Larry Columbo Talks Jigging Spoons For Eufaula Bass
Load the boat with late-summer Eufaula bass using the lost art of jigging spoons.
Throughout the summer and into the winter, hybrids, largemouths and white bass school together on Eufaula. Methods for locating and catching these fish can run the gamut from casting spinners to trolling crankbaits, but there is a productive technique that seems to have been forgotten on this lake. That technique is jigging a spoon, and it can be deadly effective for loading a livewell in August.
Spooning, as a go-to technique, became a part of my arsenal for Eufaula bass years ago as the result of a work-related query. Fishing has always been a big part of my life, but I fished for fun until August of 1973, when Tom Mann, with Mann’s Bait Co., gave me my start in the fishing industry. Since then, whether it was for Mann’s or Humminbird, part of my job description has always included being on the water — testing products, taking VIPs fishing and keeping up with trends in the fishing-tackle and marine-products industries.
During the early 1980s the Red Man Tournament Trail came along. At the time I was ate up with competitive angling, so I fished both divisions. Both of these divisions fished my home lake, Eufaula, and I experienced some success.
It was during my serious tournament-fishing era that I happened upon a technique that proved to be one of the deadliest methods for catching big numbers of tournament-winning bass. That technique was spoon jigging. Not too many locals were familiar with the method at that time. Some got onto it later, but for some reason the technique was put on the back burner, and somehow forgotten. I am about to reintroduce you to the art of spoon jigging, with this promise. If you try it, develop the technique and fish it at the right time of year, you will be absolutely amazed at the success you will enjoy.
One of the responsibilities I enjoyed at Mann’s Baits was that of managing the field-test staff. One of the pro anglers on our staff at that time was a young angler from Texas by the name of Randy Fite.
Randy was known as a deep-water specialist, as well as one of the best depthfinder interpreters in the pro ranks. Randy was constantly ordering a lure from Mann’s called the Mann-O- Lure. It was a flat, lead, painted, bait- fish imitator, used to fish in deep water. In other words, it was a jigging spoon. The lure came in two sizes, a 1/2-oz. model and a 1-oz. model. Randy would order these by the dozens. One day I quizzed him about the use of this bait. His enthusiastic response to my query was the spark that ignited my spoon-jigging fire.
Back in the paint room at Mann’s, they kept a “reject box” of lures that did not meet the standards of quality. Mann-O-Lures that were minus an eye-ball or had a little paint smear usually ended up in the reject box. This became my source for spoons until I finally mastered the technique of jigging. When Randy learned about the rejects, he ordered them instead of the first-quality lures. It saved us both some money.
Spoon jigging is a technique I can teach anyone to fish in five minutes. However, it might take the average angler five months to really learn the art, and possibly five years to completely master. Over the years, I learned many of the tricks it took to become a really good spoon fisherman. I even did some experimenting and made a few modifications that worked well. I will share these secrets with you, as well as a couple of memorable stories connected with spoon jigging.
One day, while at Humminbird, our Vice President of Operations Bill Moorer came into my office and asked what my plans were for the next day. I simply told him that I planned to come to work as usual.
“I have an assignment for you,” he said. “How would you like to fish tomorrow with our former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?”
I knew exactly who he was talking about, as Admiral Thomas H. Moorer was Bill’s uncle. Bill’s daddy, Dr. Billy Moorer, would be going along also. So I would have two elderly statesmen in the boat with me, both expecting to catch some fish. I was delighted at the opportunity.
I had been catching some nice hybrid bass in the area where Barbour and Chenneyhatchee creeks dumped into the Chattahoochee River channel at Eufaula. It was an ideal area to jig a spoon. The top of the ledge there was relatively flat, had a minimum amount of structure, and sat in about 14 feet of water. The hybrids were coming up out of the main river channel to feed on the large schools of shad on the flat.
Plus, there were always a few good largemouths running with the hybrids. The area was ideally suited for spoon jigging, and with the two seniors in the boat with me, it would be the best method shy of trolling for not only catching a good stringer, but also to protect all three of us from catching a treble hook in the ear.
The next morning the Admiral, Dr. Billy and I set sail for the Barbour Creek flat. If the fish were there, they would light up the fishfinder like a Christmas tree. I remember breathing a sigh of relief as my Ranger idled across the flat. The Humminbird recorded fish from top to bottom. Each of my guests were handed rods with a white, 1-oz. Mann-O-Lure tied on.
“Release the thumb bar, let the lure hit the bottom, turn the handle a couple turns and imagine you are playing with a yo-yo,” was my instruction to the Moorer brothers.
I don’t remember which one of the anglers hooked up first, but I do know that for about an hour we had a fish on one line or the other constantly. The hybrids were running from 1 1/2 pounds, up to 7 or 8 pounds. And if you’ve ever caught a hybrid, you know that pound-for-pound they are as strong as any fish in freshwater.
I do remember that somewhere in the middle of all the fishing action, an 8-lb. largemouth showed up. The picture we ended up with at the end of the day was something to behold. The Admiral took a copy back to Arlington, Va., and I heard from him on numerous occasions after that. He always remembered our successful day on the water.
The 1-oz. spoons we used had been modified slightly from their original state. Since this lure and most other lures of its kind are designed for both fresh and saltwater use, they generally come from the factory equipped with strong, cadmiuplated saltwater hooks. The first thing I will do with the lure upon removal from the package is to change the hooks. I will go to a much thinner wire hook. On today’s market, Eagle Claw, for one, offers a red treble hook that works well. With the thin, wire hook, you can get hung up often, but lose fewer lures because the hooks will bend before the line breaks.
My equipment for jigging a spoon is a very stiff, 5- foot baitcasting rod, a good left-handed, at least 20-lb. test
retrieve reel and monofilament line. I stress the use of mono over the newer and stronger braided lines for several reasons. Mono will stretch, and this is important when jigging a spoon. You will get hung up many times during the course of a fishing day while spoon jigging. Learn to develop a feel for structure. Often a strike and a piece of structure feel the same. If you set the hook into a stump, there is a way to release your lure. What I am about to tell you is very important when learning to successfully jig a spoon.
Move directly over your lure; allow a slight bit of slack in your line, and rapidly raise and lower your rod tip. This will often cause the lure to dislodge itself from the structure. This is another reason I prefer the 1-oz. lure to the lighter ones. If this method fails, a steady pull directly over the lure will generally cause the wire hooks to bend, releasing the lure. Keep a pair of needle-nose pliers on your side. Always check your hooks, and keep them bent slightly inward toward the shank. This will prevent snags also.
Another important reminder is this: most strikes will come on the fall, so it is important not to allow slack in your line as the lure is falling. As I told the Admiral and Dr. Billy, pretend you are playing with a yo-yo. Watch your line, and move your spoon about 18 inches to 2 feet off the bottom each time you raise your rod tip. If, for any reason, the lure stops before it hits the bottom, set the hook. A bass, hybrid or even a big crappie will inhale the spoon as it is falling back to the bottom. Most of the time you will feel the strike, but often there is only a weightless feel on the end of the line. Like I said before, it could take five years to learn everything about spoon jigging.
Lake Eufaula is my favorite spoon-fishing body of water because it has everything you want in a lake ideally suited to fishing a spoon. There are good flats, plenty of structure and drops and ledges in anywhere from 12 to 18 feet of water. There are thousands of acres of water at just the perfect depth for jigging a spoon.
The water color of Eufaula is also ideally suited to fishing a minimum of 20-lb. test line. Once I developed the feel of spoon jigging, I could fish a spoon all day long, hang it up 50 times or so, and never lose a lure. Someone learning might get a little frustrated because he will lose several lures before mastering the technique. This could be why so few fish this method today.
If you are a frequent angler on Lake Eufaula, then finding whites, hybrids and largemouths with a jigging spoon will not be difficult. Just keep in mind where they were the previous season, and chances are good you will find them in the same area the following year.
If you are coming to Eufaula for the first time, here are some specifics for success with the spoon. The flats off the swimming area at Old Creek Town Park will attract schools of hybrids. Watch for the birds. They will be very active as soon as the schools of shad start on the surface. When the fish are not busting the shad on top, they will be holding in 12 to 16 feet of water on nearby humps and even on the flats near the river channel. Watch your fishfinder, and you should find schools of baitfish as well as the stripers.
Just south of the railroad causeway coming out of Eufaula, on the Georgia side of the lake, is Tobananee Creek. You will see Rabbit Island on your left as you run the river channel. This is a common area for hybrids. Find where the creek empties into the river, and work your way east. Watch your fishfinder for humps and underwater creek points.
Look at a map of Lake Eufaula, and find the large flat between Barbour and Chenneyhatchee creeks. Move out toward the river channel, and you will be in 12 to 18 feet of water. A favorite method for locating stripes and hybrids and even largemouths here would be to troll a small crankbait, one that will run about 10 feet deep when cast.
Troll the bait 100 feet behind the boat. A 10-foot, deep-diving crankbait will actually run a little deeper when trolled. When you catch the first fish, drop a small plastic marker buoy. Turn around, and troll from the opposite direction until a second fish is caught. Drop a second buoy. Between your two markers will more than likely be your school of fish. Drop your trolling motor, stay between the markers and jig your spoon. Get ready to load the boat.
One more sure-fire area will be out past the island which lies near the mouth of Pataula Creek. This area is down the lake in the widest part of Lake Eufaula. Out from the island is an area we refer to as the “Indian Mounds.” The water is 10 to 18 feet deep, with a clean bottom. You can easily troll to find your schools, or idle with your fishfinder until you locate your quarry.
I like to utilize the fish-alarm feature on my unit, as it lets you know when you are passing over fish should your attention stray from the screen. A good lure to troll in this area is a Mann’s 10+.
While hybrids are thought of as open-water dwellers, it is a fact that they love to spend their idle time near structure, much like a largemouth or crappie. When all else fails, rely on your fishfinder to help locate schools of jigging fish.
Also, remember that when the stripes and hybrids get active, so do the fishermen. Watch those areas where you see a lot of boating activity during this time of year. The best time to find this action is the last two hours of daylight each day.
If you notice, most of these fishermen will be trolling or casting Little Georges or chunking Road Runners at the stripes. Few, if any will be jigging a spoon, thus you will have a much better chance of getting your lure down where the larger hybrids hang out. Big largemouths like to run below the schools as well, so look for these as your bonus fish.
Over the years I learned a few additional tricks to do with a spoon. Pull a tube jig over the spoon before attaching it to your line. It will give the spoon a different look, allow it to fall slower and still have excellent action.
Today, Mann’s delivers a lot of Mann-O-Lures to Texas and Arkansas — where spoon jigging remains a popular method for loading the boat.
Give this fantastic method a legitimate try on Eufaula. Late summer through cold weather will be the most productive time of year to jig a spoon. The fish tend to bunch up during these periods, and finding them with a spoon can prove, without a doubt, to be the most productive means of catching a lot of fish in a short period of time.
You probably won’t find a lot of other anglers using this method. It’s sort of a lost art waiting to be rediscovered.
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