Michael Pearce

The rig is up

For years just a localized bait, Z Man Fishing Products is now marketing Ned Rig lures nationwide. The jig and piece of plastic bait is named after Ned Kehde, of Lawrence.
For years just a localized bait, Z Man Fishing Products is now marketing Ned Rig lures nationwide. The jig and piece of plastic bait is named after Ned Kehde, of Lawrence. The Wichita Eagle

In his mid-70s, and with dozens of good fishing lakes within an hour of his Lawrence home, Ned Kehde doesn’t travel far these days.

But a simple fishing lure he helped pioneer, nicknamed “The Ned Rig” by others, is making the rounds all across the bass-fishing world these days. Sold online, and hanging from display hooks in stores, I’ve seen it touted by major angling retailers, and some of America’s top professional bass anglers, as the most productive bass lure of our time.

“The Ned Rig has really started to take off this spring, and particularly within the last month,” said Daniel Nussbaum, general manager of Z Man Fishing Products, a company that now packages product labeled specifically for Ned Rigs.

“Some of it has been our promotions, but most of it is from word of mouth more than anything. A lot more people are using the rigs to catch a lot of fish, in a lot of places. They’ve worked every place we’ve fished them, from Florida to Canada. Pretty much, if you throw it out there you’re going to catch something.”

Online and social media have helped spread the word. Kehde does a regular blog called Midwest Finesse Fishing for In-Fisherman. As well as how-to information, the blog often carries thousands of words per month on his success, and that of others, using the Ned Rig.

In 2011, I did a story on a fishing trip to a Kansas City-area lake with Kehde, using his combination of a small mushroom-headed jig with a two- to three-inch plastic body. In four hours on a hot summer day, we caught about 100 fish, of which 71 were largemouth bass. That was enough to get me to dedicate part of my tackle box to the rigs.

Ned said similar lures have been in tackle boxes for decades.

“Years ago it didn’t have a plastic body, it was a hair jig or a marabou jig,” he said. “It’s just kind of like an old-fashioned beetle, a jig head with a piece of soft plastic. I ask the bass every so often why this seems to work even better and they refuse to answer.”

But both the jig head, and bodies, are different from the marabou jigs and bass beetles of decades ago. Kehde thinks both may contribute to the rig’s success. He usually fishes a relatively light head of around 1/16th ounce. No matter the size, he wants it to be a mushroom-styled head.

“Those heads are totally flat, so I think that lets the jig sit 90 degrees on the bottom,” he said.

The soft texture, scent and subtle action of modern lure plastics adds a lot to the presentation, too.

Some anglers who make their money bass fishing have become fans of the Ned Rig.

“I know we can go down a bank behind guys fishing about anything else and still catch bass on (Ned Rigs),” Table Rock Lake guide Bill Babler said as we fished for trout in February. “I know I don’t want to be following anybody who’s been fishing them, because we probably won’t catch anything.”

On a YouTube video, Bass Anglers Sportsman Society Hall of Fame angler Stacey King said he changed from a skeptic to a fan of the Ned Rigs after he tried them the first time. King said he has used the rigs to fill a limit during a tournament, before concentrating on bigger fish with other lures.

Brent Chapman, Kansas’ best-known bass fisherman, said he hasn’t heard a lot of fellow pros talk about fishing with the rigs but knows they’re in use.

“We, as pros, try to keep stuff like this quiet,” he said. “It’s probably never going to win a tournament for us, but it can bail you out if you’re needing fish.”

Chapman, 2012 BASS Angler of the Year and a 13-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, said he’s used the general rig, and technique, since he fished with Kehde several years ago.

Chapman said there are times in fishdom when the lure’s smaller size, and a slow movement, may be especially appealing to bass.

“I use the analogy that we, as humans, like a big steak dinner but that’s an entire production to achieve,” he said. “But for us to just reach into a bowl and grab a chip is a lot easier. It doesn’t take much energy. I think bass sometimes just want to swim over and suck in something small, like a finesse bait, rather than swimming down some bluegill or live shad that can be work to get.”

If there remains a knock on fishing the Ned rig, is that’s it’s not known as a lure for catching super-sized bass. Nussbaum said he’s gotten reports of anglers catching bass 10 pounds or bigger on the rigs, plus some super-sized catfish, carp and striped bass.

“Hey,” he said. “elephants eat peanuts. Big fish will eat these things.”

I haven’t broken the five-pound mark yet with a Ned Rig, but I fly fish more than use spinning gear. I have, though, caught several bass of around four pounds on the rig and have had some 50-60 fish days on private waters.

Kehde’s biggest bass on his rig is a 6-pound, 10-ounce smallmouth from a public lake near Topeka. He’s more proud of the days he’s seen more than 100 bass come into his boat.

“I’m all about getting bites. A six-inch bass is the same as a 6-pounder,” he said. “I want action. I don’t want to sit out there all day, hoping for five bites. That would bore me to death.”

There’s another important element about the rigs that really appeals to Kehde – the cost. Even if buying the specially-packaged jigs and bodies, each Ned Rig costs less than $1. Anglers who get more creative in their shopping can get set up for half that or less.

He also likes that the chunks of things like Senkos and Zinker Zs are incredibly durable.

“I’ve caught up to 185 largemouth bass on the same bait, before it was destroyed,” Ned said. “That saves me quite a bit of money. I’m retired, so I really like that.”

Ned Rig

Here’s more information on how Ned Kehde likes to fish the Ned Rig.

▪  He uses no fancy tackle, just an average-priced 6-foot medium-action spinning rod with sensitive tip. A favored spinning reel is spooled with 10-pound test braided line. He uses a fluorocarbon leader of about 8 pound test.

▪  Kehde likes fishing dark colored plastics to imitate a variety of small animals, including insect larvae. He is a fan of brightly-colored mushroom jig heads.

▪  Strikes are often subtle, feeling like a bit of extra weight on the line. Slack may appear in the line if a fish takes the lure towards deeper water.

▪  Ned Rigs are usually fished slow, so they’re near the bottom. Some anglers use steady retrieves. Kehde often gives the lures added action with light twitches.

▪  Kehde’s favorite time of day to fish is from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. His records show no advantages for fishing earlier or later in the day with the rigs.

▪  Though he fishes all year, Kehde particularly likes hot, mid-summer angling when the fish are concentrated.