Finesse Fishing for Bass in 2011

This was the biggest largemouth bass of the 2011. It was caught at power-plant lake in eastern Kansas, on March 9. It weighed six-pounds, three ounces, and it was caught on a green-pumpkin Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ affixed to a 1/32-ounce chartreuse Gopher Mushroom Jig Head. Photograph by Rick Hebenstreit of Shawnee, Kansas.

This was the biggest smallmouth bass of 2011. It weighed four pounds, 13 ounces.  It was caught at a 415-acre, euthropic lake near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on August 3. It was caught on a 2 1/2-inch watermelon/red Z-Man ZinkerZ affixed to a red 1/16-ounce Gopher Mushroom Jig Head.  Back when I began fishing the euthropic lakes in the Arrowhead and Heartland sections of Minnesota as a kid back in the early 1950s, these eutrophic lakes  were largemouth bass environs. It was unheard of to catch a smallmouth bass in these lakes. During the past 20 years, however, some of these lakes have begun to  produce big smallmouth bass similar to this one

In 2011, I fished 127 times, which encompassed 508 hours.

Throughout the year, I made more solo and shorter trips than in years past. Yet there were numerous outings when I was accompanied by another angler or two.  But to my and my partners' chagrin, we caught fewer bass than we caught in 2010.

Perhaps one reason for the diminishing returns in 2011 was we  spent more time at Clinton Lake, Kansas, than we have in many years. It is a 7,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir that lies at the western edge of Lawrence, Kansas, and its nearest boat ramp is 10 miles from our home. Since the mid-1980s, it has been a problematic bass lake. But recently Richard Sanders of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism created a multi-year program to develop a smallmouth bass population in Clinton, and it looks as if his efforts are beginning to work. Therefore,  we spent some time trying to get a handle on that emerging population.  So fishing for a rather small population of fish adversely affected the number of bass that we could catch.

The largemouth bass at Perry Lake, Kansas, virtually disappeared in 2011. Consequentally, this adversely affected the numbers of bass we caught. At this 11, 660-acre lake that lies 20 miles north of Lawrence, we enjoyed 80- and 90-bass catches during several four-hour outings in 2010.  But the  most fruitful outing at Perry in 2011 occurred on April 25, when a trio of us struggled to catch 23 largemouth bass and three smallmouth bass. Our subsequent  Perry outings were exceedingly paltry.

Another problem was that one of our nearby community reservoirs, which was in the midst of recovering from the largemouth bass virus, had a substantial bass kill this summer.  This lake was also afflicted with terrible algal blooms that lasted until year's end. In fact, all of our reservoirs were waylaid with algal blooms, and in our eyes those blooms during the heat of the summer seemed to affect the behavior of the bass and our abilities to allure them. What's more, it looked as if the largemouth bass virus hit another one of our community reservoirs in 2011; thus three of the 10 reservoirs that we fish at various times during the calendar year have been hit with this virus during the past four years.

In short, those are a few of the rationalizations why we caught 1004 fewer bass in 2011 than we caught in 2010.

The total catch for 2011 was 4,566 bass, 35.9 per outing and 9.01 per hour. Eight of those bass were caught on a jerkbait on December 5, 8, and 12. Three were caught on a Z-Man Flappin Craw affixed a big football jig on May 25. Thus, 4,555 were caught on Midwest finesse baits and methods, which revolve around using  Gopher Tackle's  1/32-, 1/16- or 3/32-ounce Mushroom Jig Heads adorn with a soft-plastic lure.

The best lure in 2011 was Z-Man's 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ, which is made by cutting a five-inch ZinkerZ in half.  In addition, Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ, Z-Man's Rain MinnowZ and Z-Man's four-inch Finesse WormZ allured an impressive array of bass. The Finesse WormZ, however, didn't catch as many bass as it caught in years past. Thanks to the suggestions of Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, who was one of the first practitioners of Midwest finesse tactics back in the 1960s, we began using Zoom Bait Company's four-inch Mini Lizard rather than a four-inch Finesse WormZ during the spawning season, and it paid such handsome dividends that it will be part of finesse repertoire during the spawn for years to come.  The 2 1/2- and 2 3/4-inch tube wasn't effective during any part of the year, and that has never occurred before. The four-inch grub was effective only a few times during the fall.  Gene Larew Lure's Baby Hoodaddy replaced YUM's Wooly Beavertail as our best creature bait.

The best colors were Junebug, green pumpkin, white, peanut butter and jelly and purple haze. The Gopher jigs were painted either chartreuse or red. The chartreuse jig was often affixed to a white or green-pumpkin lure, and the red jig was used on all of the lures.

For years, our best retrieve has been the shake, swim and glide, but this year the drag-and-deadstick and drag-and-shake retrieves replaced the shake, swim and glide. We suspect that the summer's massive heat wave, as well as the substantial and long-lasting algal blooms, might have contributed to this change. Both of these retrieves take more time to execute than the shake, swim and glide, and we have found that a slow retrieve often diminishes the number of bass that we can catch per outing.

Here is a monthly summary of our 2011 catch: we caught 55 bass in January, 50 in February, 180 in March, 587 in April, 654 in May, 446 in June, 400 in July, 345 in August, 721 in September, 560 in October, 241 in November and 327 in December.   The winter of 2010-11 was beastly, which kept us at bay most of January and February.

This is one of the 131 bass that three of us caught on May 3, 2011. 

Our quest to tangle with 101 bass an outing was met only four times. The best outing occurred on May 3, when a trio of us caught  131 bass while using a Junebug 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ and  a Junebug four-inch Finesse WormZ; both baits were affixed to  a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig.  We caught 128 on April 13, 101 on April 18 and 101 on May 25. We missed our benchmark by two bass, when a trio of us caught 99 bass on April 14.

The last bass of year. It was caught on December 28, 2011, on a green-pumpkin Z-Man Finesse ShadZ affixed to a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. After this snapshot of this bass was taken, Rick Hebenstreit and I made a few more casts and called it a year.

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