Midwest finesse from the bank

The origins of Midwest finesse fishing lie at the feet of the late Chuck Woods of Kansas City.

Back in the 1950s and '60s, Woods spent most of his angling days on his feet, walking the shorelines at various waterways in northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri. There were spells when he climbed into a belly boat or float tube, but he was rarely afloat in a boat. Of course, he was always wielding a spinning rod and often thinking about creating new baits.

In previous blogs and articles, we have chronicled Woods' many contributions to the angling world, but this blog focuses on the baits and tactics that some of today's bank walkers employ in various locales in Colorado, Illinois and Indiana.

Gary Schipporeit of Denver sent an e-mail on May 24 in which he stated: "Midwest finesse has definitely changed the way I fish and the number of fish I catch each outing."

During the week beginning on May 20, Schipporeit enjoyed two evening outings at a 40-acre reservoir that lies in what he called the "Denver metro area." Each outing encompassed 2 ½ hours. He worked with two baits: a 2 ½-inch Strike King Lure Company green-pumpkin Zero affixed to a 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig and a four-inch Z-Man Fishing Products' Junebug Finesse WormZ on a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. On both outings, the Finesse WormZ was the most effective. Across the five evening hours that Schipporeit fished, he caught 61 bass, as well as a number of panfish. The bulk of these fish were caught around riprap. A swim-and-glide retrieve allured the bulk of the bass.

He also revealed that northern pike in the waters around Denver occasionally exhibit a fondness for a 2 ½-inch green-pumpkin Zero. When they strike the Zero, they often wreck havoc with it. If they don't bite the bait off, their teeth mutilate the bait to the point that it can't catch more than 20 fish before it has to be replaced.

To stymie the bite-off woes, Schipporeit employs a short 25-pound-test fluorocarbon leader.

He primarily uses the 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, but he has discovered that there are spells when the bass prefer the slower fall rate of the 1/32-ounce Gopher jig. But the drawback to working with the 1/32-ounce Gopher jig is that the northern pike often bend the hook to smithereens.

Besides the Finesse WormZ and 2 1/2-inch Zero, Schipporeit likes to wield a four-inch green-pumpkin grub affixed to Gopher Tackle's 3/32-ounce Mushroom Jig Head in the VMC Barbarian Series when it is either windy or cloudy and the fish are exceptionally active. He likes this jig's hefty hook.

At the end of his e-mail, Schipporeit modestly declared that his stature in the angling world isn't noteworthy. He pointed out that he is neither a professional angler nor a guide. Instead he is merely a recreational angler who has become a dyed-in-the-wool Midwest finesse angler. It has paid him some significant piscatorial dividends, and that is evident by the fact that he caught 12.2 bass per hour during those two May outings.

The day after Schipporeit penned his e-mail account of his Midwest finesse endeavors in Colorado, Grant Williams of DeKalb, Illinois, commented about his finesse undertakings in northern Illinois in the comment section below the May 16 blog entitled "Update to Midwest lures: 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ." (http://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/05/16/update-to-midwest-finesse-lures-2-12-inch-zinkerz/ )

Williams noted that around the first of May he begun using for the first time a 2 ½-inch Strike King Zero and four-inch Strike King Super Finesse Worm, which are identical to Z-Man's ZinkerZ and Finesse WormZ. He rigged these baits on a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig with a No. 1 hook. And straightaway, he was impressed by the goodly number of largemouth bass that these baits inveigled.

He was fishing these baits at small, shallow public lakes that prohibit anglers from employing any kind of watercraft. Moreover, angler predation was heavy. The water clarity fluctuated significantly from week to week, ranging from clear as gin one week to a mud bath the next week. From mid-spring into the fall, the lakes become a virtual quagmire of algae and aquatic vegetation, and they are close to impossible to fish.

He probed depths of one to 10 feet of water. He described his presentation of the Zero and Finesse Worm this way: "I make casts about 30 feet from shore, often keying in on small pieces of visible cover. I begin a modified-hop-and-bounce retrieve by shaking the rod tip very gently on the fall, making sure to keep my hand off of the reel. After the bait hits the bottom, I start turning the reel handle at a snail's pace while very gently shaking and twitching the rod tip, which is held at the 2 o'clock to 3 o'clock position. I generally try to keep my rod tip from moving more than an inch while shaking.

When I reach a piece of cover, I will add a pause but will continue to slightly shake the rod tip without reeling so the bait will just barely quiver in place. If I do not get a strike immediately, I continue the reel and shake. This presentation has been the most productive one for me so far. I have begun to experiment with the swim-glide-and-shake retrieve and have also had luck using a modified hop-and-bounce retrieve, which allows the bait to move constantly but slowly and slide through the vegetation without it gathering on the hook. It is difficult to entice strikes on the straight-swim retrieve. The largest fish I have caught so far on the modified hop and bounce retrieve was a 4 ½-pound largemouth, in one foot of water using the Strike King Super Finesse Worm. The Finesse Worm and Gopher jig also allowed me to catch 13 largemouth and four pumpkinseeds while fishing behind my father who was drop-shotting a worm.He decided he had caught all the bass in that particular area and had moved on to another spot. He could not believe that I was able to continue to hook fish at that particular spot with what he called 'a stupid ice fishing jig.' I plan on making him a convert. I also agree that the more tattered the Zero and ZinkerZ are the better they work, and that is due to the buoyancy factor. I devised a small system to rough up the Zero and ZinkerZ before putting them on the mushroom jig. I do it by wacky rigging them on a small 1/0 octopus style hook and devoid of a sinker. I also add an o-ring, and I place the hook though the Zero and o-ring to ensure that the Zero does not slide off of the ring. This also helps tear them up a bit, which is the goal.I started doing this because I noticed the action of a wacky-rigged Zero was much better when the Zero was new or heavily salt-impregnated. The action starts to diminish once the salt diminishes and the Zero begins to float. It is at this time that I cut it in half and rig it on the mushroom jig. I am anxious to try this lure at a larger lake in my area where there are more species and larger populations of fish."

Unlike Schipporeit and Williams, who have just recently started employing finesse tactics, Brian Waldman of Coatesville, Indiana, has been using finesse tactics and walking the banks for years and catching thousands of largemouth bass. Even though he regularly fishes from a boat, about 50 of his outings every year are bank-walking affairs.

Across those many outings, Waldman has developed six golden rules about bank walking, and he has also created several exceptions to those rules.

The first ruke advises bank anglers to make more cast along or somewhat parallel to the bank rather than making casts that are perpendicular to the shorelines. Waldman says that many of the bass that reside in the Indiana reservoirs that he fishes inhabit shallow-water, and he has found that the most attractive shallow-water bass lairs in these reservoirs are associated with the shorelines. Most of his casts land within 10 feet of the shoreline. He is a proponent of short casts, noting that he has caught untold numbers of largemouth bass 10 feet or closer from where he was standing. An exception to this rule occurs when an angler spots a lair that lies well off the shoreline and requires a several long perpendicular casts.

The second is to move often. But it is essential to move furtively so as not to alert the bass that are abiding with a 10- to 20-foot area of where an angler is standing and casting. After Waldman makes three to five casts from a particular spot, he stealthy moves 20 to 40 feet along the shoreline to another spot.

The third one recommends that anglers should employ only one lure, rod and reel. Waldman says that he selects the bait that best fits the weather conditions and terrain he is fishing. A jig-and-soft-plastic combo is what he employs on the majority of his outings — especially if he is trying to cover a vast amount of water, and if he is not certain what the water conditions and clarity will be and the type of lairs that he will need to probe. If Waldman is familiar with the area that he will be fishing, he will often utilize a drop-shot rig and split-shot rig. He finds that a drop-shot is effective for plying vertical type cover and deeper-water banks. During cold-water outings, Waldman likes to wield a small hair jig. In regard to his one-lure rule, he carries a few jigs, drop shots, split shots and soft-plastic baits to replace ones that might be lost to a bass or snag. He works with a medium-light, 6 ½- to seven-foot spinning outfit that is spooled with six- to eight-pound-test braided line that is dressed with a six- to eight-pound-fluorocarbon leader.

His fourth rule states that anglers must fish the conditions. He says, "At first, this might not make much sense. Or maybe it's too obvious. I'm referring to choosing the proper bait based on the weather and water conditions. It is usually best to not randomly select baits, and it is important to keep seasonal patterns in mind. From a finesse angler's standpoint, if it's cloudy or breezy or the water is slightly stained, I might work with larger, brighter or bulkier baits, such as Zoom Bait Company's Tiny Brush Hog with chartreuse highlights and rigged on a 3/32-ounce jig. I would also use more aggressive swimming- or hopping-type retrieves, and I would expect many hits on the initial drop. Adding baits like inline spinners, Berkley's Beetle Spins or TTI-Blakemore Fishing Group's Road Runners might also be an aggressive finesse presentation. If on the other hand I have calm, clear water, I might go with lighter, more subtle baits like a ZinkerZ or a 3" straight-tailed finesse worm on a 1/32-oz. jig head, and retrieves more similar to a drag and deadstick. I also might fish slightly deeper."

The fifth rule sates that whenever it's possible anglers should time their outings so that they are walking the bank when conditions are at their best. Waldman says this rules varies by the types of water an angler fishes. For instance, at some ponds and rivers, the best time might transpire as a rain storm flushes freshwater and forage into the pond or river. On a riprap bank, it could occur when it is windblown and stirring up crayfish and baitfish. During the heat of the summer, it might be best during a hot, calm summer night. Or the outing can be based on sometime as simple and exact as the solundar table. In sum, there are a lot of variable to ponder in regard to the timing element. Nevertheless, Waldman readily admits that "the old adage that 'the best time to go fishing is when you can' holds true. There are fish to be caught from the bank year round and at almost any time of day"

His sixth rule is some ways contradicts his second rule. The sixth rule recommends that anglers should, at times, focus on spots rather than quickly moving after executing three to five casts and retrieves. According to Waldman, the moving rule primarily applies to fishing a new body water or on those days when the bass are elusive and tentative, and an angler has to do a lot of searching in order to locate the whereabouts of some less tentative bass. Across the years, Waldman has discovered that some areas are consistently more bountiful than other areas. Thus, there are spells when Waldman will spend 20 minutes probing these fruitful locales. "The general rule of thumb," Waldman says, "is if you catch a bass on a spot, it is worth taking a few extra minutes to thoroughly scout the area. Sometimes the reason is obvious such as when a rain storm flushes freshwater and forage into that locale. There are many times, however, when an angler can't identify what it is about the particular location or bank. Some spots for some unknown reason just seem to hold fish better than others. An angler's job is to be aware of these areas as they unfold and fish them appropriately. Then feel free to keep scooting along the bank between these hotspots."

For more insights on Waldman and bank-fishing endeavors, please see this blog: http://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/05/16/update-to-midwest-finesse-lures-2-12-inch-zinkerz/

Dennis Medley of Morton, Illinois, fishes differently from the bank than Waldman, Williams and Schipporeit. Medley's focus is upon creating baits and rigs for fishing farm ponds and small public reservoirs, which is what Chuck Woods spent a lot time doing back in the 1950s and '60, and, of course, Woods most famous creation was the Beetle and Beetle Spin. Woods also did scores of simple customizations of lures, such as using red permanent ink to transform a blue Fliptail worm into a root-beer-colored one.

Lately Medley has been working with what he calls a Denny Rig that features a split-body bait. One rendition of his split-body bait employs a new Poor Boy's Baits' Lil Peck, which is a 2 3/4-inch soft-plastic crayfish. Medley cuts the Lil Peck in half. He affixes the bait a two-hook rig that consist of two No. 2 plain-shank, ringed-eyed Eagle Claw bronze hooks, and a 2 ½-inch piece of 15-pound-test monofilament. One hook is attached to the front end of the leader, and the second hook is attached to the back end of the leader. The tail section or half of the Lil Peck is affixed to the first hook, and its head and claw section is affixed to the second hook. Anglers can also use grubs, worms, swim baits, lizards and other soft-plastic baits.

Medley attaches the first hook of the rig to the line of his spinning outfit, and about eight inches above the first hook, he affixes a No. 7 split shot to the line. To prevent his line from becoming too twisted during the casts and retrives, he employs a tiny ball-bearing snap and swivel rather than the split shot.

In some ways, Medey's rig is similar to the pre-rigged worms that Creme Lure Company, The Worm Factory and others have been manufacturing for decades. And across many decades, bank walkers have used those various double- and treble-hook- worm rigs to allure astronomical numbers of largemouth bass.

For Midwest finesse anglers who want to catch an average of at least nine largemouth bass an hour, there is a problem with the first renditions of Medley's split-body rig with the Poor Boy's Baits' Lil Peck, and that is it is too fragile and cannot endure the abuse that one largemouth bass administers to it.

Durability has become an important element in the angling tactics of Midwest finesse anglers who aim at catching 101 bass an outing, which is why many of them have become devotees of Z-Man's ElaZtech lures, such as the ZinkerZ, Hula StickZ and Finesse WormZ. Perhaps Medley will work on incorporating some Z-Man's ElaZtech products on his split-body rig, which will improve its durability.

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