Spoons and Their place in the Tacklebox

Cast after cast I made to the grassy edge of a small island.  As I made the retrieve my lure, a gold Johnson Silver Minnow, it stopped dead in the water.  A split second later something pulled on the other end and then started taking line.  My six foot, six inch medium action rod was nearly bent in half.  All I could do was try to keep the rod tip up and hang on.  During the struggle my rod tip broke, but there was nothing I could do about it at this point.  When the battle was over I was able to boat a 27 ½ inch redfish.

This was not my first rodeo with saltwater fishing, having spent a great deal of time along the New England coast and in the Hawaiian Islands.  I cut my teeth on Striped bass, Bluefish, Cod and haddock, but this was my first redfish.  It was also my first trip to Louisiana, where I was fishing with Captain David Bourgeois of Big Dog Fishing Charters in the Baratarian Basin.

Spoons and Their place in the Tacklebox
One ounce Johnson’s Silver Minnow (Top Left), Mepps Syclops (Top Right), Little Cleo Spoon (Botton Left) & Johnson’s Silver Minnow and Mepps Timber Doodle (Bottom Right)

What really struck me was the gear we were using.  Medium action spinning tackle, the very same I would be using if I was smallmouth fishing back home, is what was on the boat.  Even the lure, the Johnson Silver Minnow, was something I would have thrown for Northern pike.  I made a mental note and decided to see if some of these tactics would work back in my neck of the woods, to include the spoon.

Upon getting home I pulled out my tacklebox and wouldn’t you know it, there in the bottom was an old spoon.  Probably one given to me a long time ago.  Seeing that old lure and combining it with my experience in Louisiana made me think about the history of spoons and their place in the arsenal of the modern saltwater angler.  I decided to find out more.


Come to find out “spoons” have been around for a long time.  Native people here in North America and Native Hawaiians have been using “spoon” shaped lures made from shells for centuries.  Sometime in the early to mid-1800s, both in North America and in Europe, fishing turned from just being a means to put food on the table to a sport.  Along with this new attitude came new gear, including commercially produced lures.  One of those lures was made of metal and concave in shape.  The modern “spoon” was born.  History is unclear why the lure is called a spoon.  It could be because the shape of the lure resembles a dinner spoon, or it could be because maybe the first designs were actually made from old dinner spoons.

New England has no shortage of stories, many of which you have to take with a grain of salt. One of the stories that I have heard was that the first “commercial” spoon lure was developed by a man in Vermont named Julio Buel.  It is told that Mr. Buel dropped a table spoon overboard one day.  As he watched the spoon wobble to the bottom a fish swam up and grabbed it.  The rest as they say, is history. Another story which originated around the coastal area and is actually believable, states that saltwater fishermen of the 1930s often fished for bluefish, pollack and striped bass using spoons made from the headlights of automobiles.  I have no idea how true these stories are, but they are interesting.

I spoke to Kurt Mazurek at Mepps to get his input on things.  He agreed that spoons have been around for many years.  Their lure, the Syclops, which is a spoon that I have used to catch many different species, has been around since the mid-1980s and was designed by Henri Limouzin in France.  It seems that European anglers were using spoons even after the interest had faded in America.  Kurt also told me that Mepps took the idea of weedless spoons and combined it with the Syclops in the early 1990s to come up with the Timber Doodle, another spoon I have used to catch many inshore species.

Spoons and Their place in the Tacklebox
For Freshwater Too-From trout to bass; walleye to pike, they will all go after spoons. Trolled, jigged or cast, spoons always work. By far trout are what I like to go after when fishing in fresh water. My equipment consists of a six foot, six inch Abu Garcia “Blue Sky” light action rod coupled with a Shakespeare 3000XL reel spooled with four pound test Stren Easy Cast monofilament. In my “official trout tackle box” I have a variety of spoons, all of which are proven trout getters. Some I have had for over 40 years; others are new or fairly new. Included is a blue/chrome Little Cleo put out by Seneca Lures; a gold “Eel” put out by Thomas Lures; and an assortment of Phoebes in a variety of colors, which are put out by Acme. I have a fascination for using spoons and though I also have many in-line spinners as well, I prefer to use spoons for trout. Casting spoons, which I use on ponds, rivers and streams, should not be confused with the light weight trolling spoons used on the big lakes. Casting spoons are generally heavy and can be cast a pretty good distance. The only problem is that their exposed treble hooks do have a tendency to snag on any piece of submerged timber. For that reason I suggest that you bring plenty. I also like to use snap swivels when fishing spoons on spinning gear. I have found that the swivel helps to reduce line twist, allows the spoon to run true and makes for easy lure changes if needed. By Dana Benner

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s everyone was using spoons because they worked.  Offshore anglers were using spoons for everything from tuna to billfish.  Inshore anglers were using spoons to pick up every species you could think of.  Then in the 1980s and ‘90s I started noticing people moving away from spoons.  They still had them, they just weren’t using them.  The simplest lure we have fell victim to the new “must haves”.  You know what I am talking about; those lures that are designed to catch more anglers than they are fish.  The spoon got pushed to the bottom of the box.

Today we have gone full circle.  More and more saltwater anglers are going back to the ways of their fathers and grandfathers.  The best news is that the lure manufacturers are listening.  I already mentioned the Johnson Silver Minnow, but they aren’t the only game out there.  Mepps produces both their Syclops and Timber Doodle in saltwater versions, and Acme puts out many saltwater spoons.  One of my favorite lures for striped bass and bluefish is the Acme Little Cleo.

What Makes Them Work?

Most artificial lures are designed to look like a fish’s food, it is that simple.  The problem with the spoon is that it doesn’t fit into that category.  So what makes a spoon so effective on so many different species of fish; both fresh and saltwater?  It is all in the action.  Spoons are designed to wobble as they move through the water.  How much they wobble is based upon how fast they are retrieved or trolled.  There are many different shapes of spoons which means each one acts a bit different at different speeds.

Along with the wobble comes flash.  While colored spoons, which are mainly freshwater lures, will catch saltwater species, I have found that either silver or gold work best.  The erratic action of the spoon, combined with the flash, seems to make the fish you are after believe that your spoon is a wounded baitfish and thus, an easy meal.

Size Does Matter:

I am often asked what size spoon I use for a particular species of fish.  Well, that can be an open ended question.  I always say fish the size lure that will catch the bigger fish.  Remember, big fish will strike a small spoon, but small fish won’t take a large spoon.  Fish are looking for food that is well within their means to handle.  The larger the fish, the larger the prey it will eat.  It is that simple.  Using the proper size spoon for the fish you are targeting will help eliminate short fish.  You may get fewer strikes, but the ones you get will be from larger fish.

Spoons are very simple lures and they have proven themselves over hundreds of years of use.  With this much history behind them they should not be hidden at the bottom of your box.  Dig them out and use them.  When that bull red or black drum almost breaks your rod in half you will be glad you did.

By Dana Benner