By Ned Kehde
Back in the late 1950s, some of the precursors to Midwest finesse fishing regularly plied the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. At times, these anglers were fond of using a small Doll Fly or a marabou jig on a 12- to 24-inch leader that was attached to the back hook-keeper of a Heddon’s Jitterbug. They used it to catch black bass and white bass. Then during the 1960s, these anglers replaced the Jitterbug with either a Heddon’s Tiny Chugger or Baby Chugger. But those jig tactics gradually went by the wayside with the advent of Midwest finesse tactics.
John McKean of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a multispecies angler, a longtime member of the Finesse News Network and a Midwest finesse aficionado.
Back in his youth and many years before his affection for Midwest finesse fishing developed, he used an agitator float and jig to catch scores of Lake Erie’s white bass.
During the past seven springs and early summers, he has worked with a half-filled water bubble that weighs about a half of an ounce. At times, he inserted a few small lead split shots or metal BBs inside the bubble to create a rattle. The water bubble is adorned with a 1/28-ounce jig that is dressed with a short rabbit-fur skirt and a one-inch silicone worm. The jig and worm are attached to the floating water bubble with a six-pound-test monofilament leader, which is about two feet long. He employs this rig with a straight retrieve, or a chugging one, or a popping-and-dropping presentation. And across the past seven years, it has been a very fruitful tactic for catching black bass, panfish, and rainbow trout.
In a Nov. 11, 2019, email, McKean wrote that he had enjoyed a fairly good fishing year despite a massive amount of rain that Mother Nature poured upon western Pennsylvania.
In that email, he noted that during the summer of 2019 he began using a tactic that he described as a modern-day version of the old-fashioned Tiny Chugger or Baby Chugger tactic that some of the Ozarkians used in the 1950s and 1960s at the Lake of the Ozarks.
This tactic revolves around using a popping cork that saltwater anglers employ in various shallow-water environs. Throughout the summer and into the late fall of 2019, McKean discovered that this shallow-water saltwater tactic has been very effective for inveigling a variety of species that abide in the small and shallow waterways that stipple some of the landscapes of western Pennsylvania.
McKean’s favorite popping-cork rig is a Fred Petty’s Power Popper. To the Power Popper, he affixes the same, leader, jig and trailer that he employs on his water-bubble rig.
McKean says that a lightweight jig and small trailer has a slow descent or fall rate, and he has discovered that a lightweight rig is more effective than a heavier one for alluring the fish that abide in the waterways that he plies in western Pennsylvania.
He described the presentation that he employs with the popper and jig as being similar to one of the standard Midwest finesse retrieves that is called the hop and bounce or hop and drop, which is a retrieve that Midwest finesse anglers employ with a 1/16-ounce mushroom-style jig affixed to a 2 1/2- to four-inch soft-plastic bait. But instead of the jig hopping and bouncing along the bottom, McKean’s jig is doing that routine near the surface. Some Midwest finesse anglers might describe the movement of McKean’s jig as a swim-and-swing presentation.
According to McKean, this presentation is executed by vigorously jerking the Power Popper to get the metal bearings to clack. (The metal bearings are affixed to a steel rod that slides through the center of the Power Popper.) This vigorous jerk pulls the jig and leader towards the surface. After the clack of the metal bearings, McKean executes a pause, which allows the lightweight jig and trailer to swing and glide downward and ultimately under the Power Popper. And when it is under the Power Popper, the jig and trailer are suspended in nearly a motionless state.
McKean says that many anglers might initially think that the size and noise of the Power Popper will intimidate freshwater fish, but he has found that it has the opposite effect. For example, he fished a small reservoir on Nov. 3, when the water was muddy and cold, and his Power Popper and jig caught more crappie than his water-bubble and jig caught.
In some ways, it is a noisy and shallow-water variation of the traditional float-and-fly tactic that smallmouth bass anglers in Tennessee have been employing for decades.
Besides crappie, McKean has used his Fred Petty’s Power Popper rig to inveigle black bass, bluegill, and rainbow trout. Now, he has come to the conclusion that it is such a productive tactic that Midwest finesse anglers from all over the country should give it a whirl with a small jig that sports one of the many small soft-plastic finesse baits that the tackle industry is currently manufacturing.
For instance, a shortened Z-Man Fishing Products’ TRD MinnowZ affixed to a 1/32-ounce jig that is affixed to a two-foot leader and Fred Petty’s Power Popper might be an effective rig for Midwest finesse anglers to employ for catching largemouth bass that abide on shallow-water flats that are adorned with submerged aquatic vegetation -- such as curly-leaf pondweed, coontail, or Eurasian milfoil -- in cold-water situations.