Our finesse tackle revolves around six-foot, medium-action spinning rods that are fitted with medium-sized spinning reels.
The reels are spooled with 10-pound-test braid and a five-foot 8-pound-test fluorocarbon leader that is attached to the braid with a Seaguar knot.
To the leader, we affix a jig with an improved clinch knot. Throughout the year we employ three sizes of Gopher Mushroom Head Jigs: 1/32-ounce with a No. 6 hook, 1/16-ounce with a No. 4 hook and 3/32-ounce with a No.2 hook. The heads of the jigs are usually red. Some are unpainted and a few are either black or chartreuse.
In 2010 we primarily affixed Z-Man's three-inch Rain MinnowZ, three-inch ZinkerZ, four-inch Finesse WormZ and four-inch ShadwormZ (which will be available sometime in 2011) to the jigs with the hooks exposed and devoid of weed guards.
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The ZinkerZ is five-inches long; we cut it in half, making it a 2 1/2-inch bait. There will be some outings when we find that the bass prefer the thin end of the ZinkerZ to be affixed to the jig's collar.
Then on other outings they prefer the thicker end attached to the collar. But most of the time we can't determine a preference.
To the eyes of most anglers, the 2 1/2 -inch ZinkerZ on a 1/16-ounce Gopher is a rather unattractive combination, but to the eye of the bass, it has proven to be exceedingly alluring.
In fact, it was so effective in the late summer and fall of 2010 that one Midwest finesse devotee has sheepishly confessed that he considers the 2 1/2 -inch ZinkerZ-and-jig combo in a peanut-butter-and-jelly hue to be so effective that he is about to deem it a magic bait.
The four Z-Man soft-plastic baits accounted for about 75% of the 5,570 bass we caught. From our experiences, Z-Man's ElaZtech finesse baits are the best soft-plastic finesse baits ever created.
We find that they elicit more strikes than any of the other soft-plastic baits in the world. Furthermore, they are so durable that the same bait can be used to catch 150 or more bass, and as these lures become more worn and torn, they become more alluring and inveigle more bass.
Another positive feature is that the well-worn ZinkerZ and Finesse WormZ readily absorb Gulp! Alive! nightcrawler scent.
The four most fruitful colors in 2010 were Junebug, white, peanut butter and jelly, and green pumpkin.
We retrieve these lures four different ways: swim and glide, hop and bounce, drag and dead stick, and straight swim.
We rarely probe water deeper than 12 feet and prefer depths of one to eight feet (-) even in the dead of winter and heat of the summer.
Because the weight of the jig-and-soft-plastic combo is extremely light, neophytes to Midwest finesse often complain that they can't feel what the lure is doing and where it is (-) especially when it is windy.
Unfortunately the no-feel element of the retrieve becomes so disconcerting that many neophytes give up before they master the manifold virtues of the no-feel presentation.
Ninety percent of the time, we shake our rods during the retrieve rather than holding them steady.
One of the critical factors of each outing revolves around determining the type of shakes and size of the jig that are the most productive.
In the waterways that we fish, we ply a lot of shorelines. We rarely probe brush piles or similar objects, and that's because we suspect that many of the bass that inhabit those confines are relatively inactive.
What's more, our tackle isn't suitable for extracting bass out of those quagmires.
Instead we spend a lot of time focusing on what Guido Hibdon used to call nothing-looking areas.
We have found that the bass that inhabit these featureless areas are often overlooked by other anglers, and we also suspect that these bass are more active than the ones that are buried in brush or other objects.
We also probe beds of submerged vegetation, such as coontail, bushy pondweed, milfoil, and curly-leaf pondweed, as well as the outside edges of patches of American water willows.
There many weeks throughout a year that we will find riprap and rocky shorelines, as well as shallow offshore rocky humps, to be more fruitful than the featureless shorelines and patches of vegetation.
This often occurs for a month after the spawn and during many weeks during the fall. We have noticed that the rocks pay good dividends when the curly-leaf pondweed wilts in June and some of the other vegetation disintegrates as the water temperature drops in the fall.
We prefer to make a 35-foot cast that is virtually perpendicular to the boat. If an angler's cast lands too far ahead or behind the boat, the subtleness of the no-feel retrieve gets impaired. And on a windy outing, it is often best to shorten the cast to less than 35 feet.
We execute the swim-and-glide retrieve by holding the rod at the two-o'clock position, but if the wind creates a bow in our lines, we drop the rod to the five-o'clock position.
As soon as the lure hits the water, we begin shaking the rod as the jig combo falls towards the bottom.
We begin the retrieve by slowly turning the reel handle when the jig combo is a foot from the bottom, and we try to keep the jig combo slowly swimming a foot above the bottom.
The glide component comes in when we stopped turning the reel handle and allow the jig combo to pendulum towards the bottom, and then we commence the swim when the jig combo is six inches off the bottom.
On steep shorelines that have erratic or regular features, it is sometimes difficult to keep the jig combo swimming a foot off the bottom; therefore, we have to test its depth by allowing the jig combo to glide to the bottom before we commence the swimming motif.
The hop-and-bounce retrieve is achieved by dropping the rod to the five-o'clock position after the cast and holding it there during the retrieve.
After the cast, we shake the rod as the jig combo falls to the bottom. Once it bounces on the bottom, we hop it off the bottom by moderately rotating the reel handle twice and then pause.
As it falls back to the bottom during the pause, we shake the rod. We continue this reel-pause-and-shake motif for the duration of the retrieve.
The drag-and-dead-stick presentation is normally performed by the angler in the back of the boat.
He casts the jig combo towards the shoreline and allows it to fall to the bottom as he shakes his rod.
His rod is held at the three- to four-o'clock position, and he merely drags the jig combo slowly across the bottom as the boat moves along the shoreline.
The angler often drags the jig combo until it is behind the boat.
As he drags it, he occasionally shakes his rod, and periodically he takes some line off his reel, creating several feet of slack line, which allows the jig combo to lie dead still on the bottom for five seconds.
This is our deepest presentation; at times it plummets into 12 feet of water or deeper.
The straight swim is primarily executed with a single-tailed grub, but in 2010 the grub for some unknown reason was rarely effective. So we often employed the straight swim with the Finesse WormZ and the ShadwormZ, and it worked well.
It is a long-cast tactic, and some casts reach 60 feet (-) especially when the wind is at our backs.
We retrieve it at a variety of depths and speeds, depending on the disposition and position of the bass.
It is particularly effective when bass are piscivorous and foraging on wind-blown shorelines, inhabiting the top portions of massive patches of submerged vegetation, or pursuing suspended baitfish across flats.
Sometimes the retrieve is occasionally enhanced with some shakes and subtle pauses, but we primarily swim without executing any shakes and holding the rods, depending on the nature of the wind, from about the two to five o'clock position
In 2010, we also used a YUM two-inch Wooly Beavertail, YUM four-inch Muy Grub, Gene Larew three-inch Baby Hoodaddy, Gene Larew 3 1/2-inch Long John Minnow, Strike King's Zero, four-inch Finesse Worm and Bitsy Tube, and either a 1/32-ounce or 1/16-ounce silver marabou jig with a chrome head and silver-tinseled belly.