Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, says that in the half dozen short histories that I have written for newspapers, magazines, and websites across the years about the beginnings of Midwest finesse fishing have failed to pinpoint the critical role that the late Ray Fincke of Overland Park, Kansas, played in its genesis.
Reese rectified my shortcomings by writing the following account about how Ray Fincke and his tackle shop on Southwest Boulevard in the Rosedale section of Kansas City changed his life. In the 1960s, Fincke introduced Reese to the state-of-the-art tackle and ultimately to scores of talented anglers, such as Chuck Woods, Bill Ward, Virgil Ward, and Dave Jadwin.
Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Ray Fincke’s father, who was an avid fly fisherman, sold coal for home heating at a shop on Southwest Boulevard. Eventually, he turned the coal shop into a tackle shop, and it soon became the hangout for fly fishermen in Kansas City.
In the early 50s, Ray’s dad died unexpectedly, and Ray dropped out of school at 16 years old and took over the business.
Ray moved in next door to my family in 1960, when I was 13 years old.
One day after my dad used chenille-body-and-marabou-tailed jigs to catch a bunch of crappie at Bull Shoals Lake in the vicinity of Highway 125 Marina at Peel, Arkansas, he suggested that I ask Ray to show me how to make them. Once I started making them, my father sold them to the firemen at the fire station on Southwest Boulevard. He sold them faster than I could make them. But because of the cost of the materials and the time it took me to tie the jigs, the profit margin was extremely skimpy.
Eventually Ray suggested that I should tie flies for his store. He provided all of the materials; so I did much better financially.
One February day, Ray took my dad and me to Taneycomo Lake, Missouri. Ray fly fished, and he set my dad and me up with cheap Compac spinning rods and reels that were spooled with four-pound-test monofilament line. To that line, he attached a Wooly Worm fly with a split shot above it. I will never forget his explanation: “Just throw it straight out in the current, and as it drifts downstream, just go pump, pump, pump, and reel then repeat.” My dad and I caught over 100 trout that day, and I was totally hooked on light tackle.
After that Ozark trout outing, I used a Fly Ike and fished the park lakes behind our house, as well as at my great uncle’s lake, where I hooked and landed a bass that weighed more than four pounds on that same rod. From that point on, my life was never the same.
I used the money I earned working for Ray and bought a Garcia 308 spinning reel. I also wrapped a light spinning rod. And I was in heaven. During this relatively short period of time, Ray taught me an incredible amount about the art of using spinning tackle, such as keeping the drag tight and back reeling to keep it from twisting your line. It was a constant educational process.
When I was 15 years old, another major factor entered my world. It came in the package of a crazy house painter by the name of Chuck Woods, who was probably one of the best fishermen on the planet. It all started with me wrapping a rod that Ray designed for him. Chuck wanted a spinning rod he could fish 12 pound-test monofilament line on for bigger bass. So, Ray took a medium-action casting rod and put a spinning handle on it, and I wrapped the guides on it. Chuck loved it, and thereafter, Fincke Tackle became Chuck’s home base. One year we weighed in more than 100 bass that Chuck caught that weighed more than five pounds. It seemed like there was always an ice chest full of big bass on display.
The amazing thing was he caught many of those fish on the prototype for the Beetle cut out of the tails of Creme worms. Ray finally shut down the fish weighing and display process after that year as the store started smelling like dead fish. I was really blessed in that Chuck took me under his wing and taught me so much about bass fishing.
After Bass Buster Lure Company of Amsterdam, Missouri, started making the Beetle and Beetle Spin, I got to watch Chuck work on a new concept from scratch. He wanted to design a jig head that would accommodate a Texas-rigged worm. We cut, ground, and butchered several molds, and nothing worked. We needed a hook with a longer eye section. I remember how excited Chuck was when Bass Buster got someone to make a custom hook for the jig. The problem was the original order of hooks had to be 10,000, which was impossible for Chuck to do. Therefore, Bill and Virgil Ward bought 10,000 of them, and they stored them, and they gave them to Chuck whenever he needed some for making his worm jigs. Ultimately, Paul Ament built us a custom mold and I remember spending many nights in the back room at Ray’s molding those jigs. They worked extremely well. Once again, Chuck was so far ahead of his time. In fact, he was the inventor of the shaky head worm.
An important thing to remember about Chuck was he loved big fish. I weighed two bass he caught that weighed more than nine pounds. It took Ray a long time to convince Chuck to have two rods. One with his beloved 12-pound-test line, and one with 10 or even eight-pound-test line. It is important to understand that this was when bass fishermen used Ambassadeur 5000 baitcasting reels spooled with 25-pound-test line and tightened the drags with pliers. It was panfish anglers who used spinning and spincasting gear. Although Chuck’s outfit would not fall into the category of finesse by today’s standards, it was truly trend setting to catch bass that size on spinning equipment. Chuck never had access to braided lines, graphite rods or the wonderful reels available today. My six-pound-test Berkley FireLine is much stronger than Chuck’s 12-pound-test monofilament, and the sense of feel is far superior. He would be amazed by our equipment today.
Chuck was instrumental in allowing me to get to know Bill and Virgil Ward who were the proprietors of Bass Buster, and Bill was the inventor of the maribou jig.
After I graduated from college, I went to work for Bass Buster. At Bass Buster, I was again surrounded by people that regularly used spinning tackle and had been doing so since the 1950s. A lot of this was done fishing in Canada. I remember a conversation I had with Virgil. I asked him: “With all of the lures Bass Buster made, and if you had only one lure to fish with, what would it be?” When he said, a 1/8-ounce maribou jig, I was stunned. Fifty years later I completely understand.
Virgil also was the host of “The Virgil Ward Championship Fishing Show.” Dave Jadwin was one of his main guests on the show, and the way Jadwin fished dramatically influenced the way I thought about finesse fishing. Until I crossed paths with Dave, almost all of my finesse fishing experiences were on small lakes and farm ponds. Dave was a guide at Table Rock Lake, Missouri, and proprietor of Wilderness Point Resort at Kimberling City, Missouri. On his guiding trips, Dave’s clients would regularly catch their 10-bass limits in a couple of hours. At that time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the lake was completely full of brush. His magic bait was a 1/8-ounce white crappie jig, which he used on points that were cluttered with flooded and standing timber. On these points, the bass were way off the shorelines and suspended in the flooded trees. Dave also got the Beetle-Spin craze going on Table Rock by fishing it around tops of flooded cedar trees with six-pound-test line. One day I watched him land two largemouth bass that weighed more than seven pounds that he allured out of a quagmire of brush. Once I learned how to handle big fish on light line from Dave Jadwin, my entire perspective about bass fishing changed.
I had owned a boat for six months when I started fishing Bassmaster tournaments. Although I had very little lake fishing experience, I finished in the money at every tournament but one, and I qualified for the first Bassmaster Classic, which was staged at Lake Mead, Nevada, on Oct. 20-22, 1971. I finished seventh in that Classic. Dave Jadwin also qualified for the first Classic by using light-spinning equipment, and he finished in 14th place. Almost all of the bass I caught during my tournament career were caught on spinning rods and reels that were spooled with either six- or eight-pound-test line.
Tournaments, however, took something I loved to do and turned it into a job. So, I quit tournament fishing, and since then, I have been having a ball for more than 50 years by fishing light line.
Reese is also the creator of Z-Man Fishing Products’ Hula StickZ and the new Finesse ShroomZ, which is a mushroom-style jig. He also field-tested and helped with the creation of the new 2.75-inch Finesse TRD. The Finesse ShroomZ and Finesse TRD will be introduced to the angling world at the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show in Orlando, Florida, on July 14-18. In the near future, Reese will be filing reports on the Finesse News Network about his late spring and summertime pursuit for smallmouth bass in Canada. In these reports, he will reveal how, when, and where he uses the Hula StickZ, Finesse TRD, Finesse ShroomZ, and other Midwest finesse baits.