Catch more and bigger panfish through the ice with spoons
During my years fishing with panfish ice-anglers in the Northeast, I have learned a simple truth—we are behind the times. Take fishfinders, for example. Hardwater anglers in the Midwest have been employing this tool for decades, leading to bountiful catches of all species, while it is only in the last few years that fishfinders are showing up with consistency on frozen Northeast waters.
Another example is panfish lures. Small tungsten jigs have been slowly making their way onto local anglers’ jig rods, but local ice aficionados are, for the most part, still missing one key element in their arsenals. I’m referring to the spoon, a versatile lure that can be the key to icing a hefty bag of panfish on winter days.
Now, I fully realize the spoon is by no means a new lure, and I know almost all local ice-anglers have a Swedish Pimple buried somewhere in their tackle bag. However, spoons have come a long way since the introduction of the Swedish Pimple over 100 years ago, and panfish ice-anglers to the west of us have been reinventing and using spoons with great success recently.
A spoon is nothing more than an oblong, usually concave, piece of metal that imitates a minnow and attracts fish by reflecting light and moving erratically. But, don’t let its simplistic design fool you. Spoons can be fished in several different ways, and they work in variety of situations on all sorts of fish species.
I first caught the spoon bug about five winters ago while trolling the New Hampshire section on IceShanty.com. Post after post extolled the virtues of the new spoons from PK Lures, including the Flutter Fish and PK Spoon. After successfully trying out a few of these for crappie, I was hooked.
Spoons can be used to catch every species of panfish in the Northeast: yellow and white perch, black crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed, and bonus catches often include largemouth bass and trout, depending on the waterbody you are fishing. Additionally, spoons draw fish in from a greater distance than jigs, and they tend to pick off the bigger fish in a school. Spoons are also an efficient way to search for active panfish or fire up a school of inactive fish.
Some days, catching panfish on spoons is easy; other times, you have to keep changing your lure and presentation until you get it just right. Regardless, when everything comes together, spoons are an efficient and fun way to put panfish on the ice.
As with most things related to fishing, anglers have varied opinions on rods and line, spoon size and type, conditions where spoons perform best, and techniques for using them. Brian “Bro” Brosdahl of Max, Minnesota, is one of the most recognized ice-anglers in North America, and has had a profound impact on the sport. Besides helping design ice-fishing tackle for Frabill and Northland, Brosdahl is a full-season guide, with panfish being one of his primary targets. Tim Moore is a well-known panfish ice-angler on the Northeast circuits. He is a full-time, licensed New Hampshire fishing guide and outdoor promoter, and owns and operates Tim Moore Outdoors. He is also a member of the Ice Team and Vexilar pro staffs.
There are many great spoons on the market in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Some drop quickly, others spiral, and some flutter, but all have their time and place on the ice. For panfish, I tend to stick with spoons that weigh 1/8 ounce or less.
Flutter spoons are light, thin spoons that, as the name implies, flutter and fall slowly when dropped on a slack line. Fish often strike these spoons as they free-fall, so make sure to set the hook if the lure stops before reaching bottom. Some of my favorite flutter spoons include Slender Spoons from Custom Jigs and Spins, and VMC’s Tumbler and Tingler. Brosdahl relies on the Northland Fishing Tackle Buckshot Flutter spoon that he says tumbles down a little slower, causing reactive strikes.
Good choices for more traditional spoons that sink fast to get you back to the action quickly are the Clam Blade Spoon, PK Flutterfish, PK Spoon, and PK Predator. The PK Spoon and PK Predator each offer a unique profile that resembles a tiny bluegill rather than the traditional minnow profile of most spoons. Northland Fishing Tackle also offers a number of applicable models including the Silver Spoon, Forage Minnow, and Buckshot Rattle Spoon. The Clam Speed Spoon or Hali Ice Spoon are a perfect option for a quick drop combined with a single hook for rigging with maggots or spikes.
A design extremely popular in Michigan that has likely never been seen by Northeast panfish is the beaded spoon, which is nothing more than a flutter spoon with a bead on the hook. A couple of examples are the Mark’s Willow and Triple Bend, and several models from Ken’s Hooks. Traditionally, they have been used for yellow perch, but I have caught big crappie on them and believe they would work wonders on large white perch. When several anglers fish them in closely drilled holes, they resemble a small school of minnows and often activate nearby groups of fish. Steady jigging, making the spoon wobble and dart, usually produces fish most consistently.
Working the Spoons
One of the best things I did when first learning to fish with spoons was to leave everything else at home and make them my only option on the ice.
Understanding what your spoon is doing is paramount to consistently catching fish. Test out your spoons in a fish tank or 5-gallon bucket. You will be amazed at the slight variations in actions among different brands and how reactive they are to minimal rod movements. A quality fishfinder from Lowrance or Vexilar will also do wonders for your catch rates and confidence while fishing with spoons.
If there are no fish on your finder, drop your spoon to the bottom and perform a series of short lifts and drops to stir up the sediment. Lift the spoon a foot or two and lightly jiggle it to see if any fish rise off the bottom. Repeat this sequence once or twice before giving up on a hole. Another option when no fish are visible on your electronics is to aggressively jig the spoon, which will often draw in curious panfish.
If you see fish on your finder when you drop your spoon, stop a few inches above the fish and alternate between lightly moving the lure and keeping it motionless. If there are no takers, slowly bring the spoon up a few inches and try again. Another good trick is to slowly raise the rod tip as a fish rises toward your spoon – this often triggers the fish to bite or causes fish lower in the water column to become more aggressive. Up-and-down rhythmic motions followed by short trembles or lack of movement are sometimes the key.
Add Some Wiggle
A lot of winter anglers fish only the lower portion of the water column, which I think is a big mistake. I have had good luck with multiple species by simply lowering my spoon into the upper half of the water column and letting it sit still for a few minutes. Curious panfish will often rise off the bottom to inspect the lure.
Tipping your hook with plastics or live bait (where legal) can sometimes be the difference between a slow or successful day. The spoon attracts the fish and the added accoutrement often seals the deal. Small slender plastics such as the Trigger X Mustache and Spike Worm, Clam Corporation Polli, Little Atom Wedgee, and Custom Jigs and Spins Finesse Plastic are all great choices. I wacky-rig these on a hook point or string them horizontally on a treble hook between two of the hook points. Live bait choices include maggots, waxworms, minnow heads, or even whole pin minnows.
Rod and Line
Jig rods and line are important considerations when fishing spoons, especially with some of the newer and lighter lure options available today. I like a jig rod that is sensitive enough so I can feel the weight of the spoon and detect bites, but is not so flimsy that the rod tip bounces up and down excessively when the spoon reaches the end of the line. There are lots of good medium-light and light power rods on the market to choose from, and I fish both a 32-inch Frabill Bro Series and a 26-inch Clam Dave Genz Legacy model. Brosdahl uses a Frabill Bro Series 25-inch light Ice Combo when fishing in a bob house and a 32-inch medium light version when on foot. “Both rods have a fast action for popping the spoon, are sensitive enough to feel the bite, and have the backbone needed to reel in slab crappies,” said Brosdahl.
For line, I typically use Sufix Ice Magic or Berkley Trilene Micro Ice monofilament in 2- or 4-pound test. To detect light biters, I grab a reel spooled with 6-pound-test Berkley Original Fireline and tie on a 4-foot fluorocarbon leader using a small barrel swivel. Moore likes low-stretch monofilament and copolymer lines. He adjusts the line size so the weight of the spoon takes the coils out of the line, allowing him to detect bites more easily. “I prefer three-pound-test line for spoons weighing 1/8 ounce or less, but will be going down to two-pound test this year to use the Clam Outdoors’ Guppy Spoon that weighs only 1/50 of an ounce,” reported Moore. Brosdahl’s favorite line for light spoons is 3-pound-test Sunline Fluorocarbon Ice.
When to Fish Spoons
Regardless of conditions or time of year, I always have at least one spoon tied on during each winter trip, as it is great at attracting fish toward my location even if I have to coax them to bite with another lure. That being said, there are specific times when spoons perform best.
Moore gravitates to spoons during early and late ice, when panfish are usually more aggressive. “They tend to work well when panfish are feeding on schools of baitfish and I need something that stands out. Stained water is another case when spoons also shine because the fluttering and water displacement gets the attention of nearby fish,” said Moore. “I use metallic spoons on sunny days for extra attraction, allowing me to call in fish from further distances,” he continued.
Brosdahl says spoons work for him almost every day on the ice. “Some days, spoons catch a few and some days they catch them all. They work best in pre-frontal conditions, but also work well during stable high-pressure weather patterns.”
Looking to put more panfish in the cooler this winter and expand your repertoire at the same time? Give spoons a try—dedicate a jig rod and fish them on every trip. I guarantee that with practice and experimentation they will become a staple in your tackle bag.