For several years, we have been writing about Midwest finesse fishing and its long history, which stretches back to the 1950s with the piscatorial innovations created by the late Chuck Woods of Kansas City. During this stretch, we have periodically described four of the retrieves that lie at the heart of the Midwest finesse motif.
Since the last time that we wrote about the way we retrieve our finesse baits, we have added two more retrieves and tone-downed the shake motif in some of our retrieves.
In 2013 we had some requests from anglers who are newcomers to Midwest finesse tactics to publish a detailed blog about retrieves, and we responded by saying that writing about retrieves would be a good wintertime endeavor.
Before we begin a detailed description of the six Midwest finesse retrieves, we need to list the baits that we use. Here is the list: Gene Larew Lures’ three-inch Baby Hoodaddy and 3 ½-inch Long John Minnow; Strike King Lure Company’s Bitsy Tube, 2 ½-inch Zero, and four-inch Finesse Worm; Z-Man’s Fishing Products’ 2 ½-inch FattyZ, Finesse ShadZ, four-inch Finesse WormZ, Hula StickZ, Rain MinnowZ, Scented LeechZ, 3.75-inch StreakZ, and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ.; and Zoom Bait Company’s Mini Lizard. We also work with a variety of 3 ½- and four-inch grubs. The Zero, FattyZ, and ZinkerZ are customized. All of these baits are affixed to Gopher Tackle’s 1/32-, 1/16- and 3/32-ounce Mushroom Jig Heads. Midwest finesse anglers focus on shallow-water largemouth bass year-around, and therefore, we use the 1/16-ouncer about 60 percent of the time, the 1/32-ounce Gopher jig about 27 percent of the time, and the 3/32-ounce jig about three percent of the time. (In the weeks to come, we hope to feature several of baits in blogs.)
In years past, we used to work with1/32-, 1/16- and 1/8-ounce marabou jigs, but we rarely use them nowadays. However, Brian Waldman of Coatesville, Indiana, is a hair-jig devotee, and there have been many words written and numerous minutes of video footage about how, when and where he uses a hair jig. (To read some of those words and watch some video footage of Waldman’s hair-jig routines, please examine these two blogs and one YouTube feature: http://www.in-fisherman.com/2011/11/17/the-manifold-virtues-of-the-small-hair-jig-according-to-brian-waldman/; http://www.in-fisherman.com/2011/11/18/the-manifold-virtues-of-the-small-hair-jig-according-to-brian-waldman-an-update/; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHQ-94nHvDQ.)
In regard to rods, reels, and lines, there is no standardized scheme among Midwest finesse anglers. For instances, some of us prefer 5 ½-foot spinning rods, others like six- footers, various finesse anglers like 6 ½- and 6 ¾-footers, and a number of us like seven-footers or longer. These spinning rods are fitted with an assortment of spinning reels, ranging in size from 20s to 50s. These reels are spooled with an array of different line styles and brands; therefore some reels are spooled with braided lines, some are filled with monofilament line, and some are spooled with fluorocarbon line. These many differences might effect the way these finesse anglers utilize the six different retrieves.
For instance, I have found that I can execute these retrieves with more finesse by wielding a short rod than I can with a long one. In addition, 10-pound-test braided line, which has the diameter of four-pound-test monofilament, with a five-foot eight-pound-test fluorocarbon leader allows me to implement these retrieves more effectively than I can accomplish when my spinning reels are spooled with either six- or eight-pound-test monofilament line or fluorocarbon line. These two observations about my abilities of retrieving Midwest finesse baits have not been tested scientifically, or in other words, they are based solely on the impressions that I have garnered across many decades of finesse fishing.
The most important feature of the six retrieves revolves around the concept that we call no-feel. That means we cannot feel what the jig-and-soft-plastic combo is doing or where it is during the retrieve. This is the antithesis of the way power anglers experience their retrieves. Often newcomers to Midwest finesse tactics find the no-feel retrieve to be so disconcerting that they quickly give up and resort to using what we call power finesse tactics. In order to feel their baits, power finesse anglers work with 1/8-, 3/16-, and 1/4 –ounce jigs.
Another significant feature of Midwest finesse tactics is that we focus our attentions on shallow-water lairs, which can be as shallow as one foot and as deep as 12 feet. We have found and caught myriads of bass at those depths when the surface temperature was as cold 38 degrees and as hot as 88 degrees.
Here are the six retrieves that Midwest anglers use: (1) swim, glide, and shake; (2) hop and bounce; (3) drag and deadstick; (4) straight swim; (5) drag and incessant shake; (6) strolling.
And here is the way we implement these six retrieves:
(1) We execute the swim-glide-and-shake 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. After executing the cast, we begin shaking the rod as soon as the lure hits the surface of the water, and we constantly shake it as the lure falls towards the bottom. Before made our first cast, we ascertained the drop speed per second of the lure. Thus as the lure falls towards the bottom, we count the seconds. For instance, if we are plying a hump that has five feet of water covering it and the drop speed of the lure is one foot per second, we will allow the lure to fall for four seconds, and then we begin to slowly turn the reel handle. Throughout this retrieve, we try to keep the lure swimming slowly from six inches to one foot above the bottom. The glide component comes in when we stop turning the reel handle and allow the lure to pendulum towards the bottom. We commence the swim when the lure is six inches off the bottom. When we are fishing steep shorelines that have irregular features and we are employing a perpendicular cast and retrieve, it is sometimes difficult to keep the lure swimming in that six-inch to one-foot range above the bottom. Therefore, we occasionally have to test the depth by allowing the lure to glide all the way to the bottom before we commence the swimming motif. Across the years, we have found that short casts are more effective than long ones when we are utilizing the swim-glide-and-shake retrieve, and we prefer casts that are about 25 feet long. Moreover, we used to do a lot more shaking than we do nowadays. In fact, there used to be many outings when we lightly twitched our rods almost incessantly during the retrieve. Nowadays, our shakes are more subtly and not as frequent, and there will be spells when we swim and glide the lure devoid of shakes. The shake seems to be most effective when the largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass are feeding aggressively. When we are plying submerged aquatic vegetation, such as curly-leaf pondweed, Eurasian watermilfoil, bushy pondweed and coontail, we find that the shake measurably enhances the swim-and-glide motif. This used to be our most fruitful retrieve, and consequently, we used it day in and day out, but beginning in 2011, it hasn’t been as effective as it used to be. Therefore, we began using a couple of the other retrieves more frequently.
(2) 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 lure 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.
(3) The drag-and-deadstick presentation is normally performed by the angler in the back of the boat. He casts the lure 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 lure slowly across the bottom as the boat moves along the shoreline. The angler often drags the lure until it is behind the boat. As he drags it, he periodically takes some line off his reel, creating several feet of slack line, which allows the lure to lie dead still on the bottom for five seconds. There are occasions when some shakes enhance this retrieve, which are executed after the deadstick routine and before the drag commences. This is our deepest presentation, which can probe into 12 feet of water or deeper.
(4) The straight swim is primarily executed with a single-tailed grub rigged on a 1/16- or 3 /32-ounce jig. 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 this retrieve is enhanced with some shakes and pauses. There are spells when the shakes are slight and intermittent. At other times, they are vigorous and constant.
But we primarily swim the lure without executing any shakes, and we hold our rods, depending on the nature of the wind, from about the two to five o’clock position. At times, we also employ the straight swim with Z-Man’s Finesse ShadZ, Scented LeechZ, Hula StickZ, Rain MinnowZ, four-inch Finesse WormZ, 2 ½-inch FattyZ and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ. In fact, swimming a 2½-inch ZinkerZ around the corners and sides of boat docks is a perennial Midwest finesse tactic at the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and there have been outings when a pair of anglers tangled with 25 spotted bass in about 90 minutes.
The straight swim is similar to the iMotion retrieve that some Japanese finesse anglers employ. (For more information about the iMotion motif see: http://www.bassfan.com/news_article.asp?id=3612#.UssEM9JDuaw).
In some ways, it is the same tactic that the late Charlie Brewer of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, developed decades ago for retrieving his Slider rigs. Brewer called it the do-nothing retrieve. He implemented it by holding his rod steady and slowly rotating the reel handle at a pace that allowed his Slider rig to swim and slide along the bottom. (For more insights to Brewer’s method, see this 1988 video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THgGx1_SoYo.) Brewer also used the do-nothing retrieve for suspended bass by casting it, allowing it to fall to the proper depth, and then rotating the reel handle at a pace that allowed the lure to swim at the depth the suspended bass were inhabiting, and as he swam the lure, he did not shake his rod. In Brewer’s eyes, shaking added an unnatural flare to the bait, and it was his desire to copy what he called the natural movement of fish.
For some unknown reason our grub fishing has been extremely lackluster during the past three years at most of the flatland reservoirs that grace northeastern Kansas. Thus, this retrieve hasn’t played a significant role for us lately.
(5) The drag-and-shake retrieve has always been part of the repertoire, but we rarely used it until the effectiveness of the swim-glide-and-shake retrieve began to wane. Some finesse anglers prefer to use a Gopher 3/32-ounce jig when they are dragging and shaking — especially when they are probing depths of eight feet or more of water. But on most outings, the 1/32-ounce Gopher jig works well on shallow lairs that are covered with one to four feet of water, and the 1/16-ouncer works well in two to 12 feet of water. To execute this retrieve, we allow the lure to plummet to the bottom. As it falls, we drop the rod tip to the five-o’clock position, and once the lure reaches the bottom, we turn the reel handle at a pace that allows the lure to slowly travel along the bottom. As the lure, traverses the bottom, we twitch our wrist, which shakes the rod, line and lure. Charlie Brewer used to call this his rock-polishing tactic, but he didn’t shake his rod, line, and lure. This retrieve can be executed by casting the lure in slightly in front of the boat, perpendicular to the boat, and slightly behind the boat.
(6) Strolling is a tactic that we added to our repertoire after several of the flatland reservoirs in northeastern Kansas were waylaid by the largemouth bass virus, which caused the largemouth bass populations to plummet. At times — especially during the winter — vast numbers of largemouth bass at these reservoirs spend a lot of time moseying around shallow mud flats. Some of these flats are massive, constituting the size of five or more football fields, and before the largemouth bass virus arrived, it was relatively easy to locate a large aggregation or two of largemouth bass on these massive flats. But as the largemouth bass population dwindled, it took a lot more searching and time to locate them. Ultimately, we found that strolling was an efficient tool for locating, as well as catching, largemouth bass on these big and shallow flats, which are covered with two to eight feet of water.
Strolling is at its best when there are three finesse anglers in the boat. Then we execute the stroll by having the angler in the back of the boat to make a long cast directly behind the boat. The angler who is in the middle of the boat makes a cast across the port side or left side of the boat at a 45-degree angle towards the back of the boat. The angler in the front of the boat, who is manipulating the electric trolling motor, makes a cast across the starboard or right side of the boat and at a 45-degree angle towards the back of the boat. The angler in the back of the boat holds his rod at the two- to three-o’clock positions, and the other two anglers hold their rods at the four- to five-o’clock positions. After the casts, the lures are allowed to drop to the bottom, and the electric trolling motor is used to propel the boat methodically and slowly around and across the shallow mud flats, as the lures are dragged or strolled along the bottom. Once the lures on the port and starboard sides of the boat get directly behind the boat, the anglers reel them in and make another 45-degree-angle cast and continue the strolling motif. After the angler in the back of the boat makes his initial cast, he doesn’t have to make another one; instead, he strolls his lure directly behind the boat nonstop. At times, the anglers add some occasionally shakes to their lures — especially when the lures are being strolled across some patches of budding curly-leaf pondweed or other kinds of submersed aquatic vegetation.
Most of the time when we are strolling these mud flats, we find and catch the bass in three to five feet of water, and in the wintertime, we have found that a Z-Man’s green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ affixed to either a 1/32-ounce or 1/16-ounce Gopher jig is the most effective lure to stroll.
Once we locate a significant concentration of cold-water largemouth bass of these shallow mud-flats, we stop strolling and begin wielding our other retrieves. And if there are three anglers in the boat, none of us use the same retrieve until we discern which of the five is the most alluring.
We hope finesse anglers will add their insights in the comment section below this blog, telling us about their retrieves styles and the variations that they add to the six retrieves that we have described above.
For more information about Midwest finesse fishing, please see these stories at these links: