Special thanks to Johnny C for putting this great article together and sharing his knowledge with all of us here at CalBassin'
Every fall I look forward to the spoon bite. I am writing this article on my experiences on the deep reservoirs of Northern California and they may differ from what others find on their favorite water.
I start looking for this bite to start at the first of September and always have one tied on until the spawn. The main factor in spooning is the presence of shad. The shad are starting to school and the bass are too. What makes this bite special is when the two come together. As the water begins to cool and the lake turns over this bite will get better and better. I am looking for bait early in the fall from the surface to 100 feet.
When looking for the bait you have to understand how it lives. The shad need plankton to eat and like the fish that prey upon them they will always be where the food is. They are more apt to be found in water with some color. They will also be in the clear water, but usually much deeper. As the fall turns into winter the bait in the main lake will continue to go deeper, but shad may remain shallow in the creek arms. These are usually the more mature shad from four to five inches long. The bigger the shad the bigger the bass will usually be. There will also be Trout, Salmon and Squawfish working the shad. The more fish working the bait, the better it will be.
Having good electronics is a must for this type of fishing. I use a Lowrance X27-C on my bow and a 522C on the console. These units will allow you to find the bait and more importantly the fish. The biggest mistake I find with guys I take on guide trips is that when they see the bait and want to fish it. If fish are working the bait you will see them, and I only fish if the fish are present. You should be able to see the bait twist and turn as they are trying to escape the fish that are attacking them. When you see this it is time to fish and you don’t want to mess around at this time. These bass can be here and gone in an instance, so if you are in a tournament you want to get as many fish in the boat as possible in the shortest amount of time. These fish are feeding and will bite aggressively.
As for rods I don’t think you need a specialty rod for spooning. I like to use crank bait rods in seven foot size. That is what works for me. I use a Dobyns’ 704CB or 705CB for my spooning most of the time. If I am using a small spoon or an ice jig, I like my 702C. But once again I don’t think the rod is critical. I normally load these rods with 10 pound fluorocarbon on a 7.1 reel. You want to take up line fast if it stacks on top of the water. This happens often as they take the bait on the fall. You can even use a three power spinning rod if you want to get your kids involved. Kids go crazy in a good spoon bite.
I carry five kinds of baits in my boat, with three of them being the most important tools. My number one bait is the Hopkins Spoon. You want to change the stock hooks to a #4 or #2 owners 4x strong hook. Some people like to put a split ring on the bait which works great, or even a good barrel swivel. I usually just use a crank bait snap. 100% of the time I use this bait in 3/4 ounce. You only need to fish it with a short snap of the rod. Largemouth are really fond of this bait. They are less aggressive that spots or smallies and tend to look for the injured shad wounded by the other predators. The bites can be anything from “just there” to extremely violent. So you want to hold on tight! I like to use the Hopkins when the bait is on the bottom.
My second favorite is the Kastmaster in 1/4 to 5/8 in size depending on the size of the bait. My color choice is Silver/Blue and I like a white feathered hook on it. This lure is great for spotted bass. The spots like to attack the baits from the sides of the school. With this lure you can cast to the school and work it in what I call a “Z” pattern. It should look like a lightning bolt on your finder. The spots are slashing through the shad and keying on the fleeing bait. Also expect lots of bites while you are just reeling in the lure.
My third choice is a Rapala Ice Jig. I only use this bait when I am trying to catch straggler fish that are around the bait. Fishing it with quick snaps of the rod can sometimes fire up these isolated fish and put the bite back on. I do not like this bait as my main lure because of the small hooks that will cause you to lose a lot of fish. It is also hard to get out of snags. But I still feel it is a must have bait. The #7 is the size I usually go with and silver black is my go to color.
The other two baits I use are the Mega Bait live jig (now called the Hula) in silver black. I use both 3/4 and 1 ounce. This spoon is led and can be bent to impart a more of a wobbling fall. Sometimes they just want a different lure and this one can be money. The other spoon I use is a Blade Runner 1 3/4 ounce in morning dawn color. This is a big spoon with a good stock hook. Designed by master lure maker Rick Teitz and it can really gets them at times. I fish it with a little more action than I give the Hopkins spoon.
Lastly I want to point out that you should not be losing many spoons. You will hang up while working creek channels with brush, but you can easily shake the spoon free. Just put some slack in your line and aggressively shake your slack line. You will feel the bait shake free and be ready for a bite at this time.
If you would like to learn these techniques first hand now is the time to book a trip with me. November and December are always the prime months as the lake turns over. Hope you found this helpful and no other technique can put a limit in your boat faster than spooning.