Sometime you just gotta get flashy. Sure. Subtlety has its place in trout fishing world, and at times it’s all about matching the hatch. The trout can’t eat what they can’t see, though, and when streams push hard and pick up a little stain, the fish become much more opportunistic, often operating in ambush mode. That’s one of the times when a flashy spoon comes in mighty handy.
Spring weather systems commonly cause trout streams to swell, which totally changes the best angling approaches. Longer casts, bigger baits, increased flash, extra thump and a need to deliver offerings into sometimes-distant eddy areas all come into play, and spoons fit the bill well for all these tasks. It’s important to note, however, that not all spoons are big, fast and flashy. Lightweight spoons in muted tones or with natural patterns allow for subtle presentations that provide appeal under more moderate conditions while still kicking out vibration, which helps get the fish’s attention.
When many anglers think of spoons and trout, the images that come to mind are those of fairy large and sometimes heavy metallic offerings that get pulled behind downriggers for Great Lakes brown trout, steelhead and salmon, and indeed spoons account for tremendous numbers of big-water trout. Smaller versions of the same types of offerings have similar appeal in creeks and rivers, though, with great casting applications. Those are the applications we will consider.
With all spoons being formed from metal and somewhat flat, and most being elongated with a treble hook at one end and a line tie at the other, you wouldn’t think there would be many differences among them. Looking more closely, though, numerous variables affect not only the way spoons look but how they cast, sink and swim and the amount of vibration they emit. Understanding variables and their effects is important because switching from one spoon to another — even another of similar size and general appearance — can be the difference between casting and catching.
Size is the most basic and obvious variable, with spoons used for stream trout typically ranging from about 3 1/2 inches down to less than an inch in length. Very generally speaking, bigger spoons work better in bigger streams; however, the current flow, the color of the water, the size of the trout and the size of forage also influence the best choice. Given low flows and high skies, for example, you very well might want to tackle a large river in small pieces, using a small spoon and making short casts.
A spoon’s thickness and weight, relative it overall size, is important factor because that impacts how easily it can be cast, how it handles in the current, the speed it can be worked and the depth of water it is suitable for probing. A Lindy Vikings Spoon is well equipped for the high water that is common during the spring in many rivers. It’s heavy enough to make the accurate casts often needed to hit defined eddies and to handle well in the current, but it can still be kept off the bottom and out of the rocks by working it with the rod held high. For lower flows, a lightweight spoon like an Acme Tackle Phoebe is often a better choice.
An individual spoon’s wobble is another important factor and the one the calls for the most on-the-water research and day-by-day experimentation. Some spoons spin; others wobble widely; still others wiggle tightly or jump erratically. There really isn’t a formula for the right action for each situation, although harder kicking and more erratic actions tend to appeal to more aggressive fish on dark days and in higher or more turbid flows. Carry an array of spoon designs and invest time playing with each to see how each moves with different retrieves.
Related to the trout’s likely aggressiveness, always consider a spoon’s profile. The shape of a spoon obviously affects its sink rate and the way it moves in the water, but it’s also important in terms of what the fish actually sees coming through the water. A broader bodied bait looks substantially bigger than a narrow spoon of the same length, and if it’s a flashy metal spoon, it will reflect far more light. That, of course can be good or bad, depending upon conditions and the mood of the fish.
Beyond just causing an offering look bigger or smaller, though, the shape of a spoon can make it look more (or less) like the forage the trout are accustomed to seeing in a given waterway. Some companies take that an extra step with spoons that are actually shaped like little fish. Examples include the Acme Phoebe and Northland’s new Live Forage Moxie Minnow.
A spoon’s finish is another important consideration, and the Moxie Minnow has a unique finish that gives it a super natural appearance. Like all the baits in the Northland Live Forage series, the Moxie Minnow is imprinted with a forage -fish photo image that really makes it look like a little minnow or other baitfish.
Beyond naturalism, important considerations for picking colors include the amount of flash, the darkness of the spoon, and the types of colors fish are used to seeing. Generally speaking, gold and copper and dark painted colors work better for dark days and darker water, while sliver and more natural hues work best for clear water and high skies. Extra bright painted colors come into play when streams are high and off-colored.
A final consideration for picking the best spoon for the job or even to carry to the stream with you is the type of hooks that adorn each spoon. Most spoons come standard with a treble hook on the back, so if only single-hook artificial lures are permitted where you’re fishing, these lures obviously won’t do the job right out of the package. This can be remedied a couple of different ways. The most common solution is to clip two of three points off the stock treble with wire cutters; however, this option usually leaves a hook that’s a little small. A better plan in most cases is to remove the original hook completely and replace it with a slightly larger single hook.
The way you present a spoon can radically change the mood it conveys and its appeal to the trout, and often using the right presentation is more important than choosing the perfect spoon. Important variables for spoon presentations are speed, angle, position in the water column and whether you add twitches, pauses, lifts of the rod tip or other alterations to a straight retrieve.
Spoon speed and angle go hand-in-hand, and both must be looked at relative to current speed. The most natural bait movement is directly down-current and moving at the same speed as the water. Along with moving the bait at the same speed as other food items that get carried in the current, this movement causes the least water resistance against a spoon, so most spoons will just flutter a bit instead of wobbling hard or even spinning.
Swimming a spoon faster than the current, casting cross-current or even going against the flow causes a bait to stand out much more and normally creates most a more decisive action. Depending on the spoon and the strength of the current, it may not be possible to keep the lure in the water working it upstream.
Many situations call for something between the extremes, angling a cast upstream but across the current and working it downstream at approximately the speed of flow but adding just enough movement to put a little extra flash in the presentation. Another often effective presentation is to cast roughly cross-current and let the bait swing by holding it against the current and reeling just enough to keep it wobbling.
Speed and angle, along with rod positioning, also control a spoon’s level in the water column, and the fish might be looking up, feeding just off the bottom or working somewhere in-between. Of course, the “snagginess” of a stream and a spoon’s weight and hook configuration also dictate how close to the bottom you can get away with working a lure.
When streams run high, fish hold behind rocks, beneath river drops, within cuts in the bank and in every other type of eddy. Trout tend to feed opportunistically under these conditions, darting to grab anything that ventures too close; however, they won’t roam far from their protected holding areas. Under such conditions, you want to cover water, making long casts as needed to hit key spots and moving the bait swiftly to trigger reaction strikes. That might mean steady cranking or quick pumping and dragging, but you’ll generally want to keep the bait moving, often working it cross-current to add more spoon action.
If you can hit a well-defined eddy with a cast and are able to do so, allow the bait to flutter a bit in the eddy just a bit before you begin cranking. Often you’ll get a near-immediate strike. If not, as soon as the current starts catching the line or the bait, reel quickly to take control of the spoon’s movement and start swimming it across the river. Often underwater eddies will be hidden, and the only way you will find them is to do a lot of cranking with a flashy spoon at the end of your line.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, when the water is low and clear, the only way to catch fish with a spoon might be to point casts pretty much upstream, casting just past likely fish-holding spots and allowing the current to do the bulk of the work to deliver the lure as naturally as possible to the trout.
If you ever see trout following your spoon but not quite committing, that means you are close. Try adding some pauses, speeding things up a bit or making some other slight change in your retrieve to see whether that triggers strikes. If not, switch to a different color or a similar but slightly different spoon and go back to doing what you were doing when you began spotting fish following your lure.