With the on set of cooler temperatures a few things start to happen in a bass’s fragile underworld. First small schools of baitfish start a migration towards tributaries, and as these migrations move from open water to the tributaries they collide with other balls of baitfish and the school gets bigger and bigger. By the time the school has made its journey, the size of the school can be astronomical; I have seen schools of shad that filled an entire cove. Second, falling temperatures means winter is coming to our favorite quarry the "bass" and he/she knows that it must fatten up to survive the winter. Now if you were a bass and you knew winter was coming and you needed to fatten up for winter where might you go, where the food is easy pick’ins right? Well a bass being driven only by its instinct to survive and reproduce knows it’s underworld to a level that we as anglers my never fully understand and that bass will also be headed to the tributaries as the water temperatures fall as it knows that the food will be plentiful.
Ok, we know that the majority of our shad will be migrating and we know that our quarry the Black Bass will follow them. There is one other key that happens as the water is cooling, and that is that these migrating shad are dieing off as the water temperatures fall. Bass being the predator that it is will through instinct eat the weak and dieing first, that is just the natural order of any predator in the wild. Plus they are much easier to catch. This dieing off of shad is why a spoon can be so effective in the fall and winter. There is no better bait to mimic a dieing shad as it is falling away from the school, than a spoon.
The key to fishing a spoon is to know where the baitfish are. Things to take into consideration are how long and how strong the wind has been blowing, how much current your tributary has, channel bends that will allow your bait fish to bunch up in any kind of break water, and finally is there a thermocline and at what depth is it. After you have determined where these baitfish might be use your electronics to pinpoint their location. The hardest part about this pattern is staying on top of the baitfish, the majority of the time you will be able to determine there depth but they rarely hold to any kind of structure this time of year so buoy markers will not help out much unless you have found them relating to a hump or creek channel that is giving them a current break. Again use your electronics to stay on top of them.
The presentation is simple. Tie on your favorite spoon and lower it threw the school of shad, well not quite that simple. Once you have located your shad you want to position your boat directly over the school of bait fish and watch them on your electronics, put your rod tip a few inches above the surface of the water and let your spoon fall to just below the school pause for a split second and then rip your rod tip to the 10 o clock position, then lower your rod tip fast enough to let your spoon fall naturally and unimpeded by your rod but keeping very little slack in your line until you have reached the surface of the water with your rod tip, then repeat your rip. What this is doing is imitating a baitfish that is dieing yet trying to keep up with the pack. As you rip your bait up that mimics a shad trying to catch up, and as you let it fall that mimics a bait fish that just isn’t strong enough to keep up and therefore and easy meal. The majority of the bass along with your larger bass will be sitting under these schools waiting for that easy meal. So, if your baitfish are holding in twenty feet of water you want your spoon to be at twenty-five at the bottom of your presentation. Bass will strike your spoon on the fall the majority of the time (this is when your presentation appears to be the weakest and easiest to catch), so be sure to not let too much slack in your line as your bait falls so that you can detect a strike but on the same note you don’t want to prevent the natural fall and flutter of your spoon by slowing the fall with your rod. Once you get a rhythm going stay aware of your bait and line, more often than not you will detect a strike because your spoon quit falling more than because you felt and actual tick or bump on your line. When fishing a spoon it doesn’t take a bass long to figure out that it just inhaled a piece of lead so complete attention to your bait and presentation is essential, a bass will quickly determine that your spoon is not real and release or blow out your offering. So pay attention and set the hook quickly when you do detect a strike or notice your bait is not falling.
There are a variety of spoons on the market, but don’t over complicate your decision on which one to use. Start with a standard casting spoon like a "Hopkins" or "Cast Master" and carry three different weights ¼, ½, and ¾; and two different colors silver and gold. These three basic weights and two colors will cover the majority of your presentations. There are two factors to take into consideration when determining which weight to use. First is depth, the deeper your baitfish and bass are the heavier spoon you will want to use to get your bait to them quickly. Second is the activity level of your bass. If your bass are aggressively feeding then you want a bait that is falling quickly and will trigger a reaction strike, if your bass are more on the passive side then a slower fall will trigger more strikes. Play with these two factors in determining your spoons weight. When it comes to color use a silver spoon in clear waters and a gold on in murky water.
One of the biggest frustrations when using a spoon is hang-ups. But by design a spoon is a build in plug knocker. With patients a spoon can always be retrieved. When hung up make sure the boat is directly over top of your bait or slightly down current from your snag; with a small amount of slack in your line snap or shake your rod tip causing the spoon to bounce and shake the hook free from the snag. Sometimes on very difficult snags like a hook penetrated submerged wood you will have to get pretty vigorous with your rod tip to work the hook free. Now this technique will not work if you are putting a lot of pressure on your bait, remember you want the spoon to do all the work by lifting and dropping to work the hook free so you will not be helping matters if you are pulling hard on the lift side of your shake; this will only drive the hook deeper instead of working its self out of the hole that the hook point created and you are wallowing out as you shake your bait. As I said earlier every hang up is retrievable but patience is a virtue and frustration may take over. Another frustration with vertical spooning is line twist. The only way to overcome this is to use a snap swivel. This helps in two ways, the swivel will prevent the majority of line twist and the snap will allow for better action of your spoon as it falls because it can swing freely in the snap versus being tied directly to your line.
This Fall when the water temps start dropping and you start noticing the shad schooling up and working their way to the backs of the tributaries, either by watching there movements on electronics or seeing them running the surface. Tie on a spoon and give it a try, you will be amazed at how many and how quickly you can put bass in your boat. This is also a great technique for white bass, strippers, and crappie.
Get The Net, Its a Hawg