Ripping down the coast of Lake Michigan in the cockpit of a 2,200lb, multi-species outboard. It was early March and battling the bitter spray of 40 degree water we donned ice fishing gear in our 18 foot, fiberglass runabout as water froze against the windshield directly in front of the helm. Only days before parking lot-sized sheets of ice blanketed the crystal sanded shore.
Little did we know, this was just the beginning for us. A first time, a unique experience even within our experience economy of today, and an unforgettable trip. I’d like to tell you this was a paid Charter and my cousin and I sat back next to a heater eating snacky cakes and drinking soda pops. But, that wasn’t at all our reality. Our reality was we were in a relatively small boat in an impressively large body of water, at a particularly challenging time of year, and chasing a particularly clever species of fish. Brown Trout.
This is what it means to target spring Brown Trout. If it’s true that fortune favors the bold, then you’ll find no better example than in the wee hours of the morning, in the first month of Spring, along a snowy coast of the Great Lakes. Winter Walleye trips along the straights of Detroit are a close second.
After ten (10) hours on water with battle-hardened beards, and combating the frigid we managed to catch two Browns during that maiden voyage. The smaller Brown, the five year old, was a spitting image of what you might find in an Atlantic Salmon picture book. Browns and Atlantics are after all in the same family (removed from one another by no more than what Walleye are to Perch) and might have been mistaken for one if not for it’s flexible tailfin. The larger Brown, the 27”, the Department of Natural Resources confirmed to be at least seven (7) years old.
We had done our research, read a decade’s worth of articles revolving around Brown Trout, and ordered piles of new lures in various colors. Among the heap of information we ingested several codifying themes arose. We have done battle for Browns many many times since those first fateful days. Of those unifying themes which our experiences actually bore out, we can verify here and now with you: 1.) Temper your expectations, you're not fishing for summer Salmon or Lake Trout; 2.) Find ‘warmer’ water and choose structure instead of sand; 3.) Spoons and floating Crankbaits are your go-to lures; and 4.) Customize, customize, customize, Browns are a bright lot.
Temper your expectations. Browns are among the most difficult fish to catch. We know, we know, much like watching videos about hunting whitetails in Iowa and Nebraska, there are plenty of online clips and shorts showing monster Browns being taken in pockets along Milwaukee, WI and further North along the coast; as well as the Easten basin of Lake Ontario. It’s like this, if that’s your reality that’s awesome. If you get the opportunity to make those trips your reality, don't hesitate, leap at it. For the time being, if you’re sticking around your own backyard and that backyard has historically low Brown trout stocking numbers, then take advantage of honing your skills on these finicky specimens. Again, like bow hunting, if you can find success taking mature animals on public land in high-pressure states, then you can hunt anywhere you can draw a tag from.
Spending another minute on just how challenging Brown trout fishing can be. You’ll already know this fact if you’ve read anything by Mark Romanack in a Woods-N-Water article, or by John Merwin in a Field & Stream article. But, even if you’ve never stopped to debate which trout, or possibly which freshwater fish overall, are the most challenging of species to wrangle, consider this. Brown trout grow very slowly, and yet they are known to live a long time. How is it then, that a slow growing species will oft times mature into a 10, 15, or even 20 year old toad? There are several factors that work in favor of the Brown’s advantage. Not the least of which is by being behaviorally intelligent.
Unlike Bass and Salmon, Brown’s won’t strike at just anything shiny, and Browns don’t wear their feedbags all day long either. Brown’s, unlike Pike and Muskie, are very apprehensive and skittish around boats and boat motors. Lastly, and similar to Walleye, Browns are ambush predators and use structure to their advantage. Ever trolled in structure before? It’s like that. Challenging in the truest sense of the word. Old, wily, behaviorally smart animals in the thickest terrain, that move to feed mostly during dawn and dust, and with low tolerances of human presence. Damn! Mature Brown Trout really are the Mature Whitetail Bucks of the water. Brown trout, the Whitetails of the water.
Find ‘warmer’ water and choose structure instead of sand. When alewives were aplenty all the Charter Boats seeking Browns up and down the coast would head to sand-laden skinny water in the early morning hours when Browns are known to feed near to shore. Not long ago these sportfish vessels would line up parallel with the beach, place their bows over the closest sandbar, and troll north/south towards nearby streams, cricks, and/or tributary discharges.
With Browns in Lake Michigan now feeding predominantly on Goby, Sucker minnows, and Sculpins, present day Brown habitat seekers use the stained water rationale of yesteryear and add in both the philosophies of structure, skinny water and boat distance. It’s not uncommon to witness trolling boards 150’-200’ away from the boat, and lines 100’+ behind those boards. Skinny water means getting in close and although that terminology means different things to different people, where we’ve had our best success is by setting up in 12’ of water and S-curving the coast chasing the same 12’ depth amongst structure.
Spoons and Crankbaits are your go-to lures. Spoons! Yes spoons, admittedly I have a biased opinion, but we’ll come back to that in a minute or two. Crankbaits first then. Unlike Lake Erie in the spring when flicker shads and Bandits run supreme, those same lures in skinny water while trolling after Browns don’t fit the bill anywhere near as well as the alternative option. The alternative being the Rapala original float 11 with their +/-20 color options (gold, silver, and yes ‘brown trout’ colors are a good start) is hard to beat in terms of stickbait choices. There are, at minimum, two reasons for this.
The first is the more obvious, depth at distance. With a need to get your lures great distances away from the boat most suspending or diving crankbaits dive too deep for shallow water applications. At 4⅜” original float 11s don’t have this issue and will stay suspended at speed exhibiting live action between 4-5’ (depending on the exact speed your trolling) beneath the surface.
The second reason as foreshadowed in the previous sentence has roots in the hands and mind of Lauri Rapala himself. Lure action. What Lauri recognized as an avid fisherman and even prior to his proclaim to fame was that fish will instinctively gravitate towards and strike the erratic flutter of wounded fish before all else. Speaking of mimicking the action of wounded baitfish, weren’t we discussing spoons a moment ago. Back to it then.
There is no lure better at emulating the erratic thrash of wounded baitfish than the spoon. With all of it’s flash and pazazz this is exactly what the fishing spoon was designed to accomplish, mimicry. The reason HangryBrand exists, our original ‘Why,’ was the direct result of this passion for chasing Spring Brown Trout. Allow me to explain. In a world where it’s not uncommon to catch one (1), maybe two (2) Browns over the course of an eighth (8) hour outing, we needed to find a way to land more of what many consider to be the most challenging species of freshwater fish to catch. Enter stage left, the Custom RIFT™ (Rise Increment, Fall Tolerance) trolling spoon.
Customize, customize, customize, Browns are a bright lot. Customize in terms of colors. Customize in terms of patterns. Customize in terms of the physical design of the lure, which directly impacts the lure action beneath the surface. We’ll first discuss colors and patterns before moving on to physical design.
Customize in terms of colors and patterns. Browns will learn to avoid color patterns they’ve already seen. The older, and presumptively larger, fish you’re after will avoid more varieties of off-the-shelf lures than younger, smaller Browns will. Fishing with color patterns that bruiser Browns have seen 100 times already is not a great way to spend ten (10) hours trolling on the Big lake. Moving on now to the physical design of the lure.
Custom in terms of the physical design refers to the contour, convex, concave, cupping, length, width, and proportionality of the lure. Specifically, we studied the original Flutter spoons from Buel to Hinckley and Sutton. We followed transformations to Casting spoons by Eppinger’s DarDevle and Heddon’s King Stanley weedless. There were jigging spoons like Bay de Noc’s Swedish Pimple. And finally there were trolling applications. First with Williams’ Wobbler, then Yeck’s Zipper, then a mountain of copycats and nuanced designs that would follow them both. All of which were worth rigorously studying in the pursuit of gaining a thorough understanding of what makes each work.
It’s one thing to buy a flutter spoon, flip it in the lake behind an outboard, and watch the lure’s action at varying reel speeds. It’s one thing to buy a casting spoon, cast it in a swimming pool, and record what it looks like on the uptake. It’s one thing to buy a jigging spoon, drop it in a fish tank, and track movement. It’s quite another feat to track and record the lure action of trolling spoons (and flutter spoons) in real time and at constant speeds. We accomplished this by first building our lure tank lab with the assistance of Charter Captain, and student of lake Superior, Brian Helminen who supplied the bones of the project. Once the lure tank lab was equipped with a centrifugal water chamber, calibrated speed device, and water current actuator then it was complete. When the lure tank lab was ready we could then use slow motion videography to adjust the frames at specific time intervals to analyze precisely what each lure was doing in terms of lure action, presentation at differing perspectives, travel quotients, and speed tolerances.
Trolling spoons we tested had several things in common, as did the Flutter spoons. In the most straightforward sense trolling spoons, ranging between .022 and .030 gauge cartridge brass, irrespective of cupping, have length to width ratios of 25% or greater. These proportionalities produce lures that rotate/sway +/-180 degrees back and forth (or left and right from the centerline of the leader) at a specific depth (as determined by line weight and trolling speed). It’s almost hypnotic like a swinging pocket watch swaying from it’s chain-link lanyard.
Flutter spoons, in that same straightforward sense, range between .010 and .018 gauge and come in mostly red brass or yellow brass. Cupping in flutter spoons is more subtle, primarily due to having less material along the sides to work with (flutter spoons are, by their nature, skinnier). Once again, cupping aside, we observed flutter spoons with their length to width ratios of +/-18% or less, have a less consistent, more erratic lure action, but are much less speed tolerant when you’re looking to cover miles of water. Additionally, flutter-style spoons are particularly sensitive to hook weight.
It’s worth mentioning and here seems as good a place as any, that the laws of fluid dynamics explain the findings detailed above. It’s best to think about it this way. Both aerodynamics and hydrodynamics are disciplines under the same unifying umbrella referred to as fluid dynamics. Most people think of fluid as liquid stuff, but this is only half of the story. Gases (i.e. the stuff that makes up air) are also fluids. Air is a fluid. Furthermore, the same forces that are imparted on aircraft in flight, are imparted on fishing lures underwater. Once you come to understand this fact you realize that although the weight of a lure may matter in terms of casting distance, weight while in motion underwater matters far less than the dimensionality and proportionality of the lure (again, both large and small airplanes fly equally well).
Stick with the flight and fluid metaphor. What creates lift for an airplane and for flying objects generally is the shape of the wing. DaVinci might have been ahead of his time back in the 1400s, but the Brother’s Wright were certainly inspired by his ideas when they hypothesized correctly that contour means everything. Think of a fishing spoon like an upside down wing. It's Mass, along with the forces imparted on it keep the lure in stasis until or unless something changes. Similar to the spoiler on an Indy car, the shape of the fishing spoon creates downward force on it, keeping it locked onto the track. The faster it speeds along, the more force that’s generated.
What can otherwise be a set of complex principles in physics is explained in a pretty straight forward way for our applications in the world of freelance fishing. As we discuss these details it’s important to note that the fishing spoon travels ‘upside down’ through the water. The designs of the lure are therefore pointed downward towards the bottom of the lake and presumably where the fish you’re after are lurking.
In both the wings of a plane as in a fishing lure, there is a top (some anglers call this as the back of the spoon) and there is a bottom (again, some refer to this as the front of the fishing lure..this is the side that is most often illustrated with colors and patterns). Whichever side has more surface area fluid will necessarily need to travel faster across. This is true because the same volume of fluid is traveling a distance that is farther across from front to back. The top of a plane’s wing and the bottom of a fishing lure are both convex in shape. The convex side has a greater distance across it as measured from the front to the back. This greater distance means the same amount of fluid is traveling faster to cross it, and will therefore have ‘Lower’ relative pressure on that particular side of the object.
Conversely, the concave side of the airplane wing (e.g. the bottom), just the opposite of the concave side of the fishing lure (the top) creates a shorter distance for fluid to travel across. A shorter distance and the same volume of fluid crossing means ‘Higher’ relative pressure. Higher pressure in terms of an airplane means upward force or lift. Higher pressure in terms of fishing lures means downward force and equilibrium once that fishing line is taunt.
You may now ask why fishing lures generally, and spoons specifically don’t continue to drop in the water column since we’ve already established that the contours of the lure generate higher pressure and more downward force against the topside/backside of the bait. There are two reasons for this and both work in tandem. #1 The fishing lure is tethered to a line. Much like flying a kite, there is only so far a tethered apparatus can go. #2 The +/-180 degree roll of the trolling spoon immediately alleviates the unequal and downward pressure created by the fishing spoon the moment it turns to its side. Instead, a spoon on it’s side has the same convex/concave forces waging war on it, but laterally instead of horizontally. Higher pressure forces the spoon outwards portside as far as the tethering will allow, then back and outwards starboard side, again, as far as the tethering will allow. Being tethered to a fishing pole and/or a trolling board, keeps the lure from moving very far port/starboard, or even from moving too far down into the water column. This phenomenon does not hold true for casting spoons if ever you’ve attempted to troll them. There is one other direction that only a Custom RIFT spoon is capable of moving in, upwards...more on this after a sidebar conversation around casting and flutter spoons.
Recall above that we mentioned weight mattering less than design. We stand by this, weight does matter far less. That statement should not be confused with not mattering at all however. Here’s why. Heavy Casting spoons. By heavy we’re referring to thickness in gauges north of .040 and weights - depending on the overall size - north of 0.2oz per inch. For instance, a 3”-4” spoon weighing in at 3/4oz to 1oz is too heavy in terms of trolling applications. What’s more, what you’ll observe is, when you attempt to troll those heavy spoons they ‘spinout’ at trolling speeds above +/-2mph (1.74 knots). Spinout is where the pressure on the back (the concave side) of the spoon is consistently greater than the pressure on the front (the convex side) of the spoon and forces the lure into a centrifugal spin. This spin out is witnessed as a 360 degree rotation around the centerpoint of the line and in a corkscrew path behind the boat. How casting spoons track when trolled is not something desirable if you’re looking to imitate the patterns of wounded baitfish. You’ll tend to notice this phenomenon with heavy spoons as their weight keeps the line taunt at trolling speed. This doesn’t occur with trolling-style lures and certainly doesn’t occur with flutter-style spoons either.
Flutter-style spoons on the other hand, weighing in at 0.04oz and 0.06oz per inch, have somewhat the opposite issue. They’re so light that at speeds anywhere around +/-2mph or greater they have a tendency to no longer flutter and instead flap around as feverishly as a bird taking a dirt bath. Interesting to watch, but also not what you might expect from a lure looking to mimic a wounded baitfish. So it’s not the Casting-style spoon at +/-0.2oz per inch, nor is it the Flutter-style spoon at +/-0.05oz per inch that strikes the perfect balance to be trolled with precision. Instead, it’s the Trolling-style spoon weighing between 0.07oz and 0.13oz per inch that strikes this balance for speeds - generally speaking - between 1-3.5mph. With this in mind, let’s now discuss how Custom RIFT lures are unique even within the already niche space of trolling spoons. Such as how these things go. From new and niche to mainstream and mainstay.
Custom RIFT: What is it and how does it work? New to market in 2022 the Custom part refers to custom tooling and comes from the fact that these lures are manufactured using a proprietary set of dies designed by us and exclusive to our brand. RIFT stands for ‘Rise Increment, Fall Tolerance.’ RIFT is our no longer so ‘secret sauce,’ the unique ability of our lures to incrementally rise through the water column several feet before falling back to where the line is taunt against either the trolling board or fishing pole. Casting spoons can’t do this, Flutter spoons can’t do this, not even traditional Trolling spoons can do these maneuvers. What’s more, unlike Casting and Flutter spoons, these same Custom RIFT lures can reach the same speeds you're used to while trolling. You can slow troll for frugal fish or troll at speed and cover tons of water. Either strategy suits Custom RIFT lures well.
In the most straightforward way Custom RIFT lures have the distinct ability to jig through the water column rising and falling several feet as they’re being trolled. The design of the lure naturally allows for the lure to self-orient underwater in such a way that the increased pressure on the convex side instantaneously flips to the concave side, then back again. Trolling compels fish to strike, we know this to be true. Jigging compels fish to strike, we also know this to be true. When these two methods are combined it produces a particularly deadly combination of tactics.
We’ve been titled ‘innovators of the new-age lure tank lab.’ We’ve heard our approach referred to as ‘astute attention to detail;’ ‘studentry of fluid dynamics;’ ‘taking the scientific method to fishing lure manufacturing.’ We’ve also benefited from our lures being called ‘the first novel fishing spoon to hit the market in over 50 years’. It’s all very flattering, but for us it was a passion plain and simple. It was this passion that led us to chase down fundamental research on how current lures, those available on the market, actually move through the water. In doing so we were able to discover what the problem with fishing spoons was. A problem, so obvious, that it’s been overlooked for decades. Spoons all have the same basic lure action, they oscillate, swaying back and forth or are jigged up and down. Once the problem was isolated, then it was a matter of tinkering, building prototype after prototype, after prototype until we eventually arrived at the solution: A fishing lure that was new, novel, and nuanced, that could do more than oscillate or be tugged up and down. The Custom RIFT.
In our quest to build a better Brown trout lure, Custom RIFT spoons were born. What’s more, as it turns out, lures capable of attracting the attention of and activating the instinctive strikes of the most difficult freshwater fish there is to catch, those spoons work really well on all the other species you're after too. It could be summarized as follows: Niches get Britches.
Given what we have learned and shared about fishing spoons, the real cherry on top is how versatile they became even after the success within the trolling spoon market. A single Custom RIFT spoon can be popped, pitched, flipped, chuck and reeled, jigged, and yes trolled. But, all you need to do to be able to cast the Custom RIFT lure greater distances is to add weight! We accomplish this by including two split-rings accompanying a lure blank with select Tin Pack sets. Doubling the lure to form a Chatter Spoon, as you can imagine adds twice the weight and virtually eliminates backlash during longer casts. River, Pier-heads, Bayou, Backwaters, or Big lake the Custom RIFT is in all the sizes you need to match the hatch. Niches get Britches: From New and Niche to Mainstream and Mainstay, Custom RIFT lures are here to stay.
In the words of Entrepreneur and founder of SPANX, Sara Blakely, "Think big, start small, and scale fast..."
- All Season, Custom RIFT
- Length = 3.625"
- Width = 0.8125”
- Weight = 1/3 oz
- Width to Length ratio = 22%
- Material = Nickel-plated & Polished Brass
- May-sized, Custom RIFT
- Length = 3.506"
- Width = 0.625”
- Weight = 1/4 oz
- Width to Length ratio = 18%
- Material = Nickel-plated & Polished Brass
- July-sized, Custom RIFT
- Length = 4.250"
- Width = 0.9448”
- Weight = 1/2 oz
- Width to Length ratio = 22%
- Material = Nickel-plated & Polished Brass
Spoiler alert, we’ve started to receive inquiries about saltwater applications as well. Good thing then that we not only use hooks amongst the sharpest on the planet, but that those hooks are already perfectly suited for briny basins and salty surf :).
Happy fishing and Tight lines. Welcome to the Evolution,
Article written by Mike (Fish Mitts) Hiller