Spoons for Great Lakes salmon and trout

by Bob McGary | July 2, 2011
Great Lake - Assorted-Spoons-Salmon-Trout

Over the years, spoons have continued to be the top lure for Great Lakes salmon and trout. The million-dollar question, however, is which type of spoon is the best choice? A spoon that’s hot one week or month can be replaced easily by a productive newcomer.

The parameters in selecting a spoon include colour, size, and action. Each of the Great Lakes have unique characteristics, which contribute to spoon choice. Colour is usually the dominant variable. Any tackle store will stock spoons that exhibit over 100 colour patterns. But, what colours are most productive and under what circumstances?

Colour in the Great Lakes

The colour an angler observes in the boat is different from what a salmon sees at varying depths. Red is most visible near the surface, since it produces the longest wavelength from sunlight. As water depth increases, colours are absorbed to varying degrees. Red, as an example, will be seen as black by a salmon at depths over 30 feet. Colour retention then progresses from orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, to violet. At extreme depths over 150 feet, all colours appear black.

The time of day (early morning or evening) and cloud cover can also affect sunlight penetration and colour visibility. Salmon anglers who are on the water every day can zero in on productive colours.

Shane Thombs, who runs Fintastic Sportfishing on Lake Ontario, has a proven system for colour choice. “When salmon or trout start to show a preference for a colour pattern, continue to add this spoon colour to other rods up to a 75% saturation,” he said. “The next trip, start with 50% of the ‘flavour of the day’ and then retain or change to new shades.”


Spoon size can vary from 3 inches to more than 5 inches. Size of baitfish will determine the optimum spoon length. During May and June, baitfish are best replicated by 3- to 4-inch spoons. Late summer might require magnum spoons up to 5 inches in length.

Trolling speed also dictates the choice of spoons. Most salmon anglers troll anywhere from 2 to 3.5 mph. Light spoons usually produce excellent action at slow speeds. The Michigan Stinger would be a prime example. At speeds of 3 mph and faster, heavier spoons such as a Northern King and Dreamweaver will continue to “kick.”

A number of manufacturers market quality spoons. Popular brands include Northern King, Michigan Stinger, Dreamweaver, Matrixx, Yeck, Moonshine, Williams, Hot Fish, Silver Streak, and Warrior.


Thin, light spoons provide the best flutter action at 1.8 to 2.8 mph. Heavier, thicker spoons need a faster trolling speed, in the range of 2.4 to 3.5 mph, to produce optimum action.

Great Lakes favourites

On Lake Superior, with cold surface water, lures are rarely trolled deeper than 50 feet. Archie Hoogsteen, who operates Archie’s Fishing Charters out of Thunder Bay, favours blue/silver and orange spoons. The 5-inch Nasty Boy is his best producer.

On Lake Erie, Jeremie Brooks, Trophy Taker Fishing Charters, puts up 20 steelhead days for his clients. “It’s important to use small spoons, 3 to 3.5 inches that mimic smelt and emerald shiners,” he said. My favourite spoons are a 3.5-inch Blue Fox Matrixx in blue and purple hologram; the 3-inch mini Silver Streak in Jerry Lee, Kevorkian, and Brown Trout shades; and Knockout spoons Punch size 3.5 inches in Citrus Gator, Red Monkey Puke, and Tree Frog.”

On Lake Ontario, Thombs likes to run a mix of 3.5- to 4.75-inch spoons. He trolls at 2.2 to 2.5 mph in spring and 2.8 to 3 mph in summer, which accommodates a wide variety of spoons. He favours Yeck spoons for their speed versatility.

“My colour patterns include Wonderbread, Monkey Puke, and Natural Born Killer,” he said. “The NBK is a black green and glow combo. Utilize glow patterns at first and last light.”

Thombs has two top tips to put fish in the box. “Use nail polish, especially with metal flakes, to scratch proof the finish on your spoons,” he said. Another suggestion is to add a stick-on eye at the hook end of the spoon.

On Lake Huron in Georgian Bay, Tony Degasperis operates Action Fishing Adventures. His two top colours are pink for rainbows and shades of green for chinook. “Hotfish spoons are my first choice, as well as Silver Streaks,” he said.

All the guides are in agreement that experimentation is the key to success. Try different spoons in diverse colours until the trout and salmon show approval.

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  1. Wally Kolar wrote: I'm going fishing to goderich this weekend and will be boat fishing. I've been fishing there before but never from a boat. Which kinds of lures should I bring? and are there and hot spots for salmon or trout? If not trolling would it be possible to jig? Which types of jigs work best? Any info would be awesome as the captain of the boat has never been there either. Ttvkolar@hotmail.com Vlad