plan on running spoons in a current environment, you MUST run them short and keep a careful eye on the action. Don't troll a spoon in the prop wash, close to the motor. The wash is a current running against the spoon. It will cause the spoon to break action just the same as running it too fast. If you choose to run a spoon in wash, put it back at least 50 to 75 feet to get it out of that wash current. The other killer is the "Crazy Ivan" turning maneuver that so many muskie anglers like to include in their trolling runs. Don't do this with spoons! The spoon on the outside will radically increase speed on the turn and break action. Keep your turns gradual and smooth.
Running spoons is pretty simple. Just toss them out there and let them do their thing. If you lower your rod tip, they lend themselves very well to some ultra-short line trolling, or you can put them as far back as you feel is necessary. Spoons tend to run quite shallow, normally in the top 6 feet of the water column without the use of weights or downriggers. If you have mastered using spoons on downriggers for trout and salmon on the Great Lakes, you already have a huge jump on your fellow anglers, because other than bigger and heavier spoons, everything is else is pretty much the same as what you would use for big chinooks.

Personally, I have had my best success flat-lining spoons along deep weed edges and over open water. During the period of unsettled weather and reduced fish activity that often follows a very violent and prolonged thunderstorm, spoons are absolutely deadly. I have yet to find another bait that will produce consistently during this time period. Just slow them down, and put the spoon right out in front of that weed edge and listen for the telltale scream of the drag. Some of my larger muskies have come during this time period when absolutely nothing else at any speed would produce.

Equipment wise, I like a long medium-heavy rod for running spoons flat. Downrigger rods are just a little short in the backbone department, but a dipsy diver rod in the 9 to 11 foot range is great. These rods have a soft tip so that you can see the spoon's action, but have a lot more backbone. My preferred line for flat-lining spoons is a superbraid like Power Pro or Tuff. My reason for this is that dacron and micron twist up badly, and are very tough to get even a small amount of twist out of. Monofilament can actually twist on the spool and jam in the line guide on a strike, causing the line to break if it gets badly twisted. I have twisted the Power Pro up pretty good a couple of times. I just cut off the leader, and let about 100 feet of line out the back of the boat, and then reel it back on the spool. Occasionally I might have to cut off the last 10 or 15 feet of line, but that is pretty inconsequential.

It is very important that you keep the hooks on your spoons razor sharp, especially if you run the big Eppinger 300. This bait is the Cadillac of trolling spoons, but that big 9/0 stainless treble is one nasty critter to sharpen up. But once you do get it sharpened, that is one impressive hooking piece of hardware. You will have to experiment a little with your drag. I like a little more "punch" when I'm running the larger spoons, so my drag is around 11 to 14 pounds. That big 9/0 has a massive barb on it, and takes some serious effort or inertia to plant it all the way (unless you let the rod holders do that for you).

There are about a half-dozen major manufacturers of spoons suitable for big muskies. The thin metal salmon flutter spoons are not a good choice, and muskies can literally bend them or catch their teeth in the ridges, grooves and holes. (Solid spoons only for muskies!) Gibbs makes an excellent downrigger spoon called The Croc. Len Thompson's #4 is a standby for pike in Western Canada, and works effectively, although the terminal tackle is not premium quality. Lucky Strike's #6 Canoe is a nice looking spoon, but is a little lacking as far as finish goes (paint peels incredibly easily). Lindy-Little Joe makes the Gator, which is virtually identical to the Len Thompson in size and weight. Williams makes the Whitefish, which can be run either on a downrigger or flat-lined. Eppinger is the market leader here, and makes four different models. The big 300, it's slightly smaller sibling the 700, the Cop-E-Cat 7000 (an excellent downrigger spoon), and the big Red Eye. (Eppinger produces well over 100 different colour patterns.)

If you're not sold yet, I have three more points to get your attention. Firstly, spoons hook almost as well as a bucktail, because there is nothing on a solid spoon for a muskie to bite down on. And spoons are more resilient, with a much longer longevity than bucktails or most body baits. But the real kicker is cost. You're looking at a minimum of $20 (with taxes) for a traditional muskie bait. You can actually pick-up some spoons for under $10. That gives you a lot more bang for your buck if you're on a tight budget.

Very few anglers fish spoons for muskies. This means few muskies have seen spoons, which is a major plus during periods of high angler activity, or on lakes where fishing pressure is severe. The next time you're out there, do the unthinkable. Clip on a big spoon, and give it a try; you just might be pleasantly surprised.

Steve Wickens strike.zone@sympatico.ca   

Top Left: The author with a heavy 49" fall muskie.    Middle Right: An assortment of spoons from Len Thompson, Gibbs, Lindy-Little Joe, Eppinger, Lucky Strike, and Williams.