What was the last article you read about spooning for bass? More importantly, when did you read it? Probably winter. What was the advice? Almost guaranteed, it read, “Get over the top of the fish and vertically spoon ’em up.” That’s where the blood trail ends, and it gets a little old.
Bass anglers have all but abandoned spooning except as a last resort. However, the classic summertime bass pattern—running, busting, channeling and corralling shad—is built for a spoon attack. Imagine this typical scenario: You’re fishing your favorite clear-water lake in summer—out West, in the Ozarks, on the Great Lakes or on a shield lake—and you graph bait balls halfway down or on the bottom. Then, at a distance, you see breaking schoolies.
Armed with a crankbait, you can’t reach the bait depth, and when you try to motor to the breaking fish, they’re already down. You could drop-shot plastics to the bait balls if they’re on bottom, but summer fish move too fast—they’re on the graph one instant and gone the next. Jerkbaits don’t offer the needed casting distance and won’t run deep enough to reach the fish.
Here’s where too many anglers go wrong. Thinking they can’t afford to waste time chasing deep fish, they get frustrated and head straight for the bank without even considering the spoon. But this lure’s compact design and fluttering action perfectly mimic middle-of-the-year prey. With the right techniques, the spoon can become a search bait—an idea that’s almost blasphemy in today’s bass world, but one that can load your boat in summertime when the plastics guys are left scratching their heads.
Spooning is especially important if you fish tournaments and are looking to strike the deadly quantity/quality combination. The key is to reconsider the spoon as a horizontal, searching, reaction bait.
The techniques the pros use take partial root in saltwater mooching. They’re also similar to jig stroking—using violent rod jerks from a distance to shoot a jig off bottom. But at their core, they’re really a return to simple common sense.
San Diego-area tournament partners Mike Long and John Kerr have won a lot of money spooning in summer tournaments. With their deep, gin-clear water and shad forage base, San Diego lakes share a lot of traits with other clear-water fisheries throughout North America: large groups of both pelagic and bottom-oriented bass as well as the typical cover fish.
A noted big-bass specialist, Long is also a So-Cal tournament shark. Team partner Kerr is the 2003 U.S. Open champion. “Nobody pops a spoon like I do,” Long says. “They think I’m crazy. Some people accuse me of snagging fish; then they realize what I’m doing and they’re like, ‘Wow, how do you have so much energy?’”
Long and Kerr attack a spoon bite as partners—usually with Long at the bow and Kerr at the stern. “Typically, when both of us fish together, we don’t fish the same way,” Long says. “One guy will fish vertically, and one guy will fish horizontally. The horizontal guy is ‘mooching.’ You throw it out as far as you can, let it sink to bottom, pop it up, let it sink back down, pop it up, let it sink back down.”
Long varies the retrieve with quick, rapid pops, then lets the spoon fall, or uses hard pops. “That’s my favorite. I put the rodtip toward the water and give every bit of energy I’ve got to pop that rodtip up. It still scares (Kerr).”
What makes the technique so versatile is that, unlike some baits, you can dial in spoon depth to within five feet. It takes some experimentation with your countdown—which can be done in shallow water—but you can accurately work your spoon at a specific depth from a distance.
In Long and Kerr’s technique, the vertical spooner watches the electronics and picks off active fish below the boat with the same spoon used for mooching—Long and Kerr prefer the MegaBait Live Jig spoon—or a jigging minnow such as the size 9 Jigging Rapala.
“I’ve used every spoon out there, every one, and the beautiful thing about the MegaBait is its willow-leaf fall. It looks just like a dying shad. It’s beautiful,” Long says. He and Kerr prefer the 1/4- and 1/2-ounce sizes; blue chrome for clear water and chartreuse for stained.
Long mooches spoons on a 61/2-foot extra-fast-action rod with 8-pound mono and a high-speed casting reel. Kerr prefers a 7-foot medium-action stick with 8- to 10-pound mono. He likes the 10-pound for deeper fish because there’s less stretch and he gets more productive pops. Both anglers swap out the factory hooks for Owner Stinger trebles.
In a typical summertime scenario, the anglers attack a creek channel near the mouth of a cut. Because baitfish are hunkered in the creek channel—often right on the bottom—the graph doesn’t pick them up. The spoon then becomes a high-percentage search bait.
“A lot of times we sit on the high spot, throw into the creek channel and mooch the spoon uphill. We’ll know quickly if fish are there,” Kerr says.
“On my first cast, I count the spoon down and let it hit bottom, then mooch it back. On the next cast, I count it down less and mooch it back. On the next cast, I count it down less again. That way I can quickly work the whole water column.
Whereas Long tends to use violent strokes, Kerr often employs a softer touch. “I usually mix it up a lot,” he says. “I’ll let it hit bottom, then make two pretty good pops. Then I’ll let it hit bottom, and pop it up again. Mike is violent, though. He wants that spoon jumping 10 feet off bottom and fluttering down.
“When we fish together, we definitely mix it up. If he starts getting hammered on that stroke, I’ll go more to his style. Sometimes they just want it really slow, and you have to let it lay there on the bottom and then pop it. Almost always, your hits will come on the fall,” Kerr adds.
The one overriding problem is hanging up. Long and Kerr don’t mind, though. They figure the fish they catch—and the tournament payouts they often receive for them—more than make up for tackle losses. “On a good spoon bite, I’ve lost up to 60 lures,” Long says. “If you’re willing to sacrifice a few bites, you can attach Japanese nose hooks to the line tie, but the best for me is still the rear treble.”
Long also has a system to help avoid snags. “Normally, after giving it the hardest pop I can give it, I put my rodtip back down to near the water. As soon as the spoon hits bottom again—bam. I pop it again,” he explains.
“If I’m in rocks or sticks, I’ll try to time it. If I knew on the first flutter it took two seconds to reach bottom, I count after my next sweep and pop it again right before it reaches bottom,” he adds.
One major cover element that summer anglers must combat is the deep weed edge. NAFC member Bill Siemantel has developed a deadly spoon system to meet the challenge. Recently, he loaded the boat on Castaic during the toughest period of the year.
Best known as a big-bass specialist, Siemantel is a deadly tournament angler too. He won the 1997 Bassmaster Arizona Invitational on Lake Powell. He also ranked third at the 2003 Bassmaster Clear Lake Western Open and fifth at the 2004 Clear Lake Open.
“What I do is I really pay attention to the grass, and especially the birds,” he says. “When I see birds go into a weed pocket—it could be in one foot or 10 feet of water—I throw a spoon right up in there. During really tough bites, you can have epic days doing that. One day on Castaic, I caught 32 spoon fish from 16 feet of water at a time that was supposedly brutally tough.”
The approach, which he calls spoon stroking, borrows from the jump-fishing style. Siemantel spends long summer days stroking a spoon on various deep weed edges. “If you have a long weed edge without a good, defined cut, you just don’t know where the fish will be,” he says. “Schooled fish, however, will come up from deep water to the outside weed edge to eat and you need to fish them.
Siemantel uses a hump as an example. “I put my boat on the other side of the hump and cast across the top of it, past the other weed edge. I reel up and when it touches the weeds, I shake it and rip it free. The fish that are running bait or waiting for prey along that edge will come up and nail my spoon.
“The bite can be insane, but you can only do it with the spoon,” he adds. “You can’t catch them drop-shotting or cranking—for some reason they want this fluttering thing falling.”
Siemantel takes the top/middle/bottom approach—sometimes working his spoon right below the surface—because feeding fish will come up to eat. Many different spoons work, but he does best with the 1/2-ounce Kast-master. Sometimes the bass are on “no-see-um” bait—exceptionally small baitfish. In that case, he uses small 1/8- and 1/4-ounce Spro spoons and adds prism tape eyes.
The fact that almost nobody else uses spoons on Siemantel’s core lakes works to his advantage, and he says his system for weed humps would translate well to other parts of the country. “People are still caught up using spoons deep,” he says. “You don’t hear about guys using spoons in one foot of water. But you can, and you should.”
So leave the traditionalists to their one-gun approach; these pros prove the spoon is a go-to bass presentation for all seasons, especially summer.