Midwest finesse fishing: a synopsis of 2014

This was the last largemouth bass that I caught in northeastern Kansas during 2014. It was caught on a Z-Man's Fishing Products' green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ affixed to a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig on Dec. 20.

The largemouth bass fishing in 2014 was the least bountiful year that I have experienced in northeastern Kansas since the advent of the Finesse News Network in 2009.

For a variety of reasons, I fished seriously only 91 times in 2014, which was considerably fewer times than I fished since 2003, which was when I was working fulltime as an archivist.

One reason revolved around the fact that I spent more time writing and editing articles about fishing for this Midwest Finesse site than I have in years past. For instances, 27,574 words appeared on this site in the month of December, and there have been a few months when nearly 30,000 words have been published in this online endeavor.

Another reason might stem from the fact that I am 74 years old, and the diminishing returns that arise from becoming an old man might be affecting my gumption to get afloat on days when Mother Nature is in a cantankerous mood and the fishing has been problematic. What's more, old age might be hampering my abilities to find and catch my quarries, and these failings might be reflected in the paltry number of black bass that I caught in 2014.

Because the largemouth bass fishing was so lackluster, I and the Midwest finesse anglers who occasionally joined me spent some time focusing solely on smallmouth bass. But the smallmouth bass fishing at three of our nearby reservoirs was as lackluster as the largemouth bass fishing. Thus, in order to catch at least 30 smallmouth bass an outing, I had to travel 60 to 65 miles rather than 10 to 25 miles. And as I have aged, I have begun to prefer to fish within a 40-mile radius of our home rather than endure a 60-mile jaunt to a boat ramp. Consequently, I didn't make as many of those 60-mile jaunts that I used to make when I was a youngster or even a 68-year-older.

Nowadays, Patty and I spend a lot of time with our grandchildren, and some of that time is spent fishing. Our angling outings with our youngest or novice grandchildren are serious endeavors, but we don't fish except when we are afloat with our 25-year-old grandson Gabe Bonanno of Queens, New York. Instead, we spend our time helping the youngsters master some of the Midwest finesse methods. Therefore, those outings (except the ones with our grandson Gabe) are not included as part of the 91 times that I fished in 2014, and the days that we spend in Minnesota with our children and grandchildren are not included. We are pleased, however, to note that all 10 of our grandchildren, which range in age from five years old to 28 years old, caught a fairly impressive array of largemouth bass and smallmouth bass by employing Midwest finesse tactics in 2014.

The harsh winter of 2013-14 impeded anglers' abilities to get afloat in northeastern Kansas. Therefore, I fished only three times in January and February and caught 116 largemouth bass. One outing was a solo outing, and on two of them another Midwest finesse angler joined me.

March, April, and May were the most fruitful months of 2014. I fished 34 times and caught 1,321 largemouth bass and 72 smallmouth bass. Some of those were solo outings, and on several others I was accompanied by one or two anglers. On Mar. 28,  Brent Frazee of Parkville, Missouri, and I caught 101 largemouth bass, and on April 23, Gabe Bonanno of Queens, New York, and Tyler Sova of Lawrence, Kansas, caught 102 largemouth bass.

Beginning in June and throughout July and August, several ardent and talented Midwest finesse anglers began to complain about the trying largemouth bass fishing that they were enduring in northeastern Kansas. In fact, one pair of these anglers said in August that their 2014 catch rate was down nearly 50 percent from what it was in 2012 and 2013.

By the time the 365 days of 2014 had run their course,  my various partners and I had caught only 2,874 black bass, and 2,411 of them were largemouth bass, 459 were smallmouth bass, and four were spotted bass. On average, we caught 31.5 black bass an outing and 7.8 of them an hour.

To pinpoint how lackluster our black bass fishing in northeastern Kansas was during 2014, it is necessary to examine and compare the catch rates my partners and I had during the past seven years. The only year that was worse occurred in 2008, when we caught 3,719 black bass in 122 outings and 488 hours of fishing, which averages to 30.4 per outing and 7.6 per hour. During 2009, we caught 4,129 black bass in 117 outings and 468 ours of fishing, which is an average of 35.2 an outing and 8.8 an hour. Our bonanza year occurred in 2010, when we fished 127 times for 509 hours and caught 5,570 black bass, which tabulates to 43.8 black bass an outing and 10.9 per hour. In 2011, we caught 4,566 largemouth bass and fished 127 times and 508 hours, which equates to 35.9 black bass an hour and 9.01 per hour. We fished 122 times in 2012 and caught 4,393 black bass, which was an average of 36 per trip and 10.2 an hour. I and my partners fished 104 times in 2013, and we caught 3,606 largemouth, bass, 513 smallmouth bass, and four spotted bass, equaling an average of 11.6 black bass an hour and 39.6 per outing.

None of us can scientifically determine why our catch rates of largemouth bass dropped so precipitously in 2014. But a goodly number of us have spent a considerable amount of time pondering this phenomenon.

Here are a few of the ideas that these many ponderings have rendered:

Some Midwest finesse anglers think that the change of the creel-limit regulations at two of the community reservoirs has contributed to the woes. Some think that the aftereffects of the largemouth bass virus, which walloped several of our most fruitful reservoirs in 2010 and 2011, are still adversely affecting the amount of largemouth bass that we can catch. Several anglers think that the largemouth bass in these small flatland reservoirs have seen so many Midwest finesse baits and presentations since the Finesse News Network began in 2009 that they have become wary of these lures and tactics. Some think that the severe drought that plagued these parts in 2012 and 2013 played havoc with the largemouth bass population. Some anglers think that the prolific spawns that the gizzard shad had in these reservoirs in 2013 and 2014 changed the whereabouts and foraging routines of the largemouth bass. Some anglers think the herbicide that was used to eradicate Eurasian milfoil in two of the reservoirs affected the largemouth bass populations. Some anglers think that the zebra mussel infestation at one of the small community reservoirs has affected the behavior of the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. Some anglers think that the improved water clarity, which was dramatic at one of the small community reservoirs, altered the habits of the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass.

The fisheries biologists that we have consulted are as clueless as we are about what was transpiring with the largemouth bass in northeastern Kansas in 2014. Perhaps, all of us will know more as 2015 unfolds.

To my dismay, 2014 ended on the same dispiriting note that has plagued us throughout much of 2014. It occurred when I fished for two hours and 50 minutes at a 100-acre community reservoir on Dec. 29, and I failed to elicit a strike.


1. It is interesting to note that Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, who spends his summers fishing with Midwest finesse tactics for smallmouth bass in southwest Ontario, reported that it was the most trying smallmouth bass fishing that he had ever experienced. During the summer, the water levels at the waterway that he fished were at an all-time high, which affected the whereabouts and foraging routines of the smallmouth bass. He is eager to see what transpires in 2015, and he will send periodic reports throughout the summer about the state of the smallmouth bass fishing.

2. Steve Reideler of Lewisville, Texas, who has to fish some of the most problematic black-bass reservoirs in the nation, enjoyed the best black bass fishing of his lifetime in 2014.

He circulated this brief on the Finesse News Network, which has been edited and condensed:

A couple months after I began using Midwest finesse tactics in mid-August of 2013, several Finesse News Network members asked me if I was seeing any significant difference in my catch rates. I replied by saying that I had seen a significant increase during those first months, but time will tell us more.

Now that a complete calendar year has passed, I can now assess my results over a longer period of time, and what I discovered is quite astounding.

My records show that I and several companions caught 1669 largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass during 108 outings in 2014. I caught 1298 of those 1669 bass during 462 hours of fishing. This calculates to 15.45 bass per trip and 3.61 bass per hour.

Prior to my 2013 conversion to Midwest finesse, my best yearly bass catch rate totaled 750 largemouth bass and spotted bass. The highest catch rate per trip was 9.25 bass and 1.82 bass per hour.

Reideler's successes with Midwest finesse tactics has had a profound effect on Ralph Manns of Rockwall, Texas, who is an In-Fisherman field editor, fisheries biologist, and longtime power-fishing devotee. Consequently, Manns has been using some Midwest finesse methods occassionally.

3. Here are a few observations about the best Midwest finesse baits in 2014:

I used an array of Midwest finesse baits, and the most effective one -- especially when the fishing was excruciatingly trying -- was Z-Man's Fishing Products' green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ affixed to either a chartreuse 1/32-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig or a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig.

Drew Reese said his best baits were Z-Man's Hula StickZ, Z-Man's 3 1/2-inch GrubZ, Z-Man's Finesse T.R.D, and Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ. And he affixed them to Z-Man's 1/15-, 1/10- and 1/6-ounce Finesse ShroomZ jigs.

Steve Reideler listed his top 11 baits, and they were:

(1) Grubs were by far my most productive bait in 2014. They caught 25 percent of the black bass that I caught, and most of them were caught on Charlie Brewer's three-inch Slider Company's Bass/ Walleye/Striper Grub.

(2) Z-Man's Finesse T.R.D. and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ

(3) Z-Man's 4-inch Finesse WormZ

(4) Z-Man's 2 1/2-inch customized FattyZ tube

(5) Z-Man's 2 1/4-inch FattyZ tail

(6) Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ

(7) Z-Man's Hula StickZ

(8) Z-Man's Scented LeechZ

(9) Cabela's 1/16-ounce marabou jig

(10) Z-Man's BatwingZ (I just started using it late in the year)

(11) Zoom Bait Company's 4-inch Lizard (I used it only during the spring)

4. For information about Midwest finesse fishing at several other states during 2014, please examine the 12 monthly guides to Midwest finesse fishing that were published at this link: http://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/.

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