Fishing Spoons for Winter Smallmouth

Rethink Spoons as a Deadly Bait for Cold-Water Smallies

As dissolved oxygen and water temperatures become more evenly distributed in water bodies in late fall, smallmouth bass can hold just about anywhere. Finding them is the key, which means presentations that cover water fast are best…and nothing covers water better than spoons.

Big smallmouths like these are an ideal target for “heavy metal” in winter when th efish feed mostly on shad.

The notion of casting metal to fall smallmouth may seem strange at first, even for those who vertically jig winter-chilled largemouth. But as late-season smallmouth move toward wintering areas where they feed heavily on baitfish, there’s nothing like a spoon to reach deep water quickly and mimic what they’re eating. 

In terms of fall locations, key on isolated rock piles, gravel flats, points and secondary points, especially those that plunge into deep water.

Bait Selection

Not all spoons are created equal. Hall of fame angler Doug Stange divides them into three main categories: slab spoons, horizontal spoons and “big butt” spoons, which are heavily-cupped and bottom heavy, like Johnson’s popular Sprite. 

Choose the right type of spoon for the job and this can be the result.

Slab spoons are typically short, thick, heavier spoons that drop quickly. Some offer little action on the fall, while others flutter significantly. 

Horizontal spoons, like the Johnson Thinfish, are longer, with a narrow profile, and often built thin; “flutter” spoons fall relatively slowly with a pronounced side-to-side fluttering motion. 

Stange’s so-called “big butt” spoons are typically fished on a straight retrieve, but can be counted down to deeper structure and fished with aggressive jig strokes. 

These spoons fall with a pronounced, almost zigzag wobble. 

The main thing to remember when selecting spoons for fall smallmouth is to select baits that effectively target fish at the depth they are holding, and still allow you to fish at speeds that both cover water and trigger strikes. In most cases during late season that means concentrating on slab spoons, but not always, which is why it makes sense to bring a selection of spoons and let the fish tell you what they like best. 

Fishing spoons is about depth, fall rate and jig stroke; get these things right and everything else will follow. Sticking with a small selection of colors will shorten your search as these other considerations are more important. 

Personally, I am a fan of the Johnson Splinter Spoon, a slab spoon that casts easily, falls fast, and offers an erratic darting action on the retrieve thanks to its asymmetric, flat profile. The slender Slimfish offers a tight, erratic action on a straight retrieve thanks to built-in fins. When jigged or allowed to fall on slack line, the lighter spoons flutter slowly and horizontally. 

As a general rule of thumb, I fish the Slimfish in waters 3 to 10 feet deep, but anything deeper than that I turn to the Splinter spoon. Both the ¼- and ½-ounce models are deadly, with the ½-ounce getting the nod most often, especially when working water deeper than 15 feet. 

For smallmouth, it’s tough to beat FireTiger or Gold, while Chrome or Perch get the nod in clear natural lakes. The most important factor of color selection is simple: Match it to what they’re eating. 

The Retrieve

Spoons come in at least three varieties, plus many variations in weight, shape and color.

Fish a spoon in the same manner that you do a standard leadhead jig. After the cast, allow the spoon to sink to the bottom on a slack line before starting with a standard rip-drop retrieve. To avoid tangles with the spoon, add a short leader of fluorocarbon to your choice of superline. An Invisaswivel tied between the leader and main line will absorb line twist, an important consideration when fishing spoons. 

Experiment with both the speed and length of the lift. There are times when smallmouth respond well to aggressive jig strokes. Most strikes come on the drop. You feel the typical “tick” or simply the weight on the jig stroke. 

Last fall on the Great Lakes, we caught several smallmouth to over 6 pounds on Splinter spoons by working rocks in 15-30 feet. We also caught walleye, whitefish and lake suckers (yes, caught in the mouth). The experience reiterated the triggering power of spoons when fished this way. 
Recommended Gear

I prefer throwing spoons on spinning gear for longer casts. A medium-heavy 7’3″ to 7’6″ Abu Garcia® Veritas fast-action rod with a soft tip is perfect. A larger spinning reel like an Abu Garcia® Revo SX 30, which takes in a full 33 inches of line per turn, is perfect for giant smallmouths. 

It’s really tough to beat a superline like FireLine® for this technique. It casts well, and with its thin diameter it works well in deeper water. In situations where I’ve used a baitcaster to fish spoons, fluorocarbon has proven the best choice. 
Final Word

Spoons are a class of baits that are hard to fish if you’ve never fished them before. My advice? Take a selection of them in different weights and colors out on the water and fish nothing else that day. Spend enough time with them and you’ll discover there’s really no mystery to these old-school baits. They are very much an overlooked producer of both quality and quantities of late-season smallmouth.

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