April 14, 2020
By Ned Kehde
In the eyes of the angling world, Steve Quinn of Brainerd, Minnesota, officially christened the 2 1/2-inch Strike King Lure Company’s Zero affixed to a 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle’s Mushroom Head Jig as the Ned rig. He did this in the August and September of 2010 issue of In-Fisherman magazine. He did it again in the June of 2011 issue, and on this occasion, he included the 2 1/2-inch Z-Man Fishing Products’ ZinkerZ. Then, in the winter of 2013-14 issue, he identified a Z-Man’s Finesse ShadZ affixed to a mushroom-shaped jig as a Ned rig.
Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Missouri, also played a role in spawning the nation’s attention to this Ned rig phenomenon. King came to northeastern Kansas on Dec. 9, 2010, and created a segment for “The Bass Pros” television show about a tactic that anglers in northeastern Kansas called Midwest finesse fishing. To make this TV segment, King and I fished for about 3 1/2 hours, using several new and one old-fashioned Midwest finesse rigs to catch 38 largemouth bass around shallow-water patches of coontail. The surface temperature ranged from 38 to 40 degrees, and about five percent of this flatland reservoir was covered with ice. Shortly after we made our last casts, King said that creating a TV segment in 3 1/2 hours is a remarkable endeavor, and he contributed it to the effectiveness of the Midwest finesse rigs that we employed.
Since 2011, the Ned rig phenomenon has become bewildering and rather preposterous. Nowadays, it is even being talked about, used, and written about in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
In the angling world, I am merely a recreational angler from northeastern Kansas, who discovered many decades ago the manifold virtues of Midwest finesse rigs. I have found them to be the most effective, frugal, and simplest way to pursue largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass. As a journalist, I have written many words about Midwest finesse rigs, and as I reflect about this Ned rig phenomenon, I think, if it is named for someone, it should be called the Chuck rig in honor of the late Chuck Woods of Kansas City, Missouri.
Woods along with the piscatorial creations, ingenuity, insights, methods, and talents of Burton Bosley, Harold Ensley, Ray Fincke, Ted Green, Bert Hall, Guido Hibdon, Dwight Keefer, Drew Reese, Jim Rogers, Bill Ward, and Virgil Ward played a critical role in the creation of Midwest finesse fishing of which the so-called Ned rig is a minor element.
These forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing resided in central Missouri, northeastern Kansas, northwestern Missouri, and south-central Missouri. And across the past 63 years, these eleven anglers and their various comrades periodically crossed paths with each other. Many of them were multispecies anglers, which played a significant role in the creation of Midwest finesse fishing.
Bill Ward, Dwight Keefer, Drew Reese, and Burton Bosley are the only ones of this cadre who are still alive and fishing.
Back in the early days of this piscatorial phenomenon, it was not called Midwest finesse fishing. Instead, it was called light-line fishing, and the light line and small lures were employed on a spinning rod and reel. Some folks castigated it by calling it “crappie fishing for bass.” Some others called it “trout fishing for bass.” It was also called “sissy fishing.” Disparaging words are still uttered about this way of pursuing largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass, but they are not as frequently uttered as they used to be. It was not until around the beginning of the third millennium that the phrase Midwest finesse fishing was coined.
In 1991, Guido Hibdon of Gravois Mills, Missouri, was written about and quoted in Michael Jones’ “The Complete Guide to Finesse Bass Fishing.” He said: “First off, many people don’t believe that little baits will catch big fish, but they do. Gosh, we’ve proven it for years. And, for years before the guys out west were proving it.”
Even though Jones quoted Hibdon’s comments about finesse fishing in Kansas and Missouri predating the finesse fishing in California and other western states, Jones paid no heed to Hibdon’s insights, and according to Jones, finesse fishing began in California.
Hibdon also told Jones that “fishermen tend to use too much weight. And, with too much weight the baits don’t work right.” This statement lies at the heart of Midwest finesse fishing and our devotion for employing what is called a no-feel retrieve.
It is interesting to note that Hibdon traveled several times to Japan. And he discovered that finesse fishing began in Missouri and Kansas long before the anglers in Japan got wind of the effectiveness of light lines and little lures.
The next 3276 words will focus on the early creations and insights of these forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing. These words will focus on the years from 1955 to 2006.
The marabou jig was one of the first creations. Bill Ward of Amsterdam, Missouri, created the world’s first marabou jig in 1957. He made it at the behest of his father, Virgil Ward, who was going trout fishing in Arkansas on the White River below Bull Shoals Lake with Harold Ensley of Kansas City, Missouri. Virgil Ward and Ensley were going to film this outing for Ensley’s weekly television show. Ensley’s show was entitled “The Sportsman’s Friend.” Virgil wanted a jig that was similar to the marabou streamer that Missouri fly fishermen used when they fished for trout at Roaring River, Missouri, and Bennet Springs, Missouri. So Bill Ward tied several 1/16-ounce white marabou jigs for his father. Bill said it was essentially a Doll Fly with white marabou instead of white bear hair. On that outing with Ensley, Virgil used spinning tackle and light line to catch an impressive array of trout, including a six-pounder, on Bill's marabou jig. At that time, the Wards were proprietors of Bass Buster Lure Company in Amsterdam, Missouri. And from that point on, Bass Buster made marabou jigs by the thousands, ranging in size from 1/64-ounce to 1/2-ounce in black, white, purple, yellow, red/white, blue-gray, pink, and orange.
After Ensley’s television show was aired, Bill Ward recalls that a group of anglers from Tulsa, Oklahoma, began manufacturing marabou jigs, and before long, the marabou jig became one of the preeminent lures across the Heartland.
Many of the forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing dressed a small black marabou jig with a small and customized black eel that was made with pork rind, and they inveigled untold numbers of largemouth bass on this jig-and-eel combo. A few of them also used a jig with a black marabou tail and a black chenille body, which was another effective way of catching black bass.
Bill also remembers that he and his father enjoyed a couple of bountiful lake-trout forays with Ensley in Canada with marabou jigs in 1958 and 1959. The Wards continued those lake-trout forays for many years, and some of them were featured on Virgil Ward’s television show, which was entitled “Championship Fishing.”
Besides their lake-trout adventures, Bill and Virgil Ward pursued the smallmouth bass that abide in Canadian waterways. According to Bill Ward, the first one occurred in 1959 at Cliff Lake, Ontario, where they introduced that waterway’s smallmouth bass to a black 1/32-ounce marabou jig. They wielded it on a spinning rod with four-pound-test line, and this finesse rig waylaid oodles of smallmouth bass. Subsequently, they ventured to Lake of the Woods, where they caught scores and scores and scores of smallmouth bass on other colors and sizes of marabou jigs. Bill says they caught so many smallmouth bass that their hands and arms became so sore and tired that they had to stop fishing.
(There is a current school of thought that insists that several smallmouth bass anglers in southern Ontario, such as Hiram Archibald, Joe Pritchett, Dave Lindsay, and Norman Lindsay, and not the Wards, introduced and developed the art of employing a marabou jig during the 1990s for inveigling the smallmouth bass that abide in Lake of the Woods and other northern waterways. For more information about the Wards and the marabou jig please see endnotes number four and five.)
A year after the creation of the marabou jig, Bert Hall of Forsyth, Missouri, created the Road Runner. Rather than using a jig spinner on a marabou jig, Hall wanted to devise another way to attach a spinner to a jig. Upon creating the first Road Runner, he lauded its effectiveness by saying that it could allure nearly all of the fish that abided in the streams and reservoirs of the Ozark Region. Hall purchased the Blakemore Lure Company in 1969 and made it the corporate home of the Road Runner and several other lures. By the late 1980s, 40 percent of Blakemore’s production was aimed at the bass-fishing market and 60 percent was designed for crappie anglers. When Blakemore finally received a configuration trademark for the Road Runner in 1990, it directed its entire focus on the needs of crappie fishermen. Nowadays, Hall’s creation has the generic name of underspin, and the underspin is manufactured by scores of tackle companies. It is interesting to note that Bill Fletcher, who is an Ozark angler and fishing guide, competed in the first Bassmaster Classic in 1971 at Lake Mead, Nevada, and he used a Road Runner.
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, Chuck Woods spent a lot of time wielding a soft-plastic worm on a small jig with an exposed hook. In the 1960s, he also created the first Texas-rigged jig worm, which, was many years before the term shaky-head jig was coined. It was a 1/16-ounce aspirin-head jig that sported a 3/0 hook. The segment of the hook's shank between the 90-degree bend and the hook's eye was long enough that it thoroughly penetrated the head or anterior section of a Crème’s Scoundrel Worm or a Fliptail Worm or a Sportsman Super Floater Worm. So, the worm’s anterior section rested on top of the aspirin-shaped piece of lead, and the point and barb of the hook were inserted to either the clitellum or the posterior portions of the worm.
We don't have an exact date of when an angler affixed a soft-plastic worm to a jig. But we do know that Ted Green and Gayle Marcus of Mar Lynn Lure Company of Blue Springs, Missouri, purchased Dave Hawks' Thinga-ma-Jig in 1955. It was a horse-hoof-shaped jig that Hawks' dressed with a pork-rind eel to catch largemouth bass at Bull Shoals Lake. In 1956, Green and Marcus added one of Bill Norton's plastic worms to Hawks' jig, and they named this combo the Skworm-N-Jig. Norton was the proprietor of Sportsman’s Products, Inc. of Marion, Indiana. Eventually, Mar Lynn manufactured its own soft-plastic worm and a weed or hook guard that could be slipped over the collar of the jig. The weed guard was called the FAN GARD. In 1960, Harold Ensley used the Skworm-N-Jig to win the World Series of Sports Fishing. It is important to note that a jig worm still plays a significant role in the repertoire of Midwest finesse anglers.
It was during the late 1950s and early 1960s that Woods created the precursor to the Senko, or stick-style bait or the so-called Ned rig. It was a byproduct of his days of using a jig worm. He did it by shortening a soft-plastic worm, creating a stick-style bait that ranged in length from one to three inches. He cut a forked tail on some of them.
Woods was fascinated with jig spinners, and at times, Woods attached a jig spinner to the head of the jig that sported one of his hand-cut and hand-crafted stick-style baits.
Ultimately, Woods convinced Virgil and Bill Ward of Bass Buster Lure Company to manufacture his creation. The first one that Woods showed the Wards was a Sportsman’s Super Floater worm that was about an inch long and affixed to a 1/32-ounce jig with an exposed number six hook. It was around 1964 that the Wards began manufacturing it. Initially, they called it the Beetle Bug, and ultimately, they named it the Beetle. They manufactured a one-inch Beetle that was affixed to a 1/32-ounce jig with a number six hook, a 1 1/2-inch model that was affixed to a 1/16-ounce jig with a number four hook, a two-inch model that was affixed to an 1/8-ounce jig with a number two hook, a 2 1/2-inch model that was affixed to a 3/16-ounce jig with a 1/0 hook, and a three-inch model that was affixed to a 1/4-ounce jig with a 1/0 hook. For a short while, they also made a six-inch Beetle. The small ones were primarily for panfish anglers, and the 2 1/2- and three-inch models were used by black bass anglers.
Midwest finesse anglers have been inveterate customizers for decades, and across the years, they would affix a 1/16-ounce jig or even a 1/32-ounce jig to a three-inch Beetle, which corresponds to Guido Hibdon’s insights about light and little rigs. These old-timers presented the lightweight Beetle rig to largemouth bass the same way modern-day Midwest finesse anglers employ a Ned rig. In fact, during the 1960s and 1970s, Bill and Virgil Ward enjoyed several fruitful outings around the Twin Bridges Area of Grand Lake by using a red three-inch Beetle to catch an array of black bass and other species.
As noted above, Chuck Woods liked to add a jig spinner to all kinds of lures – even crankbaits like the Bayou Boogie. He, of course, rigged a spinner on the Beetle, and the Beetle Spin eventually became one of the bestselling baits in the history of angling. But Woods died in a Department of Veterans Administration’s hospital as a virtual pauper. And to this day, very few souls know that Woods was the creator of the Beetle, Beetle Spin, and many other piscatorial gems, such as the Puddle Jumper and Mini-Twister. (For more information about Woods see endnote number four.)
Back round the time that the Beetle phenomenon began, Chuck Woods befriended Drew Reese, who was a high school student in Overland Park, Kansas. And they fished together and hung out at Ray Fincke’s tackle shop, which is where Reese worked part time when he was in high school. After he graduated from the University of Kansas, Reese worked for several years for the Wards at Bass Buster Lure Company.
According to Reese, it was an incredible sight to witness Woods work with his five-foot, eight-inch Fenwick spinning rod and Shakespeare 2062 spinning reel and catching largemouth bass galore, and his biggest was a 10 pounder. Since Woods’ death in the early 1970s, Reese says he still thinks about Woods almost every day.
Reese used Wood’s Beetle, Beetle Spin, and Texas-rigged jig worm at the 1971 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Mead, Nevada. So, it might be apt to say that Reese and Bill Fletcher, who used the Road Runner, were the first finesse anglers to pursue largemouth bass in the waterways of the western states. (For more information about Drew Reese please see endnotes number one, seven, eight, and nine.)
Around 1963 and 1964, Harold Ensley and Ted Green of Mar-Lynn Lure Company created the Reaper. Ensley initially designed the Reaper to be employed on a five-foot, six-inch spinning rod to catch lake trout. Green manufactured it in three sizes: two-inch, three-inch, and five-inch. It ultimately became a very effective black-bass rig for some of the forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing and power anglers, too.
The Reaper also spawned Chuck Woods’ Puddle Jumper. Woods, who Ensley once hailed as the finest angler that he ever knew, used the tail section of a Reaper to create the template for the Puddle Jumper, and in the early 1970s, Mar Lynn Lure Company began manufacturing it. Ensley was fond of saying that a Puddle Jumper affixed to a small jig was one of his favorite and most fruitful lures.
Ensley was a spinning-rod aficionado. He loved to use a spinning outfit with his Reaper, Woods’ Puddle Jumper, Mar Lynn’s Skworm-N-Jig, Mar Lynn’s Tiny Tot jigs, and a variety of other jigs. Across the years, Ensley designed several spinning rods, which Phantom, St. Croix, and Garcia manufactured. And in the 1960s, Ensley also introduced Guido Hibdon to the effectiveness of spinning rods and light line. (For more information about Ensley see endnote number five.)
In some ways, the Puddle Jumper was the forerunner of the creature-bait phenomenon. The Guido Bug was another precursor of creature baits. And nowadays finesse-size creature baits affixed to small mushroom-style jigs play an important role in the Midwest finesse world.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Guido Hibdon and his family spent a lot of time working with split-shot rigs, which were dressed with either a live crayfish or a soft-plastic worm around shallow-water lairs. And eventually their fascination with the effectiveness of crayfish and soft-plastic worms resulted in the creation of the first soft-plastic crayfish, which they called the Guido Bug. Dion Hibdon used a soft-plastic worm in 1977 to create the original Guido Bug for his school's science project in Versailles, Missouri. Dion is Guido and Stella Hibdon’s son, and after that initial creation, the Hibdons, along with Stella's brother Virgil Conner, handcrafted thousands of Guido Bugs. Guido taught us various ways to rig it and present it to largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass in a variety of waterways, and it became a standard-bearer in the repertoire of the early Midwest finesse devotees, who affixed it to either a small skirted jig or a small shirtless jig.
The tube was not a Midwest finesse creation. But after Guido Hibdon brought it back to central Missouri, he made it into one of the predominant tools for Midwest finesse anglers to wield. Its origins stem back to the early 1980s. And in 1982, 1983, and 1985, Guido ventured to Lake Mead, Nevada, to compete at the U.S. Open, where he finished second in 1982. At the 1983 U.S. Open, he was paired with Bobby Garland, who introduced Hibdon to the Gitzit, which is a tube bait that he created in the 1960s.
At times, Garland was known to affixed extremely lightweight jigs to his Gitzits. In fact, he won a Sun Country Bass Association event on Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico, in the mid-1980s by using Gitzits that were rigged on 1/64-ounce and 1/32-ounce jigs. In the heat of this summertime tournament, Garland’s lightweight Gitzits inveigled this winning array of largemouth bass in shallow water around patches of mesquite and other kinds of flooded terrestrial vegetation.
After Hibdon's delightful and eye-opening day afloat with Garland, the Hibdon family returned to central Missouri, and they began designing and manufacturing score of tubes.
He also created a variety of ways to present it to his black bass quarries.
For example, Guido was one of the great masters at fishing around boat docks. And he made a jig for the Guido Bug and other soft-plastic baits that would glide to the right and one that would glide or swim to the left. When he was fishing on the left side of a dock, he would use the jig that glided to the right and under the dock, and on the right side of a dock, he used the jig that glided to the left.
Across the years, he inveigled untold numbers of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass with a tube at various waterways across the Heartland, Southeast, Northeast, and Canada. (For more information about Hibdon see endnotes number three and 10.)
Nowadays, some of the so-called Ned rigs, such as Z-Man’s Fishing Products’ Hula StickZ and TRD TicklerZ, are adorned with tentacles that replicate the tentacles of Guido’s adored tube, and Midwest finesse anglers use a TRD TicklerZ the same way Guido wielded a tube affixed to a jig with an exposed hook.
During its formative years, stretching from about 1955 to 2005, the geographical parameters of Midwest finesse fishing stretched from Tulsa and Grand Lake in northeastern Oklahoma to Bull Shoals Lake in southern Missouri to the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri to Kansas City in the northeastern corner of Kansas and northwestern corner of Missouri. And Kansas City was the epicenter of the birth of Midwest finesse fishing.
Ray Fincke's tackle store on Southwest Boulevard in the Rosedale section of Kansas City was the incubator for this birth. Anglers frequently gathered around the shop to tell tales and to hear about Chuck Woods' angling prowess and watch him fiddle with lures and create new ones. Fincke's shop was a bass club before the advent of bass clubs. Fincke also catered to fly fishermen, who were super finesse anglers, and they added another perspective for the spinning tackle anglers to ponder.
For many years, Fincke built scores of rods for area anglers, including his renowned five-foot, four-inch finesse spinning rod that he called the Stinger. The Stinger was made from two Fenwick blanks, which were a C623 Fenwick fiberglass blank and a four-foot, six-inch Fenwick S541 graphite blank. The S541 was an ultra-light blank. To lengthen the rod and add more power to the butt section, Fincke slid a 19-inch piece from the butt of the C623 blank over a S541 blank and glued it to the butt of the S541. The butt was also fitted with a nine-inch cork handle. This rod sported five stainless steel guides: a number 25, number 16, number 12, and number 10. The tip was a number 8 Carboloy. Ultimately, Fincke's influence on finesse fishing expanded across the entire nation when he helped Gary Loomis design the five-foot, four-inch Classic Spin Jig rod in 1983. Loomis called it a magnum ultra-light rod that was ideal for utilizing small jigs, little spinnerbaits, and a variety of soft-plastic lures. The Class Spin Jig rod is similar to Fincke's Stinger.
By the way, when Dwight Keefer was a sophomore at the University of Kansas, he used one of Fincke’s rods and a soft-plastic worm on Chuck Woods’ Texas-rigged jig to win the World Series of Sport Fishing at Long Lake, Wisconsin, in October of 1967. He also competed at the Bassmaster Classic in 1974 at Lake Wheeler, Alabama.
Beside Harold Ensley and Keefer, Virgil Ward won the World Series of Sport Fishing. So, three of the forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing won that event.
Bill Ward and Guido Hibdon also competed in several Bassmaster Classics, and Hibdon won one of them in 1988. Hibdon also won the Bassmaster angler-of-the-year award in 1990 and 1991. So, four forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing competed in the Classic: Bill Fletcher, Guide Hibdon, Drew Reese, and Bill Ward.
In addition to Bobby Garland and his tube, other fishermen outside of Missouri and Kansas influenced the creation of Midwest finesse fishing. They were Charlie Brewer of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee; Tom Mann of Eufaula, Alabama; Conrad Peterson of Deerwood, Minnesota; Billy Westmorland of Dale Hollow, Tennessee; and Ric Welle of Punta Gorda, Florida. During the 1970s and 1980s, Midwest finesse anglers worked with Brewer’s Slider rigs and spinning rods, Mann’s Sting Ray Grub, Peterson’s 1/16-ounce Gopher Mushroom Head Jig, Welle’s Mister Twister curly-tailed grub, and Westmorland’s Hoss Fly Jig and spinning rods. During the 1980s and into the 1990s, Zoom Bait Company’s Centipede, which some folks called a French fry, became a significant soft-plastic bait for Midwest finesse anglers to use on a split-shot rig. (For more information about Charlie Brewer and Midwest finesse fishing see endnote number nine.)
Shortly before the beginning of the 21st century, a cadre of northeastern Kansas’ bass anglers launched a renaissance of Woods’ world of finesse fishing. These renaissance anglers resided and primarily fished along a 65-mile-wide exurban corridor that parallels Interstate 70 from Kansas City to Topeka. I was one of them.
We used spinning tackle and light line, which sported a finesse-size jig affixed to a soft-plastic worm, curly-tailed grub, tube, Beetle, and French fry. There were times when we wielded a small skirted jig with a pork or soft-plastic trailer. We also used a jig with a chenille body and marabou tail. And on a few occasions, we would opt for a split-shot rig.
My contribution to the Ned rig is that I have written many thousands of words since 1981 about Ensley, Fincke, Green, Hall, the Hibdon family, Keefer, Reese, Bill Ward, Virgil Ward, and other talented anglers who have contributed to the art and science of Midwest finesse fishing. Since the autumn of 2011, I have published from 6,000 to 30,000 words a month for In-Fisherman’s Midwest Finesse column. These columns focus on the new soft-plastic finesse baits that Midwest finesse anglers can use and have used. Some of these words were about anglers all around the nation -- even in saltwater -- who used Midwest finesse tactics.
The old world of Midwest finesse world began to change when we began working with a three-inch Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits’ Senko and a three-inch YUM’s Dinger, which replaced the Beetle and the French fry as our soft-plastic stick-style baits. We gradually got into the creature-bait world and began using a two-inch YUM’s Wooly Beaver and a three-inch Gene Larew Lure Company’s Baby HooDaddy. Of course, all of those baits were affixed to a mushroom-style jig.
And a dramatic change occurred in April, September, and October of 2006.
On April 1, 2006, Guido Hibdon introduced us to another outsider. It was Shin Fukae of Osaka, Japan. On that day at Beaver Lake, Arkansas, Fukae, was practicing for the Wal-Mart FLW Tour. During this practice session, he introduced us to a prototype of Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits’ shad-shaped worm, which he affixed to a small red jig. Since then, that combo has become an indispensable tool in the repertoire of many Midwest finesse anglers. Fukae also taught us about the virtues of employing a swim-glide-and-incessant-shake presentation with the shad-shaped worm swimming from six to 12 inches above the bottom. Ultimately, Fukae won that tournament, which made him $200,000 richer, and Midwest finesse anglers became considerably smarter. (For more information about Fukae see endnote number two.)
In late September of 2006, Kevin Van Dam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, gave me a package of Strike King’s 3XFinesse Worms and two packages of Zeros for an article that we were working on for In-Fisherman about how Van Dam used a shaky-head jig dressed with either a soft-plastic worm or stick-style bait. The shaky-head jig was an extremely popular tactic on the Bassmaster and FLW circuits in 2005 and 2006, and Van Dam used it very effectively at several big-time tournaments.
Then, on Oct. 12, 2006, when the late Dick Bessey of Lawrence, Kansas, and I spent four hours fishing at one of northeastern Kansas’ community reservoirs, we spent a few minutes looking at the package of Strike King’s Zeros that Van Dam gave me before we made our first casts. We quickly determined that a five-inch Zero was not a Midwest finesse stick-style bait. So, we customized one of them by cutting it in half, making it 2 1/2 inches long. And instead of affixing either a Senko or a Dinger to our red 1/16-ounce Gopher Mushroom Head Jigs, we affixed the 2 ½-inch Zeros. During the next four hours, we caught 109 largemouth bass, two wipers, one walleye, and one channel catfish on those rigs. What’s more, when we made our lasts casts, we were still using the same two 2 1/2-inch Zeros rigs that we made with our first casts. As the weeks went by, we discovered that the Zero became more effective as it aged, and some of them were durable enough to withstand donnybrooks with 100 or more largemouth bass. Ultimately, we discovered that the 3XFinesse Worm exhibited many of the same attributes as the Zero. They were the most effective soft-plastic worms that we had ever used. But throughout the calendar year in northeastern Kansas, the Zero was more effective than the 3XFinesse Worm. Yet there were a significant number of outings when the 3X Finesse Worm would inveigle more black bass than the Zero. It needs to be noted that we also slightly customized the 3X Finesse Worm by removing about three-quarters of an inch from its anterior section.
Around 2008, we created an e-mail circuit that is called the Finesse News Network. Dick Bessey of Lawrence, Kansas; Steve Desch of Topeka, Kansas; Brent Frazee of Parkville, Missouri; Bob Gum of Kansas City, Kansas; Rick Hebenstreit of Shawnee, Kansas; Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Kansas; Casey Kidder of Topeka, Kansas; Rodney Hatridge of Shawnee, Kansas; and Pok-Chi Lau of Lawrence, Kansas, were the first members. Since then, the membership in this network has expanded to 478 members and stretches from San Diego to Charleston, South Carolina, and from El Paso, Texas, to the Lake of the Woods, Ontario.
In 2009, we discovered that Z-Man Fishing Products was making the Zero and Finesse Worm for Strike King, and they also made a saltwater stick-style bait called a Rain MinnowZ, which we added to our repertoire. These soft-plastic baits were and still are manufactured with a material called ElaZtech, which is extremely durable and buoyant. To our delight, Z-Man began manufacturing the Finesse ShadZ, which replaced the salt-laden and fragile Gary Yamamoto Bait Company’s Shad Shaped Worm in our repertoire. We caught our first largemouth bass on a Finesse ShadZ on Dec. 8, 2010, at one of northeastern Kansas’ many community reservoirs, and since then, it has inveigled untold numbers of largemouth bass and smallmouth bass for Midwest finesse anglers. This is what provoked Steve Quinn to call a Z-Man Finesse ShadZ a Ned rig in the winter of 2013-2014.
Z-Man also made a ZinkerZ and a Finesse WormZ, which were and still are identical to Strike King’s Zero and 3X Finesse Worm. The 3X Worm is now called the Super Worm. These four ElaZtech baits are still an integral part of Midwest finesse fishing, and we still shortened them.
In 2011, we introduced Drew Reese to Z-Man’s Finesse ShadZ, Rain MinnowZ, and ZinkerZ, and he quickly became enamored with how unique and effective they are. Thus, he began to politely cajole Daniel Nussbaum of Charleston, South Carolina, who is the president of Z-Man, to make more styles of Midwest finesse baits. And they did.
The first one was the Hula StickZ, which Reese designed. It is a four-inch stick-style bait with four tube-like tentacles. Z-Man introduced it to the angling world at the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show in 2012. Since then, it has allured untold numbers of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass in the United States and Canada.
After that endeavor, Reese convinced Nussbaum to manufacture a ready-made Zero or ZinkerZ. And Z-Man introduced the Finesse TRD at the 2014 International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show. It was around this time that Nussbaum followed Steve Quinn’s lead and began calling Z-Man’s Midwest finesse baits a Ned rig.
Before Quinn and Nussbaum coined that name, anglers called the 2 1/2-inch Zero and ZinkerZ various names. One angler said it is such an unattractive looking bait that it looked something like sponge that a channel catfish angler would use to dip into a container of stink bait, such as Sonny Hootman's Super Sticky Channel Cat Bait. Another angler called it chopped liver. One of the most used names was The Turd, because it resembled the excrement that Canadian geese deposited on many boat docks.
But some of those negative notions began to change in April of 2012. This change revolved around the insights of Dave Reeves of Lansing, Kansas, who posted reports on the Finesse News Network and Ozark Anglers.com about catching oodles of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and spotted bass at Table Rock Lake by wielding either a 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ affixed to a 1/16-ounce jig.
By the spring of 2013, several more Table Rock Lake anglers, as well as a few of its fishing guides, began employing it. This gradual conversion could be seen in the comments posted on Ozark Anglers.com, where Reeves continued to write more of his insights, and other anglers responded to his observations.
Then during the spring of 2014, a virtual hysteria erupted on Ozark Anglers. com regarding the 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ rig. Gradually, a surprising number of Table Rock Lake's guides began attaching this rig to their clients' rods, and even if their clients were novice anglers, they were able to catch Table Rock's black bass at an amazing pace. In fact, the Finesse News Network received a note on June 9, 2014, from Bill Babler of Blue Eye, Missouri. Babler is a well-known angler and guide at Table Rock, Taneycomo, and Bull Shoals lakes, and he readily confessed that the rig had inveigled "literally thousands of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass." Babler also noted that Bill Beck of Kimberling City, Missouri, who is another legendary angler and guide at Table Rock and Taneycomo lakes, recently began calling the 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ rig The Varmint. Then as the spring of 2014 unfolded and more and more Ozark anglers began to wield The Varmint, these anglers began referring to it as the Little Varmint. And according to Babler, the name Little Varmint had become the household name for this traditional Midwest finesse rig among the anglers around Table Rock Lake in 2014.
Social media world has also fanned the fire about the Ned rig. For example, Travis Perret of Overland Park, Kansas, created a Finesse News Network Facebook site on Dec. 31, 2016.
But by 2019, The Turd, The Varmint, and The Little Varmint are rarely uttered. Instead, the Ned rig has become the prevalent name. For instance, Z-Man has eight ElaZtech baits and three jigs that are part of their Ned rig repertoire. Strike King has three soft-plastic baits and one jig. YUM has three soft-plastic baits. Swing Oil Baits has two soft-plastic and one jig. Gene Larew has one soft-plastic bait and one jig. Missile Baits has one soft-plastic bait. Roboworm has one soft-plastic bait. And there are a goodly number of other tackle manufacturers that produce soft-plastic baits and jigs in the Ned rig realm.
How much longer will this piscatorial phenomenon continue? Some Midwest finesse anglers have recently noted that diminishing returns have begun, saying that they are not catching the vast quantities of black bass that they used to catch on the so-called Ned rigs from 2006 to 2017. What’s more, I am 80 years old, and since my journalism and recreational fishing days are quickly winding down, I will not be publishing thousands of words a month about various finesse rigs and how, when, and where Midwest finesse anglers are using them. So, thankfully my name will eventually be erased from Chuck Woods’ great and motivating achievements, and perhaps he will be honored by some of the angling world’s halls of fame.
- Here is a link to a June 5, 2014, Midwest Finesse column that features Drew Reese: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/drew-reeses-history-midwest-finesse-fishing/155654.
- Here is a link to our Midwest Finesse column about Shin Fukae’s contributions to Midwest finesse fishing: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/a-midwest-finesse-tribute-to-shin-fukae/154302.
- Here is a link to a Midwest Finesse column about Guido Hibdon: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/the-fishing-and-family-life-of-guido-hibdon/153667.
- Here is a link to a Midwest Finesse column that focuses on Chuck Woods, Harold Ensley, Virgil Ward, and other forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/legends-of-the-heartland/156351.
- Here is a link to a short history of the marabou jig: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/short-history-of-marabou-jig/362980.
- Here is a link to an interview with Drew Reese: https://www.wired2fish.com/fishing-rigs/z-man-project-z-profilez-drew-reese/.
- Here is a link to a Midwest Finesse column about Drew Reese and Z-Man’s Hula StickZ: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/more-on-z-mans-hula-stickz-by-drew-reese/154359.
- Here are two Midwest Finesse columns that feature Drew Reese and the history of Midwest finesse fishing: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/drew-reeses-history-midwest-finesse-fishing/155654; https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/drew-reeses-history-midwest-finesse-fishing-part-two/154732.
- Here is a link to a Midwest Finesse column that delineates how Midwest finesse fishing is different from Charlie Brewer’s Slider techniques: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/charlie-brewers-slider-tactics-vs-midwest-finesse-tactics/155940.
- It is interesting to note that back in the formative years of Midwest finesse fishing, Chuck Woods and Guido Hibdon spent scores of hours in the 1950s and 1960s silently and stealthily walking along shorelines. Woods also cunningly used a float tube. From the late 1970s into the 2000s, Hibdon dreamed of creating a bass boat that was as silent and stealthy as he was when he used to walk the shorelines of the Lake of the Ozarks in the 1960s. He failed to accomplish that dream. But there were many times when he would dissect a fruitful shoreline or a point or other kinds of black-bass lairs in his Ranger boat without using his electric trolling motor or a sonar device. Hibdon contended that the sounds radiating from sonar devices and electric trolling motors made the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass wary and difficult to inveigle. Nowadays, there are some observers who fear that electromagnetic radiation that emanates from various kinds of sonar devices have the potential to cause health threats to anglers, fish, and other aquatic creatures.
- As a young man in the late 1960s, Burton Bosley,who nowadays resides in Sutton, West Virginia, spent many days working for Ray Fincke in his tackle shop – as well as hanging out there -- and fishing with Chuck Woods. Burton says it is important to note that “without the interest and support of Ray Fincke for all of us in those days this … technique would not be happening.” During those years, Bosley was in his late 20s and trying to go to junior college. He wrote in an email: “I really can’t count the years I fished with Chuck. Not that many years but a lifetime of experiences. For several years he would show up at our house early Sunday morning with a dozen donuts or some Art Flicks’ cookies and ask my children if I could go fishing with him. I had so much fun with the guy, and we really caught bass and some good ones.
We only counted bass over 5lbs. I could relate so many tales - but I digress. In November of 1970 my brother recently home from Viet Nam had moved back to West Virginia called and asked for my help. I moved back to the hills then. I was 29 and stayed until 1986 - I fished, worked as a stonemason, had a tackle shop - did a little guiding then to Florida and any place with fish after that. Chuck and I wrote to each other for a time. He always addressed my mail to Big Bass Bosley and always signed off with ‘I miss you very much.’ I did get to visit with him and Ray on my visits back to K.C. But I have always regretted not being there at the end. He was a very unique man, a real character without artifice. Knowing him got me through some difficult times and his mentoring gave me the ability to go anywhere and fish for anything and be successful.”
Here is a link to a Midwest Finesse column about Burton Bosley and Chuck Woods, which includes a rare photograph of Woods: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/finally-a-photograph-of-the-great-and-late-chuck-woods-has-been-uncovered/156490.