Spoon Tuning Trickery for Browns (Brown Trout) by Ernie Lantiegne

Spoon Tuning Trickery for Browns (Brown Trout) by Ernie Lantiegne

spoon fishing trolling great lakes salmon trout

Spring brown trout stuffed to bursting with bait have always been a challenge for trollers in the Great Lakes, but in today’s crystal clear water “bulgies”,  are tougher than ever to catch consistently.  

Successful anglers have had to crank it up another notch, sharpening trolling techniques to the keenest edge, and learning how to tune their favorite lures for best results.

20.3 lb. giant brown trout hit a tuned Smithwick trolled from a planer board in choppy seas

This 20.3 lb. brown hit a tuned Smithwick trolled from a planer board in choppy seas

With 34 years of spring brown trout trolling experience in eastern Lake Ontario under my hat, flutterspoons are one of my favorite fish catchers for shallow water browns.  Spoons like Suttons, Eppinger Flutterdevles, and Williams Thinfish, leading the list.   These three ultrathin spoons can be easily bent, which modifies their action. 

On my boat, none of them go in the water right out of the box. 

The Secret is in the Tuning

Although some flutter spoons like the Thinfish catch fish right out of the box, the real secret to using them successfully is learning to tune them, increasing their effectiveness over a broad range of conditions and speeds. 

Tuning includes doctoring spoons with various colors of tape and paint stripes, but more importantly, using different sizes of hooks, snaps, and snap swivels in combination with bending, to produce a fish catching action. 

For spring browns that action is not a spin or a lazy wobble, it’s an aggressive wobble, on the verge of spinning, with occasional rolls, and darts. 

Although some flutter spoons catch fish right out of the box, the real secret to using them successfully is learning to tune them.

Flutter spoons may be a bit old fashioned in this day of high-speed super spoons but they consistently catch spring browns at the slow to moderate speeds the monsters like. 

Williams offers their Thinfish flutter spoon in real silver and gold plate, plus copper and other colors.  The Sutton Spoon Co., once operating in Naples, New York, limited their finishes to unpainted, untaped models.  Eppinger, in Dearborn, Michigan, produces a variety of spoons, including the Flutterdevle.. 

Eppinger’s #3100 Jr. Flutterdevle

Over the years, aboard my charter boat, Eppinger’s No. 3100 Jr. Flutterdevle has been one of the three deadliest flutter spoons of all time for spring browns.  Unless you know how to tune it with an “S” bend, though, you’ll catch very few fish on it. 

A selection of tuned Jr. Flutterdevles spoons trolling for spring brownsTo give a Flutterdevle an excellent action over a wide range of speeds, tune it in an “S” shape by increase the bend in the cup at the tail of the spoon, and bending the nose of the spoon in the opposite direction.  

Increase the bend for slow speeds, and flatten it for higher speeds. 

To fish this spoon at speeds of 1.5 to 2.5 mph, use a #1 crosslock snap to attach it to the leader and a no. 1/0 Siwash hook.  Attach the leader to the main line with a standard barrel swivel.     To fish the same spoon at trolling speeds from 2.5 to 3.0 mph, switch to a size 2/0 single hook, flatten the “S” bend as needed, and substitute a #1 Sampo coastlock snap swivel for the crosslock snap.  

Today, on board the Fish Doctor, the  Jr. Flutterdevle is a favorite for spring brown trout in Lake Ontario.

Over the past 30 years the Jr. Flutterdevle, in four different colors,  has accounted for many hundreds of browns from late March through mid-June in the top 20 feet of water.   It is most effective fished on  8-10 lb. test fluorocarbon leader, and takes fish from planer boards, downriggers, and flatlines.  Because of the light weight of this spoon, add some lead(1/8 to 1/2 oz.) when you’re flatlining it or fishing it from a planer board. 

spring brown lake fishing great lakes trout

This spring brown hit a hammered silver/lemon-lime Jr. Flutterdevle


The hammered silver finishes with paint stripes of lemon/lime or red/orange, or prism stripes of blue and green, all stock Eppinger colors, are top producers.  In the sun, when the water has a little color, the lemon/lime Flutterdele is one mean little machine. The red/orange hammered silver Devle catches fish in colored water when it’s overcast. When it’s overcast and the water is clear, try a hammered silver Devle with a 1/8” black stripe along the edge, or a similar strip of glitter blue lazer tape available from R&R tackle..

#44 Sutton and William’s Thinfish

Featherweight Sutton spoons are legendary, with high-quality silver,  brass, and copper finishes.  The Williams Thinfish is almost identical in size and shape as the #44 Sutton, and available in real silver and real gold plate, plus copper, and other painted colors. The Sutton and Thinfish are tuned exactly the same  A selection of Williams Thinfish, spoons, top, with stock trebles, tuned spoons,below, single siwash hooks, doctored with paint and tape stripes.  

A selection of Williams Thinfish, spoons, top, with stock trebles, tuned spoons,below, single siwash hooks, doctored with paint and tape stripes.

Replace the stock trebles on Suttons with chemically sharpened single Siwash hooks.  The Thinfish is available with a treble or #1/0 single hook.  My favorite Sutton for spring trolling is the #44 in flat silver, hammered silver, hammered brass, and hammered brass/silver either plain, painted or taped.  My favorites in the Thinfish are silver/black stripe, silver/glitter blue lazer stripe, silver/fluorescent orange stripe,  flat gold/fl orange stripe, and flat copper/fl. green stripe.   

The No. 44 Sutton has caught every species of trout and salmon in the Great Lakes.  The Thinfish, which is readily available, has become one of my spring brown trout favorites. With a  factory bend and single #1 siwash hook,  these spoons begin to spin at 2.0 mph rigged with a #1 crosslock snap on a light leader. 

Rigged similarly, but with a #1/0 hook  they begin to spin at about 2.4 mph  With a size #2/0 hook and a #1 chrome  Sampo coastlock snap swivel, both of these spoon with a factory bend will have a quick wobble at speeds up to 2.7 mph.     Flattening the spoon through the middle, and bending back a 3/8 inch length of the nose of the spoon, will slow down spoon action at a given speed.   Increasing the bend in the tail of the spoon will quicken the action.

Don’t be afraid to doctor flutter spoons with paint or prism tape.

Fish the silver and hammered silver finishes with blue or black trim in overcast conditions and clear water. Hammered silver/brass is deadly in sunny conditions.  In sunny conditions with some color in the water, fish the hammered silver/brass Sutton and the gold thinfish with a 1/16 inch fluorescent orange paint stripe. trolling spoon brown trout kings steelhead fishing

Finishing Touch

 To fine-tune the action of a flutterspoon, watch it in the water, boatside, at your selected trolling speed, and tune it to produce the desired action.

A spinning spoon won’t catch browns. 

A spoon that barely wobbles usually isn’t as effective as a spoon with a quick wobble that occasionally “kicks” and darts. 

The trick is to to tune the spoon for optimum action at the speed browns want on any given day.  DO NOT use a ball bearing swivel on your leader.  

Standard barrel swivels won’t prevent line twist, your sign that trolling speed is wrong. 

If you see line twist, double-check your trolling speed or retune the spoon.

Is that your fishing buddy calling you on the VHF saying he’s hammering the browns on the same flutter spoon that’s dead in the water for you?  If it is, your problem might be all in the tuning. 


Rapalas and Smithwicks are two of my favorite stickbaits for shallow water browns in early spring.  A great forage fish imitation, browns really pop ‘em if fished properly.  Therein lies the secret, because few out-of-the-box stickbaits catch browns, as well as the same plug, tweaked a bit by changing the hooks or doctoring it with eyes or paint stripes. 

Because of the molding and production process, every individual stickbait is just a little different.  Each one needs to be tuned for optimum action.

A tuned F11 Rapala, bottom and a Rapala with stock hooks, middle and rear.

A tuned F11 Rapala, bottom and a Rapala with stock hooks, middle and rear.

One of my all-time favorite stickbaits for big, bulging spring browns is a Rapala. 

But, and this is a big “but”, a Rapala is only another Rapala if it isn't tuned properly, and the 30-year trick I’m about to tell you here makes a HUGE difference in the effectiveness of this plug.

In the early 1980s,  I watched Capt. Billy Popp, aboard the “Cloud Nine”  boat brown after brown on Rapalas in tough conditions, rarely losing one once hooked, when no one else in the area, including me, was doing much.  Later, I talked to Bill, and he gave me a tip that has caught many, many browns for me since. 

Bill rearranged the hooks on Rapalas to change the action, especially on the Size 11F model.  In addition, the larger hooks he was fishing on the Rapalas stuck fish better, resulting in a higher percentage of boated browns, especially big ones. 

I’ve changed Captain Bill’s recipe for modifying hooks on floating Rapalas only slightly in the past 30 years, but it still requires minimal knowledge of hook sizes and types. 

First, remove the two forward hooks from an 11F Rapala.  Leave the copper split ring on the forward hook eye, and attach another chrome split ring of the same size to it.  Replace the center hook with a nickel,  size #6 Eagle Claw L375 curved point  treble.  Leave just the two split rings on the forward hook eye.  This changes the action from a tight wobble to a wider wobble, makes the plug run truer.  The chrome center hook and the added chrome split ring adds some flash and noise.  The heavier center hook also hooks and holds large browns better. 

This tuned 11F Rapala, especially in the black/silver and black/gold finishes in today’s gin-clear Great Lakes water,  fishes circles around the same plug rigged with two or three bronze hooks.   The finishing touch on this plug is two silver/black 3/16” doll eyes, creating what I call a “Big Eye”.

On the 7F and 9F Rapalas, the forward #8 treble on the 7F and 9F Rapalas is then removed and replaced with the bronze #6 treble taken from an 11F Rapala.  The rear #8 trebles on the two smaller Rapalas are not removed.   Nickel trebles don’t seem to work as well on the 7F and 9F Rapalas as they do on the 11F.  Only Mr. Brown Trout knows why.

In calm seas at slow speeds, attach stickbaits to your leader with a #1 crosslock snap, the smallest size made, to max out plug action.  In heavy seas, especially when fishing stickbaits from releases on a bucking planer board tether, use a tiny, black #12 Berkley crosslock snap swivel, to add just a little more weight to the nose of the plug, dampening the action.  In rough seas, it also helps to extend the setback from planer board releases to 150 feet to buffer wave action.

Fish a 4 ½” floating Smithwick out of the box and you’ll find it has great action at very slow speeds.  It also has very small, light trebles and split rings that bend under the heavy stress of a monster brown.  Before fishing this plug, remove all the split rings, and replace them with slightly heavier ones.  As with every 3-hook stickbait, the front hook should be removed to prevent foul hooking browns when the fish takes just the tail hook, turns to run, and gets stabbed in the gill flap with the front hook.  If youÕve ever tried to haul in a 3 lb. brown with the tail hook of a plug in the corner of its mouth and the front hook stabbed in it’s gill flap or side, you’re well aware of how this giant “spinner” drags behind the boat. 

If removal of the front hook upsets the balance of your favorite stickbait, don’t remove it, just bend the tips of the treble into the shank so it can’t hook up.  To stabilize a Smithwick in heavy seas or at higher speeds and hook and hold big browns better, replace the two stock trebles at the rear of the plug with bronze #4 Gamakatsu Super Line trebles or a similar chemically sharpened, bronze, wide bend treble. 

his spring brown hit a #44 Sutton in on a sunny afternoon just outside Oswego Harbor, Lake Ontario.

The KISS principle is part of the bible on my charter boat, and I work hard to catch fish, while keeping things as simple as possible.  Using just a few types of properly tuned stickbaits for spring browns does just that.  



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1 comment

Is the F11 he is referring to the floating rapala?

Jim Zondlak

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