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Johnson Silver Minnows

By Russ Bassdozer

Click here to visit our fishing art galleryEarly spring is a nice time of year. Almost every back bay, cove, flat, and shoreline starts out open and weedless. You are free to choose and use any type of topwater lure at any spot. Your options can include poppers, top walking dogs, twitching minnows and an endless variety of treble-hooked surface baits. But even as bass are exploding on surface lures, weed growth is also exploding and reaching closer towards the surface with each passing day. Then one morning you realize that the emergent grass beds are topping off at the surface and reducing your options. The poppers and topwalkers really aren't getting to sashay very far without getting snarled in green. Next you notice that floating minnows are also running out of the little patches of open space you need to twitch them in. You instinctively start to use buzzbaits more and more because they are more weedless with their protective wire arms and upright single hooks. You plow them steadily over prairies of grass as if they were miniature bulldozers. In a few short weeks though, even the buzzbait blades won't make it across the surface too far before their fish-calling chatter is silenced in a soft green smother. In order to continue through the changing season, you switch to big white, black or brightly-colored soft plastics like 6" Slug-gos and Zoom Flukes. You snake them through the remaining thin spots and open holes in the grass beds. Until one day that doesn't work any more either. You see, the emergent vegetation is now folding over and growing sideways across the surface, weaving through acres of lily pads. A mat-like canopy has formed that has become too thick for the unobtrusive soft stickbaits to attract much attention from the bass lurking down below. You stop fishing for a moment and realize that spring is over. It is early summer now and you are fishing in a slop bay. You're trapped in a salad bowl. You're a cabbage patch kid. But wait! In this progression of topwater lures and seasons, there's still time left for one more lure. It is older than your old Grandpa. It is time for the weedless wonder, the Johnson Silver Minnow.

Background. The Johnson Silver Minnow was first marketed in 1920. I truly doubt that there is any other single brand and model of lure that has been so unchanged and so effective for so long. Sure it comes in four new colors nowadays, like black-backed shad, rainbow trout, black silverplate, and a bold fire tiger pattern. But Mr. Johnson must have had a reason for naming his design the Silver Minnow. So I stick with the traditional silver spoons and also use the gold.

Basic Anatomy. According to the Johnson Lures web site, "The Silver Minnow is thicker in the middle than at the edges. This creates the patented 35-degree wobble. No other spoon is built like this, which is why no other lure has worked so well for so long. It rocks back and forth, but it wonít roll and twist line. And itís plated with pure silver or 24-kt gold, to produce a brighter flash than chrome or brass spoons." 

The Silver Minnow comes in 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 ounce sizes. The 1/4 ounce, 2 1/4 inch model is the best one for the bass that I catch. They seem to like it better. Some guys also like the 1/2 ounce, 2 3/4 inch size for bass. The hook is hand-soldered to the belly of the spoon, and the lure has a looped wire line-tie eye to which I directly attach my fishing line. The top of the lure has a stout metal prong that is strategically positioned right in front of the hook point, thereby defending it against snags and weeds. A biting fish can depress this prong easily but snags cannot. The spoon has an aerodynamic shape and it casts well.

Always Sweeten the Deal. In days gone by, Johnson spoons were always sweetened with pork frogs and split tail pork rind eels. The modern design of the Strike King Bo-Leech pork also works well. Many anglers today use soft plastic split tail spinnerbait trailers and plastic imitation pork chunks. Prowler Pro Pitch has a new thin-bodied, long-legged chunk that goes great with Johnson spoons. But my absolute favorite sweetener is a 4" Mister Twister grub. The key point about the Mister Twister is that the curly tail is much thicker than most other curly-tailed grubs so it creates very strong vibrations as it wriggles frantically behind the spoon. Equally important, the tail is thick enough to drag through heavy cover all day without being torn off by tough weed stalks. Don't just put the grub onto the hook so it lays straight like usual - instead thread the grub body a little bit up onto the curvature of the hook - and secure it to the butt of the spoon with a little spot of super glue. It will look a bit odd this way as it kind of points up at an angle. I use black, white, and chartreuse grubs. You can order them online at Mister Twister's web site. The gold spoon/black grub combo is pretty as a picture, and it is deadly under low light conditions at dawn and dusk. Use silver/chartreuse in turbid or muddy water.

Look at It. Test swim one of these spoon/grubs and you won't believe the combined spoon-rolling, tail-twisting motion. Practice in open water. You really want to retrieve it so that the lure barely stays under the surface and kind of bulges the water. Just reel in steady, never jig it or let it drop. Most of all, learn how to best bring out that flashing, side-rolling crippled minnow action inherent in the spoon body. You have got to concentrate on looking at the lure at all times as you retrieve it, and adjusting the retrieve speed to maintain the desired swimming action. When you feel that you have the hand/eye coordination down pat, then you are ready to cast the spoon/grub far across the fish-holding weedbeds.

Splashdown. During the cast, you need to keep the spoon's flight trajectory low - like hitting a line drive in baseball. You need to engage your reel and begin turning the reel handle before the spoon even hits the water. Done properly, the spoon should splash down softly without being jerked back at you from whiplash or anything. If you make the splashdown correctly, then the spoon will be flashing, rolling and swimming towards you instantly without fouling in the weeds. You need to keep this same steady swimming pace all the way back to the boat, just like you did during your practice casts. If you did not engage the reel right at splashdown, or if you break the cadence during the retrieve, the spoon will plummet into the weeds and foul. The painful truth is that the lure is only as weedless as you make it! But if you do everything right, YOU CAN EXPECT TO GET BLASTED IMMEDIATELY UPON SPLASHDOWN. If there was a fish within shouting distance, they often dash right over to blast your spoon.

Steady as she goes. Quite honestly, some times you will see big wakes in the grass that bolt and flee as your lure splashes down or approaches them. But most times, you will see something muscling its way over and deliberately stalking your lure in the grass, only to sink under and disappear, and then a few seconds later the grass parts like Moses at the Red Sea. There's a gill-rattling commotion but you don't feel any weight. DO NOT TRY TO SET THE HOOK UNTIL THE FISH IS DONE BLASTING, AND YOU FEEL SOLID  WEIGHT AS THE FISH RUNS BACK UNDER THE WEEDS WITH YOUR SPOON CLAMPED IN A VISE-LIKE JAW LOCK. Just don't stop steadily turning the reel handle if a fish has blasted you but missed the hook. Click here to visit our fishing art galleryIf you jerk the rod or stop reeling for an instant, you will get fouled in the grass. Do not alter the cadence, just keep a steady retrieve and the fish may continue to use the steady swimming sounds of the spoon to track its path and to plot where the bass will make another vicious attempt to annihilate your lure. If a bass blasts just once and does not continue to track you, then that fish is probably "on point" and just sitting right there waiting to pounce on anything that comes near it. So put the spoon rod down and toss a big, sassy 3/4 ounce bullet-rigged worm back out at the opening the fish blew in the grass. I match the same color worm as the grub color on the spoon. Let it land a few feet behind the hole and drag it across the weed tops so that fish knows you are coming. Slither it into the opening and expect the same bass to blast you as you hold the worm right under the canopy for a few seconds and jiggle it, then let it fall quickly and thud into the bottom below. This often gets a reaction bite on the descent or on bottom contact.

Other Topwater Spoons. Several other manufacturers have spoons on the market that are designed for hauling heavy bass out of surface vegetation. Just to name a quick few that I have used are the Mepps Timber Doodle, the Heddon Moss Boss, and the Rapala Minnow Spoon. Sure they are good and you definitely should try them. But we are not going to cover them in this article. Simply put, none of these spoons have a track record of seventy-nine years of bagging big bass in thick cover. That's what I like most about my Johnsons, and that is why I will continue to use them until I am an old grandpa!

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