In the world of modern day fishing, we are surrounded by an array of lures that are amazing replications of real-life baitfish. Many of these gems cost upwards of $20 or more and look so real that you almost want to hang them on the wall and call them art. It’s hard to fathom that with all of the realism and hundreds if not thousands of dollars I have wrapped up in these highly detailed and exotic baits that in the late fall and early winter my bait of choice is a buck thirty-seven piece of stamped metal.
In all my years of bass and walleye fishing, I have found that there is no bait that can stand up to a jigging spoon during certain times of the year. You can cover depths from 5 to 100 feet and do it rather quickly. You can cast it, retrieve it, rip it, shake it or vertically jig it. It will catch almost anything that swims and best of all, it’s cheap.
Author Troy Coburn with a late season bass caught vertical jigging spoons.
Jigging spoon presentations work best when bait fish, such as shad, are schooled up and are related to deep water structure such as deep flats, main lake points, roadbeds, bluff walls, deep humps or drop-offs. Shad will move to these areas as winter approaches and the large predatory gamefish will follow. As the water cools with winters approach, the shad begin to stress and there is usually a large die-off. This happens when water temperatures dip below forty five degrees. The ensuing feeding frenzy with the big’uns taking advantage of sick or disabled baitfish can present some of the best fishing opportunities of the year, if you have the right bait and know how to use it. My bait of choice… Heavy Metal!! No, not AC/DC; jigging spoons and blade baits.
There are several ways to present these baits to the fish. You can cast the bait and allow it to sink to the bottom on semi-slack line. The retrieve usually consists of raising your rod tip from the ten o’clock to the twelve o’clock position and allowing the spoon to fall back to the bottom on a semi slack line while lowering the rod tip back down to the ten o’clock position. Once the spoon hits bottom, you reel up the slack line, raise the rod tip and continue this motion back to the boat. The speed or power of the rod movement depends on the activity of the fish. As I always like to say, allow the fish to tell you what they want. The rod movement can be a rip, a twitch or an easy lift. If the fish are active and feeding while suspended, you can count the spoon down to their depth and fish it in that mid depth area. Contact with the bottom is not always necessary.
Heddon Sonar, Silver Buddy or the Bass Pro Shops Lazer Blade
Let’s start off with the three baits that I have the most confidence in when it comes to heavy metal fishing. My first choice is the blade bait. In my opinion, the blade is the most versatile of the three presentations. It can be fished vertically like a slab spoon. It can be cast out and retrieved like a crankbait or it can be fished with a yo-yo or ripping retrieve. The most common blades are the Heddon Sonar, Silver Buddy or the Bass Pro Shops Lazer Blade. What I like the most with fishing these baits is that they put out a tremendous amount of vibration. If the fish are actively feeding, they will search out the blade because of its vibrating quality. This bait has the largest strike zone of the three.
Hopkins Shorty, the Crippled Herring and the BPS Strata Spoon
Next are the jigging spoons. There are two types of spoons that I depend on. First is the lead slab spoon. This is simply a flat slab of lead or steel that is in a traditional minnow shape with a single treble hook attached. These baits have almost no action of their own and are usually fished directly under the boat. Where I find these baits are most productive is when I locate a deep (twenty feet or deeper) school of fish on the Lowrance. I will park the boat directly over the fish and drop the spoon to the bottom on semi slack line. Semi slack line is important because it allows the spoon to flutter. If you allow the bait to fall on a tight line, it won’t have any fish attracting action.
If you drop the spoon directly under the transducer of the depth finder, you will usually be able to see it on the screen as it falls. You will then also be able to watch the fish react to it. Once the bait hits bottom, engage the reel and start jigging. You can keep the bait close to the bottom or rip it five feet off of the bottom. Experiment with your presentation until you catch a fish, then repeat what you did to catch the fish. I prefer lead to steel simply because it’s cheaper, easier to paint if you so choose and it can be bent to impart a more erratic movement on the bait as it is ripped off of the bottom. Some of my go-to slab spoons include the Hopkins Shorty, the Fle Fly, the Crippled Herring and the BPS Strata Spoon.
For shallow water spooning, which I would describe as fifteen feet of water or shallower, I prefer a lighter spoon with a little more action. These are spoons that are usually stamped steel and have a concave side or are bent in such a way that they wobble when retrieved. I like these spoons better than slabs because the have more of a distinct flutter as they fall. However because of their light weight, they take too long to get to the bottom in deep water and you tend to lose contact with the spoon in the process. I will use these spoons to cover water around the boat since in the shallower water the fish will tend not to stay directly under the boat for long. Large feeding flats in the eight to fifteen foot range seem to be optimal for this technique of casting and ripping. My three favorite spoons for this technique are the Kastmaster, the Blue Fox Strobe and the Krocodile.
Kastmaster, the Blue Fox Strobe and the Krocodile
My choice for line with these presentations is a very smooth braid like the new Daiwa Samurai or a fused line like Fireline. The smaller diameter of these lines allows for longer casting but more importantly they allow for greater sensitivity. Because the bait will be falling on a semi slack line, it is very important that you stay in contact with the bait and the “super” lines allow you to do that. The one drawback to using superline is that it is highly visible under water. To solve that problem, I will attach a two foot fluorocarbon leader, usually ten pound test, to the mainline with a double uni knot. Try not to reel the knot into the guides of the rod. The friction and abrasion on the knot from traveling through the guides during each cast will weaken the knot over the course of the day.
Rod choice is very important and will make all of the difference by the end of the day. Seven feet seems to work best for me. The length allows for longer casting, better hooksets and better control over fish. However, jerking on a long rod all day can wear you out quickly. To address this issue, my choice is a St Croix Legend Tournament seven foot medium/fast action rod. A high quality lightweight rod will keep you fishing longer and you won’t wake up the next day feeling like you were kicked by a mule. Either spinning rods or casting rods will work, it comes down to personal preference, just make sure it is a medium action when you use superlines or you will lose a lot of fish. My reel of choice is the Daiwa Steez. Again, a super light weight reel will keep my arm feeling good all day and the Daiwa drag system can handle the extreme stress from using braided line.
Well, I have spilled the beans on late fall and early winter fishing. You won’t find any $20 crankbaits or fancy soft plastics in my boat this time of year. Just a box of cheap heavy metal spoons and blades, a fish on, cold hands and a smile on my face. See ya on the water.
© 2023 Troy Coburn
About the author, Troy Coburn:
Troy Coburn is one of the most avid bass fisherman you'll meet, spending over 100 days a year on the water. Troy is a professional licensed fishing guide whose specialty is fishing for trophy bass, wiper and walleye on Denver metro lakes such as Aurora and Quincy Reservoirs. Troy is a four-time Colorado B.A.S.S. Federation State Team qualifier and two-time Denver Bassmasters Angler of the Year. Troy has appeared on numerous occasions with Charlie Meyers in the Denver Post Outdoors section, is a frequent guest on Terry Wickstromís Mountain States Fishing TV show and AM 950 The Fan Outdoors radio program, and conducts fishing seminars for the International Sportsmenís Exposition and at Bass Pro Shops during their Spring Classic event. Troy is proud to be sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, Daiwa Reels, St Croix Rods, Jewel Bait Company, P Line and Rod Wrap.