Finesse Fishing for Stubborn Bass
March 15, 2018
Flipping a jig or Texas-rigged softbait is a key presentation for anglers targeting bass holding close to cover. Often it's the only way to get a lure to these buried bass. At times they're active and strike the lure as it falls through the water column.
But they can become tight-lipped for a variety of reasons, many of which we can merely guess at. In these situations, finesse-style flippin' is needed to keep strikes coming.
Bass become tight-lipped for several reasons, but cold water early and late in the year typically reduces their activity level, causing them to feed less. When the water is cold and bass aren't moving much, they may be looking for a big meal when the time to feed arrives. In chilly spring conditions, fish need to prepare physiologically for the upcoming spawn, and big females, in particular, seek large prey. In fall, this tendency is less, but big bass sometimes go for larger items that may fulfill their metabolism for days on end, as winter approaches.
Many anglers associate finesse fishing with using small lures and light line, but finesse flippin' simply mean fishing slowly and precisely. That's why bulky jigs remain a viable option in several situations. I often use a 1/2-ounce black/blue War Eagle Flipping Jig with a Zoom Super Chunk trailer, as it represents a large meal. And with that much weight, I can flip it farther to cover more water.
When I flip a jig into cover, I let it sink to the bottom. Watch your line, as bass may bite on the fall and your line may barely twitch. Once it hits bottom, the rod does the work, as I ever so slightly I lift it and let it fall back. Sometimes you need to let a jig soak, as a big bass in heavy cover may need up to a minute to size up its meal. For such deadsticking to be successful, boat control is paramount to keep your jig in the strike zone for extended periods.
By paying close attention to details, from making a precise flip to working the jig back to the boat, FLW Tour Pro Ramie Colson Jr., has notched numerous wins and top-10 finishes on Kentucky and Barkley lakes. "When flipping in cold water, I take extra time in making sure each flip precisely targets a specific twig or section of a laydown because those bass are tight to the cover for a reason and they don't want to stray too far from it," he says.
In shallow water, I rely on my pair of Minn Kota Talons, as they neatly pin my boat to a spot so I can work a piece of cover or structure. Keeping the boat pinned in wind or current helps greatly in working the lure slowly and watching for light bites.
Using a lower gear-ratio reel helps work a jig slower, so I use the Wright & McGill Victory II model with 6.3:1 ratio and pair it with a Witch Doctor Oracle Pitchin' Stick, a 7.5-foot rod with medium-fast action and extra-heavy power. For these presentations, you want a rod that's light yet powerful.
Often, the amount of inviting cover is vast, so developing a pattern and eliminating unproductive areas increases your efficiency. Andy Morgan, FLW Tour pro from Tennessee, garnered a top-10 finish last May at the Mississippi River event at Lacrosse. "Identifying the characteristics of spots where you get bites is key to putting together an effective strategy," he says. "I don't want to cruise a long stretch of fallen trees with my flippin' stick if I can identify subtle patterns. You're far better off to identify the highest percentage spots rather than covering miles of water."
Dealing with Fishing Pressure
Another scenario that forces anglers to hone their finesse flippin' skills is when bass have seen a lot of fishing pressure. This is often the case in summer when bass occupying classic cover on popular fisheries have seen a vast array of lures, and perhaps been fooled by a few. If you've identified a stretch of cover that's holding good-quality bass, they're likely to remain nearby, so it can be wise to make small changes to your tackle to keep bites coming.
One important change is reducing line size. Thinner line is less visible and it imparts a more natural action to your lure. My go-to line for flippin' is 20-pound-test Seaguar Flippin' Fluorocarbon. But when the bite gets tough, I switch to 17-pound Seaguar InvizX, which is extremely abrasion-resistant and has little stretch. And its smaller diameter allows a lure to move more naturally.
Another line change that can aid in getting bites is switching from braid to fluorocarbon. Braided line helps when flipping heavy vegetation, but sometimes this opaque line seems to spook bass as your lure descends in their face. I switch to Flippin' Fluorocarbon as it's abrasion-resistant, has reduced stretch, and is less visible underwater.
Scaling down in size and weight can set your presentations apart and draw more bites. I've seen situations where switching from a 1/2-ounce to a 3/8-ounce jig dramatically increased the number of bites and even the size of fish. Downsizing the trailer reduces the lure's profile and alters its rate of fall and action. "Going from a Zoom Super Chunk to a Super Chunk Jr., is many times all it takes to give a 3/8-ounce jig a finesse profile," Colson says.
John Crews, Salem, Virginia, is a Bassmaster Elite Series pro, as well as owner and lure designer for Missile Baits. After 18 years of fishing 4-day events around the U.S., he's seen many hot bites fade, requiring back-up plans. "Patterns rarely remain constant for an entire tournament," Crews says, "and more often than not, the bite gets tougher. If I've been using a 3/4- or 1-ounce Missile Baits Ike's Head Banger Jig, I often switch to the Mini Flip Jig if I'm fishing wood, brush, or other hard cover. And for a trailer, I go from a Missile B Bomb to a Baby D Bomb, or else to a Craw Father if I want a bit more action in the trailer, but in a smaller package.
"In grass situations, I may use a Texas-rigged Missile Craw when the jig bite starts to fade and fish drop the lure," he continues. "The Missile Craw is a narrow lure that slides easily though even dense vegetation on a lighter sinker. And due to that lack of resistance, you easily detect light bites that occur when bass turn tough. With a 3/0-straight-shank hook, I can easily set the hook on bass I might miss with a jig."
Though he owns an entire tackle company, he keeps color selections simple. "On dark days or when the water is murky, I use Bruiser (black-blue) or else California Love, a brownish, reddish hue," he says. "In clear water or on sunny days, I rely on Bamer Bug (green pumpkin with orange) a lot."
Reducing sinker weight can help when you're Texas-rigging softbaits and the bite turns tough. I tend to use the smallest tungsten weight I can get away with. Depending on water depth, current, wind, and the density of cover, you can scale down your weight by a size or two, say going from a 1/2-ounce sinker to a 3/8- or even 5/16-ounce model.
Behind that weight I scale down the lure, switching from a Zoom Z-Craw to the Z-Craw Jr., or to a Super Hog, which has a compact profile with minimal action. "I like to keep my soft-plastic selection simple whenever I'm flippin', but this is especially true when the bite is a tough," Morgan says. "The compact profile of a Z-Craw makes it a good choice in those situations." Indeed, Morgan has banked millions of dollars on this approach, winning three FLW Angler-of-the-Year titles along the way.
In any flippin' situation, an extremely sharp hook is important for hooking bass and getting them out of cover and into the boat. Moreover, matching the hook to softbaits gives them a more natural fall and appearance, and also hooks bass well. When downsizing, I use a 3/0 Trokar TK133 Big Nasty Flippin Hook instead of the 4/0 size. This style has the gap needed to hook and land big bass in smaller sizes.
Heavy rain at any time of year can turn river systems muddy. With limited visibility, the strike zone of bass typically shrinks. Here, too, a finesse approach can help. Bass in such conditions often cling tight to shallow cover, relying on their ears and lateral lines to supplement limited vision.
At times, a bigger weight is the key to generating strikes in near-mud scenarios. Bass tend not to roam then, but wait for vulnerable prey to wander within range. When a lure falls in front of their face, they react quickly, not wanting the prey to escape. In this situation, I use a modified flippin' approach with a big jig or heavy tungsten weight that falls quickly to catch a bass' attention.
If I don't get a strike on the initial drop, I pull my lure back out of that crevice, aim for another one, and repeat the process. In prime cover, such as a fallen tress extending from the bank out over 5 to 6 feet of water, I try to hit every branch, twig, trunk, or nook because each of them is an ambush spot where bass are likely to lurk.
When you get bites, pay close attention to where those fish are holding in the cover. Is it on the upstream or downstream side of the laydown; the larger limbs or root ball; outer branches or trunk?
Today, finesse fishing seems to be playing a larger role in bass presentations of all sorts. Traditionally, finesse fishing and flipping could be considered opposites. But by taking some of the finesse mindset to heavy-cover, heavy-tackle flippin' tactics, you find you can get inactive bass to strike when the bite slows slow down.
*Glenn Walker, Savage, Minnesota, is a freelance writer, tournament fisherman, and fishing industry insider. For more information check glennwalkerfishing.com or on Facebook at glennwalkerfishing.