Spooning for Pike
By Gord Ellis
Something about a spoon's action attracts pike like no other lure. I first learned of its power when I was 10 years old. My father and I were trolling red and white Daredevils on Eaglehead Lake, north of Thunder Bay, on a bright summer day. I'd let just enough line out of the spincast reel to see the spoon fluttering below me. As Dad steered the Johnson 9.9 along shore, the spoon undulated seductively through cabbage weeds. Every so often it would catch the sun and send out a bright flash. It mesmerized me, but not for long. A big pike under the water emerged from the weeds and inhaled the lure well past the short steel leader, then turned and disappeared, taking my spoon with it. The snipped-off line waved like a flag of surrender from my rod tip, but the incident taught me that pike love spoons.
I've learned, however, that pike spoons are not created equally. Their profile, weight, flash, and wobble are as variable as the actions of fishing rods. Some are fast and light, some slow and heavy. In many cases, choosing the right spoon is the difference between success and failure. Pike respond to spoons that best represent the size and sound of the baitfish they're feeding on at the time. You can easily spook pike with a spoon that's too big.
Last year, a fishing guide told me a story that further confirms this. He took a well-known fishing celebrity to film catching big pike in shallow water. The guide told the famous angler that the pike would be shallow and non-aggressive, so a small baby pike lure would be better than a big one. However, the angler had a box of big spoons he was marketing and didn't agree with the guide's assertion. For the next 6 hours, every time the famous angler threw an overized spoon near a big pike, it immediately swam in the opposite direction. Needless to say, no giant pike were caught or filmed that day. Apparently, the ride back to the lodge was quiet.
On the flip side, when pike are on the hunt, spoons matching the size of the prevailing forage fish are unbeatable. This was clearly the case when I fished for pike in northern Saskatchewan last summer. Pike were hunting whitefish in shallow backbays full of stumps and sunken wood. They were awful places to cast a heavy spoon, so I chose a light 4-inch silver and bronze Toronto Wobbler. Although difficult to toss with my medium-heavy casting gear, I could reel the spoon slowly and still keep it above the snags. Its flash and slow thump mimicked a whitefish and drove the pike nuts.
The reason spoons are so effective for pike likely has to do with the vibration they emit. Pike, like muskie, have extra-long lateral lines that, I suspect, allow them to differentiate between the vibrations of different forage fish. Once they detect movement, the pike's keen vision even in water with poor clarity lets them tell if the colour and profile is right. Smell is usually secondary. There are times when a spoon's movement is all the trigger a pike needs. The lure could be just about any colour and get crunched. The best spoons, however, seem to duplicate the vibrations of a number of prey. Likely that's why the classic Eppinger Daredevil has remained popular for so long. Vibration is created by the spoon's shape and the speed at which it's fished. Work most spoons too quickly and odds are that pike won't respond. There are spoons, however, that can be hauled at a pretty good clip, but in general I think that slower is better for most pike situations. That's why slow-rolling spoons like the Lucky Strike Half Wave and Williams Wabler also remain popular.
Pike are savage predators, but it's amazing how often they miss the mark. A few years back I kept a small pike in an aquarium. Seeing how long that fish would sit in one spot, waiting for an underwater signal that food was in the tank, was fascinating. As soon as a minnow was dropped into the tank, the little pike would go on alert. The slightest movement from the minnow would trigger an attack, but about half the time the snot-rocket would miss. The faster the bait darted, the worse the little pike's aim became. I've reeled my spoons a little more slowly ever since that observation.
Let's talk about spoon details. Fat, wide spoons have a lot of surface area and won't sink as quickly as a thinner spoon of the same weight. The rounder the spoon, the shallower it will run. The Dardevle, Half Wave, Williams Wabler, and Len Thompson all fill this bill. Slimmer styles like the Lucky Strike Canoe Spoon and Gibbs Croc tend to run deeper.
A spoon's weight is also an important consideration. Spoons made of thick metal weigh more than thin ones of similar dimensions. Heavy spoons cast like bullets and sink quickly. In wind or current, they're the order of the day. You can also fish a heavier spoon more quickly without sacrificing depth. A lighter spoon, however, makes more sense when pike are shallow.
At the top end of the weight spectrum are lures like the 3 1/4 -ounce Eppinger Huskie Devle. Measuring 5 1/2 inches, I consider it on the large side for most pike fishing. If you want a big light spoon, there are options. The largest Len Thompson Original measures about 5 inches and weighs just 1 1/8 ounces. It's a killer big-pike package when the fish are targeting chunky cisco and whitefish. The Canadian Wiggler Cisco Spoon also fills the bill, as do large Williams Wablers and Whitefish. A spoon of 1 1/4 to 2 ounces and measuring about 4 inches, however, is average size for pike and a good weight to cast or troll.
Under certain conditions you can use smaller spoons. I've had good early season success with Little Cleos and Blue Fox Pixies weighing just 5/8 ounce. As well, years ago on Lake Nipissing I fished with an angler who used nothing but red and white Eppinger Dardevles weighing 3/4 ounce and measuring just under 3 inches. We fished around thick weedbeds with those little spoons and caught all sorts of good-sized pike.
If you fish heavy weeds for pike, consider using weedless spoons. Generally, they have a large single hook with a metal or plastic weedguard. My favourite is the Johnson Silver Minnow. It wobbles through weeds cupped-side down and doesn't tangle your line. Although it now comes in a variety of colours, the 1 1/2-ounce silver version remains my favourite. Add a piece of white pork rind to the hook for extra shimmy.
It seems that most Ontario anglers believe a true pike spoon has to be red and white. While that pattern's long success is hard to argue with, experimenting with colour can pay off. Yellow five-of-diamonds is one all-round option. The black five-of-diamonds is also an impressive producer, despite its subdued look. Hot chartreuse and orange are good in stained water, as is flame red. I'm a fan of silver spoons, especially where whitefish and herring are key forage.
While spoon colour is important, also consider the belly finish. Solid-colour spoons are becoming popular, but I'm unconvinced they're an improvement over traditional paint and bare metal. The flash of a spoon's belly is often an important part of its appeal. I prefer silver-bellied spoons in clear water and brass-bellied spoons in stained water.
Always fish a spoon from a steel leader with a quality snap. I've seen big pike straighten cheap clasps. Pay the extra money for top-quality pike leaders. Stranded leaders, as long as they're at least 25-pound breaking strength, are fine for pike. I've used leaders as short as 6 inches, but prefer them to be at least 12.
For small to medium-sized pike you can get away with medium-action spinning gear and 12-pound-test line. I've landed big pike on such gear, but the best all-around rod is a 7 1/2- foot flipping stick coupled with a baitcasting reel. For casting spoons to 2 ounces I use a 14-pound-test high-abrasion line. For heavier spoons I go with 17-pound line.
Whenever you go pike fishing take the following items: needle-nose pliers, measuring tape, landing cradle or soft-meshed net, fish-handling glove, jaw spreaders, bolt cutters, slime towel, first aid kit. During the course of a day, you'll likely use just about everything on the list.
While there's more to successful spooning for pike than meets the eye, it's still one of the simplest forms of fishing. When I want to put a smile on my face, I just clip on a spoon and tease big old pike out of weedbeds. In no time at all I'm 10 years old and back on Eaglehead Lake - and that's not such a bad place to be.