We published a Midwest finesse column on Nov. 1, 2013, about Andrew Upshaw of Sapulpa, Oklahoma. It was entitled "The finesse ways of Andrew Upshaw."
Back then he was a new member of the Finesse News Network, but he was not a Midwest finesse angler. Instead, he was what some anglers call a standard finesse angler, which means he primarily used a drop-shot rig and a shaky-head jig. Those are tactics some Midwest finesse anglers describe as power finesse, and they are the tactics that tournament anglers employ when they are trying to be versatile. The closest Upshaw got to Midwest finesse fishing occurred when he wielded a grub-and-jig combo.
In essence, he was a part-time finesse angler, and when he was not wielding a drop-shot rig or a shaky-head jig or a grub, he was employing a variety of power tactics, such as a crankbait or a Carolina rig or a creature bait. And he is still a part-time finesse angler, but has changed his motif.
He is 29 years old, and he has been competing in some Bassmaster events since March 6, 2005, and FLW tourneys since April 14, 2007.
It was about a year ago when he began using the basic Midwest finesse rig, which is a mushroom-style jig affixed to a short soft-plastic stickbait, and he described that transition as a piscatorial epiphany. Since then, it has become significant enough that he has occasionally made use of it in some tournament situations. For instance, he used it in March at the Walmart FLW Tour event at Lake Hartwell, South Carolina, to catch his two biggest bass at that tourney. Yet, he said he failed to use it enough at the FLW's Costa Series event at Grand Lake, Oklahoma, on April 7 and 8.
But he rectified those mistakes at the Walmart FLW Tour event at Beaver Lake, Arkansas, where it helped him acquire some handsome dividends on April 17. By the end of that four-day event, he garnered $14,000 in prize money and his name graced tenth place on the tournament's leaderboard.
To accomplish this feat, he used two Midwest finesse rigs. One was a 3 1/4-inch Gene Larew Lure Company's green-pumpkin Salt Flick'R affixed to a green-pumpkin 1/10-ounce Z-Man Fishing Products' Finesse Shroomz jig. The other one was a 3 1/4-inch Gene Larew Lure Compay's watermelon-pepper Salt Flick'R affixed to a green-pumpkin 1/10-ounce Z-Man Fishing Products' Finesse Shroomz jig. He worked with the watermelon hue when it was sunny and the wind was calm, and the green-pumpkin one was used when it was cloudy and windy.
The Salt Flick'R is a unique six-inch stickbait, and it is so multifaceted that the folks at Larew describe it as a sinking worm, swimbait, shaky worm, and do-nothing worm. Upshaw customizes the Salt Flick'R with a pair of scissors. He removed its head and portions of its torso, and he affixes the 3 1/4-inch tail segment to the jig.
He wields his customized Salt Flick'R rig on a seven-foot, medium-power, fast action Lew's Custom Lite Speed Stick Series spinning rod and 3000 Team Lew's Pro Speed Spin Series reel spooled with eight-pound-test Lew's APT Fluorocarbon Line.
We talked to Upshaw on April 27 and asked him to recount his three days of practice and four days of competition at Beaver Lake on April 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17.
Straightaway, he said this Midwest finesse rig has become his preeminent search bait. Thus, it is becoming the tool he relies on during the practice sessions to discover the whereabouts of the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass that he hopes to catch during the tournament. He has discovered he can catch black bass on it -- and a lot of them — at nearly every waterway he has fished. The exception is Florida's waterways, but he thinks it could work at some locales in Florida, too.
What's more, it is effective when other baits are ineffective. In fact, it is so effective that he can follow some of the best bass anglers in the world along a shoreline or around some offshore lairs, and he will tangle with an impressive number of black bass that they failed to catch. He has also found that the customized Salt Flick'R is more effective than the other kinds of soft-plastic baits that most Midwest finesse anglers affix to mushroom-style jigs. For example, he has had co-anglers in his boat in recent tournaments who struggled to catch a black bass on one of the standard Midwest finesse stickbait rigs until they affixed a three-inch segment of a Salt Flick'R to their mushroom-style jig.
Upshaw says the Salt Flick'R is impregnated with salt and sand, and the belly of its torso and tail is embellished with a series of conspicuous ribs. He has found that the unique combination of ribs, salt, and sand enhances the way it falls.
Upshaw's objective on the first day of practice at Beaver was to discover the whereabouts of Beaver's smallmouth bass. To do this, he initially dissected scores of main-lake points from the vicinity of the dam to mile-marker number four. This section of the reservoir contained the clearest water. Ultimately, he found the smallmouth bass abiding on secondary points inside coves, hollows, and small feeder-creek arms. At these secondary points, his boat floated in 16 to 18 feet of water, and he would cast his Salt Flick'R rig into six to 10 feet of water.
He discovered one secondary point that would yield eight to 10 smallmouth bass one day. Then on the next day, it yielded eight to 10 spotted bass and not one smallmouth bass, and that alternating phenomenon occurred every day that he fished it. Upshaw noted that this secondary point was by-passed by the other competitors, and the reason for that is it looks as if it is a fruitless spot. He has discovered that one of the virtues of his Salt Flick'R rig is that it finds and catches black bass where most anglers would not fish. (Guido Hibdon of Sunrise Beach, Missouri, who is one of the pioneers of Midwest finesse fishing with a tube, used to call these locales "nothing-looking" shorelines and points, and he fished them incessantly.) In other words, Upshaw's unique Salt Flick'R rig allows him to search areas and find fish that he would not have fished in years past. It has helped him to be more tenacious, which is an essential virtue in the world of tournament angling. Thus, whenever he becomes perplexed with doubt and despair, his Salt Flick'R rig possesses the wherewithal to get him out of those doldrums. In retrospect, he is sorry that he was not aware of the effectiveness of this Midwest finesse rig in the early days of his tournament career; it would have made some of the trying days that he endured less perplexing and frustrating.
He said the shallow shorelines were being thoroughly dissected by other competitors who were sight fishing for pre-spawn and spawning black bass, but most of those shorelines were primarily yielding small spotted bass. He suspected that there were so many competitors pounding the shallow shorelines that the heftier black bass had moved into deeper water.
If he caught a largemouth bass during the practice sessions, when all of the shoreline beating was going on, it was a good-size one, and he usually caught them abiding around clusters of flooded pole timber in 10 to 18 feet of water.
Eventually, Upshaw crossed paths during the midday hours, when the water temperature became warmer, with a few hefty pre-spawning and spawning black bass in the back ends of some hollows and coves.
Upshaw also used his Salt Flick'R rig to find a goodly number of black bass abiding in relatively shallow water along bluffs and big rock ledges in the main-body of the reservoir and its coves, hollows, and feeder-creek arms.
He described his primary retrieve with the Salt Fick'R rigs as a drop presentation. His casts were long ones and in front of the boat. Once the Salt Flick'R hit the surface, he allowed it to plummet straight to the bottom. If a black bass failed to engulf it on the drop, Upshaw would deadstick it for a few seconds. Then he would reel it in and make another cast and employ the same drop-and-deadstick presentation. But occasionally he dragged it for about 10 feet after he executed the deadstick routine, and he even dragged it behind the boat for a spell. He also hopped it once or twice after he deadsticked it.
On the first day of practice, he estimated that he tangled with five black bass that weighed a total of 18 pounds, but to his chagrin, he could not repeat that feat during the tournament.
On the first day of the tournament, he culled five keeper-size black bass, and he culled five on the second day and fourth day. On the third day, he culled 20 keeper-size black bass. He caught two spotted bass on the first day that were hefty enough to take to the tournament's scales. On the first day, his five black bass weighed 13-5 pounds; on the second day, they weighed 14-3 pounds; on the third day, they weighed 13-3 pounds; on the fourth day, they weighed 10-9 pounds.
During the tournament, he used his Salt Flick'R rig during the morning hours to catch smallmouth bass. Then during the midday hours, he became a power angler and went sight fishing for pre-spawn and spawning largemouth bass. He wielded a Gene Larew's bone-white Salt Craw and a 3 1/2-inch Gene Larew's green-pumpkin Biffle Bug Jr., which he employed on casting outfits that were spooled with 25-pound-test line. He caught females on the green-pumpkin Biffle Bug Jr. and males on the bone-white Salt Craw. He said the spawning black bass that he crossed paths with were abiding in thick and gnarly lairs and thickets, where he had to employ bigger baits, heavier line, and stouter rods in order to get at them and extract them.
(1) Here are four links to stories about Andrew Upshaw and Gene Larew's Salt Flick'R:
(2) At Upshaw's behest and guidance, Gene Larew Lure Company is creating a new stickbait for Midwest finesse applications. It incorporates the tail section of the Salt Flick'R and the tail of Larew's Tattle Tail Technique Worm. They hope to introduce it to the angling world soon.We publish a gear guide about it when it is available for anglers to purchase.
(3) Here are two links to Midwest Finesse columns that feature the Midwest finesse tactics that Jeff Gustafson and Brian Latimer used at the Walmart FLW Tour event at Beaver Lake: