For decades, many Midwest finesse anglers have wondered, fretted, and debated about jig sizes and hook sizes.
One of the cardinal tenets that one faction of Midwest finesse anglers subscribes to is that it is best to err on the side of lightness and smallness rather than err on the side of bigger hooks and heavier jigs. Years ago Guido Hibdon of Sunrise Beach, Missouri, was a member of this faction. Back in 1991, he was quoted in Michael Jones' book entitled "The Complete Guide to Finesse Bass Fishing," and he said "fishermen tend to use too much weight. And with too much weight the baits don't work right." Hibdon was one of the pioneers of Midwest finesse fishing. In 1960 he joined his father and brothers as a guide on the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. One of their primary largemouth bass rigs was a Creme worm affixed to a split-shot rig, which consisted of an exposed No. 4 claw-style hook and either a BB- or No. 1-size split shot placed about 12 inches above the hook and worm; this was the same rig that the Hibdons employed when they used live crayfish or live creek chubs, and they affixed the hook through the last tergum segment of a crayfish's abdomen or through the lips of the creek chub. As the years unfolded, Guido employed tiny bucktail or marabou jigs that were adorned with either a small and customized pork eel or chunk. He also wielded a Bass Buster Lures' Beetle, Beetle Spin, and Mar-Lynn Lure Company's Ensley Reaper, and various sizes of the Guido Bug, which Dion Hibdon created for his school's science project in 1977. Ultimately, he became the bass-fishing world's tube guru, and Michael Jones' book lauds Guido's genius with a tube. (See endnote No. 1 for more information about Guido Hibdon.)
Nowadays, a significant number of Midwest finesse devotees are using lighter jigs and smaller hooks than Guido Hibdon used during the formative years of Midwest finesse fishing. These anglers contend that the lighter jig expedites the no-feel presentation that lies at the heart of Midwest finesse fishing. These anglers also note that a smaller hook allows a soft-plastic bait to undulate and quiver more than can be accomplished when it is affixed to a jig with a big hook, and according to the experiences of these small-hook advocates, these quivers and undulations help elicit strikes from wary, tentative, and unresponsive largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass.
And as these anglers espoused the virtues of these small jigs and hooks, it has generated some debate. For instance, there are scores and scores of anglers who maintain that it is necessary to feel what their jigs are doing at all times and all places, and they contend it is an impossible task to feel what a light-weight jig is doing. There are other anglers who think that small hooks are not an effective way to hook and battle largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass, and these anglers argue that it is a figment of the imaginations of the small-hook devotees that the quivers and undulations provoke strikes.
To explore these issues, we garnered the insights of Travis Myers of Paw Paw, West Virginia, David Reeves of Lansing, Kansas, and Mike Poe of Siler City, North Carolina.
Travis Myers is a savvy smallmouth bass angler who plies the rivers and streams that course through the Appalachian Mountains near his home in eastern West Virginia. He is also a regular contributor to the Finesse News Network, In-Fisherman's Midwest Finesse columns, and the forum on RiverSmallies.com. And on March 1 and 20, he emailed me 1,896 words about why, where, how, and when he uses tiny mushroom-style jigs that sport either a No. 4 or No. 6 hook.
Here is an edited and condensed version of Myers' two emails:
As a youth I was fortunate that the library at Sherburne-Earlville High School near my hometown of Norwich, New York, had a healthy supply of the usual fishing literature, such as "Outdoor Life Magazine" and "Field & Stream Magazine." I could check out only five items per day; so, I had to visit the library almost daily.
But it wasn't until the library got a supply of "Fishing Facts" magazines on the shelves that my eyes got opened. It spurred my young imagination, and there wasn't a day that went by that I failed to tote home five "Fishing Facts" at a time and eight on a weekend. These publications were instrumental in my early learning, and this interest in fishing sprouted from something within me, because I grew up in a non-fishing family.
What follows is a timeline that led me to fishing Gopher Tackle's 1/32- and 1/16-ounce Mushroon Head jigs exclusively.
At about the time the library began subscribing to "Fishing Facts" magazines, someone in the community donated a huge collection of back issues of "Fishing Facts" magazines, as well as some pamphlets written by Bill Binkleman. The pamphlets were published before the magazine began, and all of the illustrations in these pamphlets were black-and-white ones. What eventually really caught my eye were the color photographs in the magazine, which exhibited the vibrant colors of the little fluorescent jigs that Bill Binkleman, Dan Gapen, Spence Petros, and others used to catch panfish, as well as other species. But for some reason I put those early images and memories about those jigs on the back burner, and it remained there for a number of years. Back in those days, my forte revolved around using the original Rapala and various sizes of Mepps Spinners to catch numerous species within a bike ride of our house.
When I was eleven or twelve years old, I began making crude-looking bucktail jigs, and they were a byproduct of my father's hunting efforts. I also created some jigs that sported grouse and pheasant feathers, as well as various chicken feathers that I gathered from my grandmother's chicken coops. During this spell, I was then relying on jigs to catch everything from northern pike, river walleye, river smallmouth bass, beaver-pond brook trout and river brown trout, and all of these fish were caught in close vicinity to our house. And these catches motivated me to make more and more jigs.
During the winter when I was 16 years old, I became weary of having to drill holes and ice fish. As I eagerly awaited for the ice to melt on the waterways in upstate New York, I spent a lot of time scouring through stacks of "In-Fisherman" magazine. While I was doing this, I saw a story about how, when, and where to use a jig-worm rig in the summer along the edge of submerged aquatic vegetation in natural lakes in the northern regions of the nation. This article focused on the kind of lakes that I fished; in fact, we had a summer camp on one. This story also featured a photograph of a fluorescent Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head jig, and that story and photograph were placed into my growing memory bank.
In my late teens, I began reading Charlie Brewer's many words about his Slider tactics, and to this day I still read him. At that time, however, I put what I read into the same memory bank where I was storing the insights I garnered from Bill Binkleman and his cohorts in "Fishing Facts" magazine and the articles in "In-Fisherman" magazine.
In the 1990s, Dick Bengraf of Castleton-on-the Hudson, New York, became my piscatorial mentor and good friend. And he advised me to revisit Charlie Brewer's book entitled "Charlie Brewer on Slider Fishin'" and other publications by and about him. And I became a dyed-in-the-wool Slider angler and an apostle of Brewer's teaching to not over-act nature. When I saw a story about Charlie Brewer's tactic called "Sliding high" with a 1/16-ounce orange-headed Charlie Brewer's Slider Company's Crappie Slider jig, it caused my memory bank to open up a tad, and it provoked me to think more frequently about Binkleman's brightly colored jigs and the brightly colored Gopher mushroom-style jigs that were featured in "In-Fisherman" magazine.
But it took a few more years to make the transition from Slider fishing to becoming an aficionado of Gopher's Mushroom Head jigs. What finally provoked this change stemmed from the fact that I was failing to hook too many fish while I was employing Brewer's Crappie Slider jig affixed to a Texas-posed soft-plastic bait. To solve this problem, I began wielding soft-plastic baits affixed to either a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce Gopher jig with an exposed No. 6 or No. 4 light-wire hook. Ultimately, brightly painted jig heads became a prominent feature in my repertoire, and nowadays, the 1/32- and 1/16-ounce Gopher Mushroom Head jigs are the only ones I use. (See endnote No. 2 for more information about brightly painted jigs.)
In my eyes, the Gopher's virtues are many, and here are five reasons why I use them:
(1) I prefer a light-wire hook. It pierces the flesh of a smallmouth bass' mouth like a needle. These hooks tie in perfectly with the light line and rods that I enjoy using.
(2) The second virtue is a feature that I call the non-river wedge. Nowadays the only soft-plastic bait that I use are manufactured by Z-Man Fishing Products, and many of the heads of these baits, such as the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ, are slightly wider than the head of the Gopher jig. And when the ZinkerZ is combined with the shape of the head of a 1/32- and 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, it does not become wedged between crevices between the boulders, rocks, or other obstacles that adorn the bottom of the rivers that I dissect. These Z-Man and Gopher rigs careen off the obstructions along the bottom rather than digging into every nook and cranny. But I must confess that I rarely employ a deadstick presentation, and I am not a bottom bouncer and hopper, which is another reason why my Z-Man and Gopher rigs are relatively snag free.
(3) I fish many miles of timber-laden stretches of river throughout a year, and last year I lost a grand total of nine jigs. And I lost those jigs because I was not as keenly in tune with the whereabouts of my jig as I should have been. It was not the jigs fault; I was not paying proper attention to the drop rate. I know for a fact that the small No. 4 and No. 6 hooks play an important role in snag prevention. One example why this occurs is the gap of a small exposed hook allows the point of the hook to be closer to the body of the ZinkerZ than occurs when a jig sports a bigger and wider-gap hook. But if one of my Gopher jigs does become snagged in a piece of timber, its small and light-wire hook allows me to free it more easily from the timber than I could with a big hook.
(4) Another virtue of a small hook is that it allows a soft-plastic bait to undulate and gyrate. But if an angler affixes a Z-Man's Finesse F.R.D. or 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on a jig with a No. 1 or 1/0 hook, a goodly portion of the torsos of these baits are static. But if an angler affixes a Finesse F.R.D or 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on a jig with a either No. 4 or No. 6 hook, the torsos of these baits are extremely flexible, and they replicate the action that occurs when an angler nose hooks a soft-plastic bait to a drop-shot hook and rig.
(5) When I am retrieving a Gopher jig dressed with a Z-Man's soft-plastic bait, I am keenly aware of what it is doing, where it is, what its drop rate is, and how fast or slow I need to retrieve it so it will be where I want it to be. To accomplish this feat the weight of every jig has to be accurate. In years past, I purchased jigs that were nowhere near the weight that the manufacturers said they weighed. I put countless 1/16-ounce finesse jigs from various makers to the test, and a huge percentage of them were weighed much more than one-sixteenth of an ounce. Most times, this was because the hook size and gauge of the wire were too big. These subtle differences make a big difference when a finesse angler needs to implement a finely tuned presentation with a jig affixed to a soft-plastic bait. I have weighed the Gopher's 1/32-ounce jig with a No. 6 hook and 1/16-ounce jig with a No. 4 hook on an ammo reloadin scale, and they are true to their marketed weights. There are not many finesse jigs nowadays that can make that claim.
I get a good many emails from anglers every month who ask me why I use Z Man's finesse baits and Gopher's jig products, and how I use them to catch smallmouth bass in rivers. And I found that many of my fellow anglers who pursue river smallmouth bass are making these four critical errors:
(1) They use too heavy of a jig, which not only induces the wedge factor, but I have visually seen oodles of smallmouth bass engulf one of my light-weight baits as it drops extremely slowly towards the bottom of the river. In the eyes of some fishermen, the pace of the drop of my rigs would be deemed to be too painfully slow. What's more, a light jig does not generate the feel that anglers think is essential. They don't realize that the no-feel aspect of the light-jig presentation is what generates strikes from smallmouth bass that are wary or unresponsive. For some unknown reason, most anglers are infatuated with getting their baits quickly to the bottom and feeling every move it makes as they drag it and hop it along the bottom.
(2) They use too big of a hook. The bigger is better mantra pervades modern tackle choices. And it fouls finesse presentations.
(3) They use too thick of a hook. There is no swinging for the fences to set the hook with Gopher's light-wire No. 4 and No. 6 hooks. When a smallmouth bass strikes, they hook themselves as I turn the reel handle at a quicker pace.
(4) Lately, some these anglers have asked me what I thought about affixing the Z-Man's soft-plastic baits to a swinging-head jig, such as Gene Larew Lures' Biffle Hardhead jig. I tell them that I think it would muddy an otherwise simple, highly enjoyable, and productive system.
In closing, I want to focus on a factor I call retention rate. In the 1990s, when anglers began using a non-weighted Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits' Senko, many of them experienced something that they had not encountered before, which was that a black bass would rarely split it out upon engulfing it. The retention rate was so great that a significant number of the black bass were gut hooked. Many anglers came to the conclusion that the salt that impregnates the torso of a Senko is what accentuated the retention rate. But that is erroneous thinking, which can be seen when anglers add a sinker or a jig to a Senko or other salt-impregnated baits, and with the addition of a sinker or jig, the retention factor plummets dramatically.
Charlie Brewer addressed the retention factor in his book. He called it leading a black bass with a light jig and soft-plastic bait. And across the years, I have had smallmouth bass drop a soft-plastic bait affixed to a 1/8-ounce jig at a higher rate than they drop a soft-plastic bait affixed to a 1/16-ounce jig. And my retention rate is greater with a 1/32-ounce jig.
Dave Reeves of Lansing, Kansas, is the proprietor of Prescription Plastics, which manufactures a series of mushroom-style jigs that are called Ozark Finesse Heads. He initially created them for Midwest finesse anglers who pursue largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass at Table Rock Lake, Missouri, with a jig affixed to a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man's ZinkerZ or a 2 1/2-inch Strike King Lure Company's Zero. And nowadays anglers at many locales across the national are employing his jigs. In a March 18 email, Reeves provided us with his insights. (For more information, please see endnote No. 3.)
Here is an edited version of Reeves' email:
The 1/8-ounce jig is our most popular one. But I don't think it is the most effective size. For me, the 1/16-ounce jig is the cornerstone of the entire system. It will do some of what a 1/32-ounce jig will do, but to accomplish that feat, an angler has to adjust the size of the soft-plastic body that is affixed to it and the size of the line the jig is tied to in order to adjust the fall rate and its swimming ability. What's more, if the wind isn't howling, anglers can probe the bottom into 20 feet of water with the 1/16-ouncer affixed to a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ.
I suspect that most anglers are fishing with the 1/8-ouncer as they would use a tiny shakey-head jig, and they are focusing on keeping the rig on the bottom, and they are not concerned with the no-feel concept that lies at the heart of the entrenched Midwest finesse anglers. But it works well with a variety of Midwest finesse presentations, and it is an absolute necessity for dealing with wind and probing deep-water lairs. It makes the 2 1/2-inch Zinker fishable under a wider range of conditions. The one glaring weakness of the 1/8-ounce jig is that it just does not swim well in shallow-water situations, and it is interesting to note that the swimming presentation with a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ rig is an underutilized technique in the Ozark reservoirs -- especially during the cold-water months and in spawning coves later in spring.
So far we do not make a 1/32-ounce Ozark Finesse Jig, but we have been looking at it. We know that it has a true niche around shallow-water lairs and submerged aquatic vegetation, as well as in cold-water situations at times. The drawback is its lack of versatility.
We do make a 3/16-ounce jig that has a No. 2 hook, but it is manufactured on a request-only basis. Most of them are made for anglers who pursue smallmouth bass in rivers — - especially in the eastern states. Apparently the eastern rivers have more current than our Ozark rivers. I don't recommend it at all for lakes.
In regard to the size of the hook, our No. 2 Mustad hook has proven to be just about right. It is a 2X heavy-wire salmon-jig hook. A smaller gap hook will hang up less, but the wire weed or hook guards that embellish our jigs solves that problem.
An overlooked aspect of hook size is the length of the hook shank. A larger hook will usually have a longer shank. A long shank dramatically affects the balance of the bait, as well as limiting the length of the body of a soft-plastic bait that is free to move when rigged. I have seen a lot of anglers at Table Rock Lake trying to shoehorn heads with large hooks into use, and some of them use a jig with a 3/0 hook, and there is no tail or body left to do its thing in front of the fish.
Dwight Keefer of Phoenix, Arizona, has discussed hook sizes with me at length. In regard to the size of a hook and the weight of a jig, Keefer and I have come to the conclusion that there is very little margin for error when anglers use small soft-plastic baits. Being off a touch with a 3/4-ounce football jig could matter, but it might not totally ruin the presentation. Being off even slightly with the components of a finesse bait is huge. I have been accused of being too nuanced with this, but it really does make the difference between catching a few fish and catching lots of fish. It also seems to affect the ability of an angler to catch bigger specimens.
I have had folks ask a lot of questions about weights of jigs and sizes of hooks. It is an excellent issue to address. Really it comes back to making a significant change in mindset, and understanding the system.
In a March 26 email, Reevessaid: "I would perhaps hesitate to call [tjis] a debate. To me it is more about being open minded in fitting the overall concept to the specific need, even if that requires some adjustments in equipment or technique."
Mike Poe of Siler City, North Carolina, is a frequent contributor to the Finesse News Network, and many of his logs appear in the monthly guides to Midwest finesse fishing that are published on In-Fisherman.com. Poe readily admits that he is not a dyed-in-the-wool Midwest finesse angler; he also employs some power-fishing tactics.
Poe said that he hooked a largemouth bass on his March 19 outing that was so large that it straightened the hook on a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. And if it hadn't straighten the hook, it would have eventually broken the line. This brute was abiding in the shallowest water in a quarter of a mile segment of the reservoir that Poe was fishing. According to Poe, that there is not another bait that would have allured that fish. He described the landing of the 1/16-ounce Gopher jig and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on the water as bug-like, and that largemouth bass engulfed it immediately as it subtly dimpled the surface of the water. He said, "Many times, when it has happened in the past, I don't €¦ have my finger off the line before they have engulfed, which makes for some interesting hook sets."
In a March 23 email, Poe said the 1/16-ounce Gopher Mushroom Head jig affixed to a either a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man's ZinkerZ or 2 1/2-inch Strike King Lure Company's Zero is considerably more effective for him than a heavier jig when he is focusing on largemouth bass that are abiding in shallow water and around aquatic vegetation. To elicit strikes from the shallow-water largemouth bass, Poe employs a swimming presentation that courses along the edges of the vegetation, and he notes that it stays up in the strike zone better than a heavier jig does. It reminds him of saltwater fishing for redfish on North Carolina's inshore flats.
The 1/16-ounce Gopher jig affixed to either a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ or a Zero has become his most fruitful rig when he is dissecting riprap shorelines. Furthermore, it has no peers when it comes to executing a skipping cast; he describes its accuracy as almost bullet-like.
But throughout the calendar year, most of the North Carolina largemouth bass that Poe fishes for will be abiding on the bottom of the reservoirs in five to eight feet of water, and they are normally associated with piles of rocks or flooded trees or brush piles. The water clarity is usually very stained to murky, which he says limits the range the largemouth bass can see. When he uses Midwest finesse tactics to catch these largemouth bass, he opts for a 1/10-ounce Z-Man's Weedless Finesse ShroomZ jig affixed to a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ or Zero. He says it is a perfect jig combo for a hard-bottom presentation, which entails a lot of dragging and shaking, and he can feel where it is and what it is doing; therefore it is devoid of the no-feel factor that many Midwest finesse anglers relish.
Poe said that he hooked a largemouth bass on his March 19 outing that was so large that it straightened the hook on a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. And if it hadn't straightened the hook, it would have eventually broken the line. This brute was abiding in the shallowest water in a quarter of a mile segment of the reservoir that Poe was fishing. According to Poe, there is not another bait that would have allured that fish. He described the landing of the 1/16-ounce Gopher jig and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on the water as bug-like, and that largemouth bass engulfed it immediately as it subtly dimpled the surface of the water. He said, "Many times, when it has happened in the past, I don't €¦ have my finger off the line before they have engulfed it, which makes for some interesting hook sets."
Poe wrote: "Back in the day we fished isolated cover on big shallow flats with spinnerbaits and Texas-rigged soft-plastic worms, and we caught largemouth bass pretty well as long as the other anglers left the shallow-water lairs alone. Nowadays we are hammering those shallow-water largemouth bass with the Gopher-and-ZinkerZ rig and other soft-plastic baits, and it is far more productive than our old ways, and it is almost 100 percent perfect if these shallow and isolated largemouth bass haven't been tampered with. The applications with Midwest finesse rigs are so numerous, so productive, and so fun." He concluded his email by wondering why some of the contestants failed to use a Midwest finesse bait — similar to the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ or Zero rig -- at the Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake, Oklahoma, on March 4-6. He elucidated his thinking by noting that on March 12 he tangled with 66 largemouth bass, and the bulk of them were caught on a 2 1/2-inch Strike King Lure Company's purple-haze Zero affixed to a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. He estimated that one of them was a 10-pounder. The water was murky, exhibiting eight to 10 inches of visibility. On this March 12 outing, the 1/16-ounce Gopher jig affixed to a 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ exhibited once again its amazing ability to catch vast numbers and all sizes of largemouth bass. "Even after several years of using these tactics," he said, "I am constantly amazed at its effectiveness."
(1) Here are two links to articles about Guido Hibdon: https://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/the-fishing-and-family-life-of-guido-hibdon/; https://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/family-fishing-lives-dion-guido-hibdon-update-2/.
(2) Here is a link at focuses on Travis Myers' perspective about painted jigs: https://www.in-fisherman.com/bass/painted-jig-heads-versus-unpainted-ones/.
(3) Here is a link to an article about David Reeves and his jigs: https://www.in-fisherman.com/bass/prescription-plastics-ozark-finesse-heads/.
(4) Here are two links to Midwest Finesse columns that features Z-Man Fishing Products' Finesse ShroomZ jigs: https://www.in-fisherman.com/bass/z-mans-shroomz/; https://www.in-fisherman.com/bass/z-man-fishing-products-finesse-shroomz-jig-an-update/.
(5) For more information about Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head jigs, please see this link: https://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/a-short-and-informal-history-and-tour-of-gopher-tackle/.
(6) In 2015, Z-Man Fishing Products added a small jig to their Finesse ShroomZ repertoire. It weighs a twentieth of an ounce. Here is a link to Z-Man's website: http://zmanfishing.com/cms/store.php.