By Josh Boyd
All too often, tight-lipped bass are reluctant to strike, as anglers dig deep into their tackle boxes in search of anything that will turn the tides in their favor. The passing of fronts, unseasonable temperatures, and drastically rising or falling water levels all tend to stifle the bass bite.
Times like these are when many bass anglers choose to lay their baitcasters and plugs to the side, in favor of a spinning reel and their favorite enticing soft plastic bait or other smaller, more subtle offering. Finesse fishing, as it is often referred to, is generally characterized as a dialed-back approach to catching bass when nothing else will.
What Is Finesse Fishing?
When bass become lethargic, fishing can be like watching paint dry. Cast after cast goes unanswered, and it seems as if nothing productive will come from your efforts.
During these periods of general inactivity, bass conserve their energy and turn their noses up at many faster-moving, larger offerings. In these cases, large crankbaits and spinnerbaits that drew frequent strikes just days before, are often ignored.
Bass tend to shun the idea of chasing down their dinner during these instances, instead opting to only strike when the prospect of a meal seems to be a sure thing. This creates an all too familiar scenario, where an angler casts until they feel as if their arm is about to fall off.
Finesse fishing seeks to provide bass with a meal so tempting, in which even a complete lack of ambition will not stop them from taking advantage of the opportunity at hand. This is most commonly done by downsizing baits that are to be thrown while utilizing light line and spinning tackle.
Outside of tackle and bait selection, finesse fishing is also often characterized by the use of a slow, methodical retrieve. This presentation is intended to draw strikes out of an instinctual response, rather than through active feeding.
As mentioned, most anglers forgo the use of heavy rods and baitcasting reels when finesse fishing, instead opting for lighter rods and spinning reels. These reels are typically spooled with 6-10 pound test line. Some fishermen even prefer to run light liters in a finesse fishing scenario.
In recent years, much of the buzz surrounding finesse fishing has centered on the numerous soft-plastic, technique-specific baits that have come to market, as well as the ways in which they are fished.
Many manufacturers now offer baits that can be categorized in this manner. One such manufacturer is Z-Man Fishing Products, which has released its own line of finesse specific plastics, and specialized jig heads.
Z-Man is commonly cited as being one of the biggest innovators of the Ned Rig, which has seen an intense amount of fanfare within the realm of finesse fishing as of late. The Ned Rig uses a small soft plastic bait, often no more than 2-3 inches in length, and is rigged to a lightweight flat-topped jig head. As the Ned Rig is worked, the jig head taps the lake bottom, while the plastic’s body floats in a nearly upright position.
“Any time the fishing gets tough, and you need to give them something a little bit different, the Ned Rig will work,” said Daniel Nussbaum, President of Z-Man Fishing Products. “There is no wrong way to fish the Ned Rig. One of my favorite retrieves is the drag and dead-stick, where you drag it across the bottom, stop it, and allow that bait to float up.”
Although many define finesse fishing as a technique reserved for use in conjunction with soft plastics, this is not necessarily the only way to handle the task at hand. Finesse fishing is more accurately defined as the use of any lure that is downsized from its standard rendition.
At times, simply choosing a smaller version of a bait with which you have experienced results in the past is all that is needed to get back to business as usual. Many have found luck when throwing smaller, ⅛ ounce spinnerbaits, or other similarly proportionally downsized crankbaits.
Pro Strategies for Finesse Fishing
Finesse fishing techniques have found their way into the playbooks of many professional bass anglers, who utilize this style of fishing to see their way through tough conditions, and even tougher fishing. Though the term “finesse fishing” embodies an overall strategic mindset of bass fishing, every angler has their own preferred method of putting this technique into practice.
Professional bass angler, guide, and host of Sweetwater TV on the Sportsman Channel, Joey Nania, regularly employs finesse fishing techniques to boat bass under a wide array of conditions. “I fish the Ned Rig a bunch,” says Nania. “I like to rig it like a little shaky head. I’ll take a Zman jig head, and Texas-Rig the worm on there, just like you would a shaky head. I’ll leave it buried back in the worm so that it is 100 percent weedless.”
Winner of the 2003 Bassmaster Classic, Mike Iaconelli, employs the Chicken Rig to boat bass when the going gets tough. The Chicken Rig consists of cut-tail style soft plastic worm, Texas Rigged with a straight-shank hook, along the midway point of the worm’s body. This is then weighted at the head with a nail weight. “You can fish it anywhere, including heavy cover, sparse cover, and when skipping under docks. It is really versatile,” says Iaconelli.
Legendary angler, Shaw Grigsby, says that he has recently found success when finesse fishing. One technique that he has been putting to use is the Neko Rig. The Neko Rig is characterized as a wacky rigged worm with a nail weight inserted into one end to produce a unique flutter. “The Neko rig is a bait that works really well, and it stays kind of weedless. So that is a bait that literally stays on my rod,” said Grigsby.
Success Despite Difficulty
Bass fishing is a game of ever-changing conditions, the smallest of which can potentially slow action to snail’s pace. This year, when the going gets tough, and it seems as if nothing will entice bass from the depths that they reside, give finesse fishing tactics a try. You might be surprised to find that a little change of pace is often all that is needed to rejuvenate the quickly stagnating fishing conditions that you are faced with.