Mike’s Ugly Spoon
|Mike’s Ugly Spoon|
Let’s get one thing clear at the outset. Mike Quinn was fishing with an ugly spoon. I thought so and told him. Anderson Clipping, our guide on Saskatchewan’s Phelps Lake, is usually a reserved and non-judgmental fellow; I’ve known Anderson for years. Even Anderson thought the spoon was ugly.
It was about five inches long and shaped like most spoons designed for catching northern pike, our principal quarry on this trip. But it was a lime green-chartreuse number with five diamond-shaped patches. Every respectable pike angler knows the classic five-of-diamonds spoon is orange.
Mid-day on our second day fishing out of Wolf Bay Lodge, Mike dug through his box and pulled out the monstrosity. I said I was ashamed to be in a boat with someone who would deign to use such a corruption of the five of diamonds – my favorite color, by-the-way. Mike was heedless and started chucking the spoon about the shallow bays we were fishing.
It was a little chilly for the big pike to be returning to the spawning bays. Anderson said the best water temperature was about 62 degrees Fahrenheit, but most of the week the water temperature was in the mid- or upper 50s. It rained. And it was chilly. What Mike called borderline miserable. Every day, however, there were some of the big gals in the bays. We caught pike over 40 inches every day, and a couple of days we caught several that large.
Mike’s first big pike on the ugly spoon was near the Leaning Tree on James Bay. It grabbed the lure and launched skyward. They can jump if they want to. Big pike do not come willingly to the net and this one was no exception.
The deal with Mike’s spoon, however, was that he waxed me almost every day. I threw a ¾ ounce red-and-white tandem spinnerbait and I caught a bunch of pike between 25 and 40 inches. Mike caught a bunch, plus 10 percent. I vowed I would never let such a spoon darken the door of my tackle box.
I caught many on a classic orange five-of-diamonds. Mike caught a bunch, plus 10 percent. I vowed I would never let such a spoon darken the door of my tackle box.
On the third day of our week at Phelps Lake, a big pike grabbed Mike’s spoon. After a brief struggle, Mike’s line went slack. Anderson and I were ecstatic. The crimp in Mike’s wire leader failed and he brought back only the cable with the snap and the spoon missing.
While Anderson and I rejoiced (mostly me, by this time Anderson was pleased an angler he was guiding was catching a bunch of fish), Mike dug through his gear and found another of the obnoxious spoons. And went right on catching pike. Some of them big.
Setting aside my pride, I worked to the depths of my box and I found a spoon the same color as Mike’s. We were fishing a section of Phelps Lake known as Maverick. It is a long, south facing arc. At the corner of the arc, Mike and I caught several pike in the upper 30 inch range. Nice fish which slashed at our lures, pulled line against the drag, bent our rods, and generally caused mayhem. All the reasons we came to Phelps Lake in the first place.
Spoons are ideal pike lures when the fish are in a neutral (or worse) mood. Unlike most of my trips to Phelps Lake, we caught none on surface lures. Jerk baits took a few of the larger pike we caught, but not nearly as many as the spoons. Spoons are always worth a try when pike fishing is tough.
Gradually Anderson moved the boat along the shoreline, Mike and I casting and catching the small pike – 25 to 30 inches – we often catch at Phelps. How many of you, dear readers, would have a wonderful day catching a several dozen such pike a day with a couple of 40 inch fish tossed in as a bonus?
As we neared the end of Maverick, Mike cast ahead of the boat down the shoreline. I cast back parallel to the bank we just fished. Some monster grabbed my ugly spoon and headed for parts unknown. My rod was bowed and line peeled off my reel in a steady, deliberate fashion. With 50 pound test braided line, I was pretty sure the line would not break. Yet, it went slack. When I reeled in, the snap on my wire leader was twisted into a geometric pattern I cannot describe. It was none of those we learned in George Betz’ solid geometry class, I’m sure of that. I was relieved to be rid of the spoon. Mike kept casting, catching pike after pike after pike.
While Mike was unhooking and releasing one of his many pike, Anderson and I discussed color as a contributor to success with spoons. Based on my experience fishing pike in the central part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, experience which has been confirmed elsewhere, I told Anderson I had better luck fishing a spoon with the concave side silver in clear water and bronze or gold in tannin-stained water.
The next day, fishing in Luffman Bay, Mike lost his spoon. There were some big fish in Luffman Bay. We caught several over 36 inches and a couple over 40 inches. Luffman Bay is fed by a small stream coming out of Luffman Lake. Luffman Lake, in turn, is a shallow lake and it warms easily. Big pike were congregated there because the Bay itself was a few degrees warmer than the larger lake. The biggest and meanest were in the creek mouth, between the rapidly developing weeds on either side.
Mike cast his spoon into the creek, hooked something, and after a brief struggle, the fish broke off, taking the last of Mike’s ugly spoons. Phelps Lake is clear. On a bright day you can see the bottom a dozen or more feet. Maneuvering the boat in the creek, Anderson found Mike’s spoon in three feet of water. While Mike was bemoaning the loss of the cherished spoon, Anderson tried to snag it with a lure tied on another rod but failed. The effort, however, clouded the water and the spoon could no longer be seen. So Anderson gave up the effort and moved the boat away.
Now Mike and I were both fishing with classic orange five-of-diamond spoons, giving me a shot.
After half an hour and four or five nice pike for both Mike and me, Anderson moved the boat back into the creek. The silt had settled and there was Mike’s ugly spoon. I suggested to Anderson he use the net and try to scoop the lure off the bottom. On the second try, the hooks in Mike’s spoon caught in the net and he was back in business.
So, let me set the record straight here. Jim and Cathy Kramer, brother and sister, were also at Wolf Bay Lodge when Mike and I were. From earlier trips, I knew Jim and Cathy. Of the four, I was clearly low angler on the totem pole. And I caught half a dozen pike over 40 inches, most of them on my fly rod. One late afternoon, I caught 25 or so, by the count of both Anderson and me, on a red-and-white spinnerbait. And I was low man.
Tell ya this, though. Had I had two of those ugly spoons, no limit to what I might have done.
If you think you would like to try Phelps Lake in northeastern Saskatchewan, contact Brent Osika at www.wolfbaylodge.ca. An important change at Wolf Bay Lodge from my first trip there, which led to a feature article in the late Esox Angler magazine and when I went with Pete Maina to do a television show on fly fishing for pike for TheNextBite TV show, is there are no longer bear spray cans in the outhouse. All the cabins have indoor toilet facilities. Tell Brent, Mike sent you.
Last updated on March 9, 2018