Across the years, we have written a lot of words about the finesse tactics that a few professional bass anglers employ in tournament situations. And we are always on the lookout for new finesse anglers who ply various tournament circuits.
Several weeks ago, we crossed paths with Andrew Upshaw of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who employs a lot of finesse methods while competing on the Walmart FLW Tour and Bassmaster Northern Open tournaments.
Upshaw is 26 years old, and since 2005, he has competed in 14 Bassmaster events, including the Bassmaster Classic on the River River at Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana, on Feb. 24-26, 2012. He garnered a birth at the Classic by winning the Carhartt College Series championship in 2011 as a student at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. After he graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing in 2011, he began competing on the Walmart FLW Tour in 2012, and has participated in 12 of those events.
In addition to his tournament endeavors, Upshaw began working in April of 2013 for Dollahon PR, which is a public-relations business in Tulsa that represents clients in the tackle and outdoor trade. Nowadays Gary Dollahon, with the insights and help of Upshaw and Brandon Tuttle, provides marketing-communications assistance for his clients, which includes Web sites and social media tools.
He grew up in Hemphill, Texas, and was mentored by Tommy Martin, a stellar tournament and power angler, who taught Upshaw the ways of catching the largemouth bass that abide in Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn reservoirs. But despite those power-fishing roots that were cultivated by Martin, Upshaw has developed an affinity for wielding finesse tactics -- especially when he is fishing waterways such as Cayuga Lake, New York, Detroit River, Michigan, all of the Great Lakes, and many of the Ozark impoundments. Consequently, there will be times when he will have five finesse outfits at the ready on the front deck of his boat.
His finesse repertoire revolves around these five rigs:
When he is plying docks, brush piles, flooded trees and other objects with a finesse worm affixed to a shaky-head jig, he works with a six-foot, medium to medium-light power rod with a fast action. It is a custom-made rod. To this rod, Upshaw fastens a Teams Lew's Gold Speed Spin 2000 reel that is spooled with 10-pound-test Izorline braid and attached to the braided line is a five-foot Izorline Fluoro Carbon Leader. He usually uses a six-pound-test leader, but if there are some hefty bass inhabiting the docks that he is probing with his shaky-head rig, he might opt for an eight-pound-test leader.
Upshaw uses a knot that he designed and calls a jughead knot to attach the leader to the braided line, and to attach the jig to the leader, he uses a Palomar knot.
He works with a 1/16-, 1/8- and 3/16-ounce jig. The 1/16-ouncer is a Buckeye Lures Spot Remover Jig. The 1/8- and 3/16-ouncers are Gambler Lures Giggy Head jigs, and they sport a 5/0 hook.
The 1/8-ouncer is the one that he most frequently wields. Nowadays, his shaky-head jigs are dressed with a Gene Larew Lures' Tattle Tail Worm, and the 5/0 hook is not exposed. The torso of the worm, which is affixed Texas-style to the jig, covers the point of the hook. The head of the worm is attached to the bait keeper on the head of the jig. The bait keeper is a barbed nail-like apparatus rather than a screw-lock system.
He works with six colors of the Tattle Tail Worm. His most effective color is green pumpkin/purple. Here are the other five, and they are listed in the order of their effectiveness: brown/magenta, green pumpkin, dark brown/light brown, magenta/chartreuse, and morning dawn. The green pumpkin/purple, brown/magenta, and green pumpkin are the colors that Upshaw uses when he searching for the whereabouts of the bass. But he notes that "all colors have their place, and the Tattle Tail is made to cover all fishing conditions at all times of the year. So, at some point during the year, each color of Tattle Tail will be used on one my shaky-head jigs."
When he needs a smaller worm, Upshaw will trim an inch or more off the head of the six-inch Tattle Tail Worm.
He said, "When I am fishing docks, brush piles, flooded trees and other objects with a shaky-head rig, I use it as a drop bait. What I mean by that is that I focus on the initial drop of the worm and the first two pulls or lifts of the rod. During the initial drop, once the worm touches the bottom, I allow the worm to lie there for a few seconds. Then I hop it once or twice, and after that, I reel it in and make another cast. It is kind of like finesse flipping but with a cast. I can cover double the water, which allows me to catch more bass."
To swim a finesse grub, Upshaw opts for a seven-foot, medium power, and fast-action Team Lew's Spinning Rod and Team Lew's Gold Speed Spin 3000 reel. This reel is filled with 10-pound-test Izorline braided line, and an eight-pound-test Izorline Fluoro Carbon leader, which is seven feet long. The leader is tied to the braid with the knot he designed and calls the jughead knot. He says there are two reasons why he uses an eight-pound-test leader while he is swimming a grub. The first reason is the bass do not get a good look at a swimming grub. Therefore, he doesn't need a lighter and less visible leader. The second reason stems from the fact he uses a 3/16-ounce jig, which allows him to swim the grub faster than most anglers swim it when the grub is affixed to either a 1/16- and 1/8-ounce jig. It is interesting to note that he has determined that his quick-paced retrieves have increased the size of the bass that he catches, but it has decreased the number of smaller bass that he catches. Upshaw's 3/16-ounce jig also has a heavy wire hook, which necessitates bigger line and stouter rod in order to get the hook to penetrate the flesh in bass' mouths. These jigs are manufactured by a friend.
He works three styles of grubs: (1) Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits' five-inch Single Tail Grub in either a smoke or smoke-purple hue; (2) Kalin's four-inch Lunker Grubs in either the bluegill or blue-pearl-salt-and-pepper hue, which Upshaw described as smoke hues; (3) Gene Larew Lures' 3½-inch Long John Minnow in the smoke-silver, monkey-milk, and threadfin-shad hues, which are a shad pattern.
In clear-water situation, he uses the Long John Minnow's smoke-silver pattern, and if the sky is cloudy, he uses threadfin or monkey milk hues. He also works with those two colors if the water is a little stained. Day in and day out, however, Upshaw prefers to wield a four-inch grub. He says, "I like a grub in the smoke to smoke-purple color best. The most important aspect of it to me is the size of jig, the line and the speed of the retrieve. I like to experiment with swimbaits because I think they allure larger than average bass when I employ this swimming technique, and that is why the Long John Minnow and Larew's Sweet Swimmer are good alternatives for catching bigger bass."
When Upshaw casts and retrieves a finesse worm on a shaky-head jig in open-water locations, he works with a seven-foot, medium power, and fast-action Team Lew's Spinning Rod with a Team Lew' Gold Speed Spin 2000 reel. He said: "In open water, I have found that I have a lot more success with straight fluorocarbon line rather than braided line with a fluorocarbon leader. Depending on the size of the bass that I am around, I use either six- or eight-pound-test Izorline Fluoro Carbon. The fluorocarbon increases my hook-up ratio, and if I use braided line, I tend to pull or jerk the shaky-head jig and worm out of the bass' mouths." At times, however, he has used braided line with a leader, and when he did that, he worked with a seven-foot, medium-light power, and fast-action Team Lew's Spinning Rod.
He works with the same jigs and Tattle Tail Worm that he uses around docks, brush piles flooded trees and other objects. Recently, he has been rigging the Tattle Tail Worm on a 3/16-ounce Gene Larew Lures HardHead jig, which creates a different action than he can generate with a shaky-head jig.
When Upshan casts and retrieves a shaky-head rig, he utilizes two retrieve styles. His favorite tactic is to allow the jig to hit the bottom, then he moves it a couple times by pulling it with his rod, and after those two pulls or moves, he quickly reels it in, and he executes another cast and short retrieve. Upshaw says that the preponderance of the bass he inveigles with retrieve is allured on either the initial drop of the bait to the bottom or after the first time he moves it. And he says he always uses the drop, pull pull, and reel motif when he is searching for a concentration of bass.
If he discovers a specific area that has a large concentration of bass, he will retrieve his shaky-head combo all the way to the boat.
According to Upshaw, "The HardHead method is becoming one of the best ways to fish the Tattle Tail Worm, playing off of the same kind of unique action popularized by Tommy Biffle with his Biffle Bug-and-HardHead routine. When I use HardHead and Tattle Tail, I make long casts with my spinning tackle and reel it, keeping contact with the bottom. The reeling speed is extremely slow; it is just crawling over the bottom, which is unlike the much faster paced retrieve that is used with the Biffle Bug-and-HardHead combo. The key to it is keeping contact with the bottom. I'm still learning about how, when and where to use the Tattle Tail on the Hardhead, but my early experimentation is working well. And because of the sheer number of bites it yields, I imagine it will become a staple in my tournament fishing."
Upshaw uses a seven-foot, medium-light power, fast-action Team Lew's rod and Team Lew's Gold Speed Spin 3000 reel when he is casting and retrieving a drop-shot rig. His reel is filled with 10-pound-test Izorline braided line. He attaches palomar knot the top eye of a No. 10 Spro Power Swivel to the braided line, and to the swivel's bottom eye, he attaches six-pound-test Izorline Fluoro Carbon Leader. To the leader, he ties a 1/0 Gamakatsu split-shot/drop-shot hook. He almost always nose hooks a soft-plastic bait, such as a TattleTail Worm, to that 1/0 hook. But he will use a Texas-rigged worm rather than a nose-hooked one when he is probing areas that are filled with snags, such as flooded trees and brush piles.
When he Texas rigs his worm on his drop-shot rig, Upshaw works with the Roboworm's ReBarb straight-shank hook by Gamakatsu and sizes that range from a 1/0 to a 3/0. He said: "I use the bigger hook always because it gives me a better hook up ratio than the smaller hooks. I do know it decreases my action a little, but the bite to catch ratio is so high that I stick with it exclusively."
Below the hook, he affixes a sinker, which ranges in weight from1/16-ounce to 3/8-ounce; the size of his sinker is determined by the depth he is probing, the amount of current that he is dealing with in river situations and windy conditions, and the type of objects or cover that is littering the bottom. His sinker is placed from six to 12 inches below the hook, and the location of the sinker depends on the disposition of the bass and how near the bottom they are feeding.
He says when he casts a drop-shot rig, he is aiming at targets, such as a log or dock pilings. He allows the rig to plummet to the bottom adjacent to the object, and he allows it lie there for about seven seconds on a tight line, and at times he adds a subtle shake, but never a radical one, explaining that he wants the Tattle Tail Worm "to just soak around the cover." And he often finds that his soaking presentation, which many anglers call a deadstick presentation, triggers a strike.
When he executes vertical presentations with a drop-shot rig, Upshaw utilizes a seven-foot, medium-light power, and fast action Team Lew's Spinning Rod. This rod is fitted with a Team Lew's Gold Speed Spin 2000 reel, and it is spooled with six-pound-test Izorline Fluoro Carbon Line. He employs the same swivel, hook and sinkers that he uses when he casts and retrieves a drop-shot rig, but the placement of the sinker ranges from a foot to two feet below the hook. Upshaw says that his hook-up ratio increases significantly with his vertical presentation compared to his casting presentation, and he notes that "the bass are hooked perfectly without tearing their mouths" when he sets the hook vertically.
On his drop-shot applications, Upshaw uses a variety of soft-plastic baits. His favorite is the Tattle Tail Worm, which John Murray of Phoenix, Arizona, designed primarily as drop-shot bait. Upshaw says he prefers a six- to seven-inch soft-plastic worm because they tend to allure bigger bass than the three- to five-inch baits do. But when he has to downsize during a tough bite, he'll go to a something in the three- to four-inch range. At the Walmart FLW Tour event at Lewis Smith Lake, Alabama, on Mar. 7-10, 2013, Upshaw said that a smoke-colored Gene Larew Lures' Long John Minnow bewitched an impressive array of spotted bass, and he customized this bait by dying the tail chartreuse.
Upshaw described his drop-shot retrieves as being extremely simple. He said: "I wait until I see a bass on my depth finder and then I drop the bait to it or right above it, depending on how the bass are reacting. I give the worm little to no action, and that is because these baits are so soft and supple that I do not have to move the rod a lot for them to exhibit the right action that will entice a bass to engulf it."
Upshaw says that he uses his finesse tactics everywhere he fishes, noting that he "really likes using them on lakes where most anglers wouldn't use them, such as Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn reservoirs in Texas." What's more, they are extremely effective on all waterways that are heavily fished.
(1) For more information about the Tattle Tail Worm, please see this blog: https://www.in-fisherman.com/2013/09/26/gene-larew-lures-tattle-tail-worm/
(2) It is important to note that there are different degrees of finesse fishing. For example, Midwest finesse anglers classify Andrew Upshaw's finesse tactics as power finesse. What' more, his tournament finesse tactics are different than those of Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Missouri, which we described in a Sept. 16 blog, and here is the link to that blog: https://www.in-fisherman.com/2013/09/16/midwest-finesse-on-the-tournament-trail-with-stacey-king/
(3) For another perspective that focuses on how professional tournament anglers use finesse tactics, please see this story at http://archives.in-fisherman.com/content/meet-shinichi-fukae-wizard-finesse-0
(4) For more insights on Buckeye Spot Remover Jig, see http://www.buckeyelures.com/spot_remover.
(5) The photograph of Andrew Upshaw was taken by Brad Wiegmann of Springdale, Arkansas.
(6) For more information about Tommy Martin, who was Upshaw's mentor, see https://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/11/04/the-life-and-times-of-sam-rayburn-and-toledo-bend-reservoirs-and-one-of-their-finest-bass-anglers/