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Trolling Spoons for Freshwater Salmon and Trout

By Luhr Jensen, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


Trolling with spoons is a technique practiced and enjoyed everyday by thousands of fresh water anglers across the country. It's an easy-to-learn and use method which is particularly effective in lakes and reservoirs for large fish such as coho and Chinook salmon, brown, cutthroat and lake trout, striped bass and several varieties of rainbow trout including landlocked steelhead and Kamloops.

Spoons are effective because they closely resemble and imitate the action of crippled baitfish . . . food which makes up a large part of the diet of predatory gamefish.

Anglers who employ trolling as their #1 technique and understand fish and their habits usually will outfish anglers using other techniques. The reason is simple: You cover a large area of water thoroughly in a short time, pinpointing concentrations of fish or scattered lunkers with minimum effort. Trolling allows you to cover more water faster, easier and more completely than any other fishing technique.

A spoon should wobble from side-to-side and will produce its best all-around, fish-catching action when trolled at speeds between the slowest that produces a wobble and the fastest darting action that does not cause the lure to revolve or spin. For fast trolling try the Tom Mack ®. Medium speed trolling spoons include the Diamond King and Rattlesnake. For general trolling at all speeds, the Flutter Spoon, Krocodile ®, Loco ®, Super Duper ® and Alpena Diamond are excellent choices.

The best trolling spoons are lightweight and thin which will provide the most erratic, darting baitfish action in the water. Many spoons such as the Krocodile ® and Super Duper ® are manufactured in casting and trolling models and it is important that you select the lightest weight models. For example, one die may stamp several different thicknesses of a spoon, such as the No. 5 Krocodile ®, which produces 3/4-, 1-, 1 1/2- and 2 1/2-oz. models. For trolling, you would choose the lighter 3/4- or 1-oz. size.

Diagrammed below are seven proven ways to rig a spoon for trolling. Note that dodgers often are used as attractors in conjunction with spoons when fish are scattered or are in deep water.

With the surface or flatline technique, the spoon is tied directly, via its attachment device, to 8- to 20-lb. test main line. No additional weights are used or, at most, a small 1/8- to 1/2-oz. keel-type sinker may be placed 6 feet up the line from the spoon. The spoon is let out behind your moving boat 50 to 200 feet and the troll begun. This technique is particularly effective when trout, steelhead, stripers or salmon are feeding near the surface, especially during low light periods

With the addition of a keel sinker 4 to 6 feet up the line from the spoon, shallow to medium depths can be trolled effectively. Sinker weights, depending upon the depth desired, usually run from 1 to 8 ounces with main line testing from 12 to 30 pounds. As in flatlining, let out 50 to 200 feet of line behind your moving boat and begin the troll.

One effective way to get a spoon or spoon/attractor rig deep without lead weights is with a diving sinker such as the Pink Lady ®, Deep Six ®, Dipsy Diver ® or Jet Diver. The Dipsy Diver ® is particularly unique diving sinker as the lead weight in its base plate can be shifted in degrees to produce starboard, port or behind the boat running. With the Dipsy ® you now can troll off to either side of the boat without interfering with flatlines or downrigger lines and cover an extremely wide swath of water. Divers also act as fish attractors due to their color and shape. Standard rigging with a diver is 4 to 6 feet of leader between spoon and diver and 20- to 30-lb. test main line to your rod. A second way of rigging a diver adds a #0, #040 or #00 small Jensen Dodger 24 inches up the leader from the spoon. Use 48" of leader between the dodger and diver.

Spoons often are fished off a downrigger, either by themselves or in conjunction with a dodger or flasher. With a downrigger you will be able to work all depths and will have the added advantage of no weights between you and the fish once hooked. Anglers who troll spoons by themselves behind a downrigger, especially when seeking wary fish such as Chinook, lake trout or browns, often prefer 10 to 29 feet (some as much as 40 to 60 feet) between the line release and spoon.

Dodgers can be used as attractors in conjunction with a spoon behind a downrigger with good results. Size #0 or #1 Jensen Dodgers are recommended. Allow 12 to 18 inches of leader between spoon and dodger. Shorter leaders produce more frantic and faster spoon action while longer one result in slower action.

Flashers are yet another kind of attractor that can be used with a spoon behind a downrigger. Flashers such as the Alaskan Eagle or Abe 'n Al ® produce a deliberate, slow roll which often is favored by species such as Chinook and lake trout. Because of the rotating nature of the flasher, spoons trailed behind must have more leader than that used with dodgers.


Certain fish species, particularly when it comes to larger fish, display specific preferences when it comes to trolling spoons and/or colors. The following species-by-species breakdown will provide valuable information you can apply immediately.

When the temperature is right in fresh water, coho salmon are surface or shallow water oriented and can be found, for the most part, at depths less than 50 feet. Coho especially like fast action spoons and the added action of small #0, #00 or #040 dodgers ahead of a spoon (see rigging diagram). Specific spoons geared for coho fishing include the Loco ®, Rattlesnake, Coyote, Krocodile ®, Flutter Spoon and Super Duper.

When compared with coho, fresh water Chinook prefer deeper water. They often shy away from unnatural movements in the water so longer leaders often are used. Proven Chinook spoons include the Loco ®, Tom Mack ®, Alpena Diamond, Diamond King and Point Defiance ®. These spoons all have a deliberate, wobbling side-to-side action when trolled at medium to fast speeds. Because Chinook often are found deep, blue or green painted finishes are effective, as are blue or green Prism-Lite ® finishes and metallic patterns with blue or green stripes. Silver or pearl also are know Chinook color favorites.

Lake trout prefer slow, deliberate-action lures and/or attractors. Popular spoons include the Krocodile ®, Loco ®, Alpena Diamond and Slow-Sam with top colors being Genuine Silver Plate, Pearl, Nickel/Blue Stripe, Chartreuse/Fire Dot, Glo Green and 50/50 Hammered Brass/Nickel. Lake trout generally lie close to the bottom or in the lower level of the thermocline.

These fish are slow to react and very wary of any unnatural movement or noise. They often are boat shy so let out more line when trolling (100 to 300 feet). Their diet consists primarily of small fish so spoons are a natural when it come to fishing for them. Browns show a definite preference toward natural fish-finish spoons such as Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout. Other popular finishes include Brass/Gold Prism-Lite ®, Chartreuse/Silver Prism-Lite ®, Brass/Fire Stripe and Brass Bikini. Four excellent spoons to use are the Alpena Diamond, Super Duper ®, Krocodile ® and Flutter Spoon.

These fish and their cousins, landlocked steelhead and Kamloops, normally are fast-moving and are found scattered at different depths in lakes and reservoirs. They will concentrate where food and/or oxygen sources are located and frequently can be found feeding near the surface during low light periods. Metal finishes such as Chrome/blue, Chrome/Fire or Chrome/Green in either hammered or plain and painted finishes such as Chartreuse/Fire Dot, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Frog and Blue or Green often produce strikes. Genuine Silver Plate is a finish which has proved irresistible to rainbow, steelhead and Kamloops. Additionally, the Prism-Lite ® finishes of red, gold or green in combination with Nickel or Brass and the Prism-Lite ® painted finishes are excellent choices. These fish strike at medium to fast trolling speeds with spoons such as the Krocodile ®, Loco ®, Canadian Wonder ®, Super Duper ® and Flutter Spoon solid bets for success.


In large fresh water lakes and reservoirs time of day isn't nearly as critical as locating the preferred temperature level for the fish species you are seeking and the thermocline. Lakes stratify into three separate layers with the onset of warm weather and generally stay that way until fall. The middle layer of water, where there is a large concentration of dissolved oxygen, baitfish and therefore predator fish is called the thermocline and can generally be found from 10 to 80 feet down. This is not only an oxygen-saturated layer, but a temperature layer as well and fish relate to it as both a comfort zone and a zone where their body metabolism functions efficiently.

The peak feeding and optimum temperature for coho and Chinook salmon is 55 ° with an active range of 44 ° to 58 °. For lake trout, peak feeding and optimum temperature is 50 ° with activity from 43 ° to 53 °. For steelhead trout, optimum temperature is between 50 ° and 55 ° with activity from 40 ° to 75 °. Brown and rainbow trout have an optimum temperature preference between 55 ° and 60 ° with activity from 44 ° to 75 °. Striped bass exhibit a range of temperature preference from 60 ° to 78 ° with the optimum temperature between 70 ° and 72 °.

Fish rarely venture out of these preferred temperature zones, except to catch a meal and then will return quickly. One thing to remember when fishing temperature layers such as the thermocline is that it can change from day to day because of wind and/or wave action and you'll have to locate it each time out.


Fish definitely see color and/or shades of color and can be very fussy about it. One of the big advantages of trolling with spoons is the wide variety of specialized finishes available . . . there's a color to fit every angling situation.

The ultimate in metal finishes, Genuine Silver Plate, is available on the Flutter Spoon and Diamond King. This finish produces a highly reflective shine not achievable with nickel or chrome plating . . . it simply reflects a much higher percentage of light, like a baitfish, under a variety of different light conditions and at different depths.

The natural, iridescent look of baitfish scales has been captured on the FlutterSpoon and Loco ®. This finish has proved extremely productive at all depths.

Both the Flutter Spoon and the Loco ® are available in a Glo/Fluorescent Green Stripe finish which is particularly effective in deep water.

The Krocodile ® and Diamond King now are available in special Hot Tail finishes including Crystal/Hot Tail Pearl/Green/Chartreuse, "Hot Tail Nickel/Fire, Hot Tail Brass/Fire, Crystal Hot Tail/Chartreuse/Fire, Hot Tail Silver/Fire and Hot Tail Gold/Fire. These finishes focus strikes to the rear of the lure, where open hooks ensure more and better hook-ups.

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