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Finesse tactics for smallmouth bass

Our September 9 and 16 blogs explained a few of our ideas about employing  finesse baits in flatland reservoirs, where the waters are relatively stained and many of  the largemouth bass are often abiding in shallow water year-round.

Those comments, as well as some other statements expressed on the Finesse News Network, sparked several edifying remarks from a devoted finesse angler who spends many of his summer days pursuing smallmouth bass in oligotrophic waterways along the border of United States and Canada, where he tangles with impressive numbers of smallmouth bass.

For example, from the late spring and throughout the summer of 2011, he was afloat 67 times at his oligotrophic haunts, which are, of course, clearer, deeper and rockier than the flatland impoundments that we regularly haunt. During this spell, he caught 2,353 smallmouth bass.  More than 90 percent of those smallmouth bass were caught on three of the soft-plastic finesse lures that we regularly employ in flatland reservoirs. Those lures are a 4" Finesse ShadZ, 3.75" StreakerZ, and 2.5" ZinkerZ, which are made by Z-Man Fishing Products.

Similar to us, he affixes all of these baits to a jig. He wields them on either a six-foot fast-action or a five-foot, two-inch extra-fast-action spinning outfit that is spooled with six-pound-test Berkley FireLine, and six to nine feet of either a 8- or 10-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. In sum, this part of his finesse repertoire is similar to the finesse tackle that many of us employ at flatland reservoirs.

The divergences in his oligotrophic styles and our flatland styles begins with our ideas  about the effectiveness of  what we call cock-eyed presentations, such as the J-rigged ZinkerZ, which is partially curved around the bend of the hook so that it looks somewhat like the letter J. He contends that he can catch many more smallmouth bass with a 2.5" ZinkerZ that is rigged perfectly straight and glued snugly to the head of the jig than one that is slipping off the collar of the jig or partially curved around the bend on the hook.  Therefore, to keep all of his soft-plastic baits perfectly straight and to prevent  them from becoming askew or cock-eyed, he affixes them on the jig with Loctite Super Glue Liquid.

Another difference is that we opt to use the lightest jig possible; it is one of the dictates of Guido Hibdon of Sunrise Beach, Missouri, who is one the pioneers of finesse fishing for largemouth bass.  We use three sizes of Gopher Tackle's Original Mushroom Jig Head: 1/32-ounce, 1/16-ounce and 3/32-ounce jigs. Of the three, we prefer the 1/32-ounce jig, but because the wind frequently batters our flatland lakes, we are forced to use the 1/16-ounce jig more than the 1/32-ouncer.

In contrast, he prefers to use the heaviest jig possible, and from his perspective as a finesse angler, heavy means a quarter of an ounce.

He delineated three reasons why a heavy jig is better: it casts better, it works better in the wind, and it fishes faster.

In the clear water environs that he fishes, he has found that a quick retrieve often provokes smallmouth bass to strike. A slow one usually gives them too much time to examine the bait, which makes them hesitant; thus they merely follow the bait or perhaps nudge it with their heads or bodies, and eventually they turn away and disappear, but he pointed out that a slow presentation with a lightweight jig is one of the best options to employ in the spring.  Moreover, he has experienced many days when the wind blew 20 mph, which forced him to use a 1/4-ounce jig and retrieve it rapidly, and the smallmouth bass attacked it without hesitation.

He makes his own mushroom-style jigs in five sizes: 1/32-ounce, 1/16-ounce, 1/8-ounce, 3/16-ounce and 1/4-ounce.

He will use the 1/32-ounce when the smallmouth bass are shallow and the wind isn't blowing, and if the smallmouth bass are shallow and it is windy, he will utilize a 1/16-ounce jig. When the smallmouth bass aren't shallow, he will use an 1/8-ounce jig into 10 feet of water and the 3/16-ounce jig in 11 to 20 feet of water. The 1/4-ouncer is relegated to deeper environs and extremely windy condition. He has found that the buoyancy of  the Finesse ShadZ, StreakerZ and ZinkerZ,  which are made from Z-Man's ElaZtech, allows anglers use these baits on a heavier jig without impeding their inherent ability to glide seductively across and through a variety of smallmouth bass lairs.

Besides the traditional single-jig motif, he also works with a tandem rig that features a 1/4-ounce jig dressed with a 2.5" ZinkerZ on the bottom of the tandem and a 1/32-ounce jig affixed to a Finesse ShadZ at the top.

He also disagrees with our ideas about using small hooks. We contend that small hooks, such as a No. 6 and No.4,  allow the soft-plastic baits to move or undulate more provocatively than when they are affixed to a jig with a bigger hook. In addition, we prefer small hooks because they are more snag free than big ones, and they aren't as likely to injure the bass as bigger hooks often do.

He adamantly declared that No. 1 and 1/0 Gamakatsu black-nickel, round-bend, light-wire jig hooks do a better job of hooking smallmouth bass and keeping them hooked than the No. 6 and No.4 bronze Mustad hooks that we employ.

What's more, since he retrieves his baits at quicker tempo than we do, the subtle undulations of the soft-plastic baits that we relish aren't needed. He has also witnessed that his hooks don't cause undue harm to the scores of smallmouth bass that he catches.

In regard to our statements about the snag-free virtues of small hooks, he noted that the buoyant nature of the Z-Man's soft-plastic baits is what keeps the jigs and hooks from becoming snagged in the crevices of the rocks and boulders. In other words, it's not the difference between a No. 1 hook and a No. 4.  To validate that contention, he noted that two of his friends, who are ardent smallmouth bass anglers, normally used 800 or more 2.75" tubes every summer, and the bulk of those lost tubes were the result of being snagged in rocks and boulders. This year they substituted a 2.5" ZinkerZ for the 2.75" tube and lost a mere fraction of the 800 tubes that they normally lost

He also notes that No. 1 and 1/0 Gamakatsu jig hooks are equivalent to No. 2 and No. 1   jig hooks made by other manufacturers.  All five sizes of his jigs are poured around the No. 1 and 1/0 Gamakatsu jig hooks.

He recommends using a No. 1 hook with the 2.5" ZinkerZ and a 1/0 with the 3.75" StreakerZ and 4" ShadZ.

He punctuated his ideas about hooks by saying:  "I will always use the largest hook that doesn't overwhelm the lure. I would always trade the loss of a few missed strikes on little fish to be equipped to land the larger fish."

From his vast piscatorial perspective, he is certain that his finesse tactics for smallmouth bass in the clear oligotrophic waters will work equally well for largemouth bass in stained flatland impoundments.

In the weeks and months to come we hope to explore more of this angler  insights to finesse fishing for smallmouth bass in oligotrophic waters, examining casting angles and distances, angles of retrieves, style of retrieves, colors of lures,  and more.

 The walleye as a pest.

In oligotrophic waters that support a copious population of walleye, there will be spells when this devoted smallmouth bass angler considers the walleye to be a nuisance — especially when he is using a Finesse ShadZ-and-jig combo in the spring.  During these times, he cannot allow his jig and Finesse ShadZ to be near the bottom in water deeper than four feet, and if he does, the walleye will pester him almost incessantly. Consequently, he has determined that a 1/32-ounce jig is often the best one to employ when he wants to avoid the walleye and catch smallmouth bass instead. By the way, his biggest smallmouth in 2011 was inveigled on the Finesse ShadZ affixed to a 1/32-ounce jig during one of those days that he was attempting to avoid the bothersome walleye

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