Midwest finesse retrieves

Midwest finesse retrieves
Photograph by Rick Hebenstriet of Shawnee, Kansas.

Since the advent of In-Fisherman's blogs, there have been numerous requests to post a detailed description of the way practitioners of Midwest finesse tactics retrieve their jig-and-soft-plastic-lure combos.

Here are the four retrieves that finesse anglers use in the flatland reservoirs around northeastern Kansas on a weekly basis throughout a calendar year:

All of these retrieves revolve around what is called the no-feel concept. In essence, if an angler feels his lure bounce on the bottom or ricochet off a stump, the jig is too heavy. This concept is disconcerting to many anglers who are accustomed feeling their lures, and it usually takes a month or two for converts to this method to become comfortable with the no-feel aspect of the retrieves. Eventually finesse anglers develop somewhat of an intuitive sense about what the lure is doing and where it is doing it in relationship to the bottom and surface of the lake, as well as when it is around patches of submergent vegetation, brush piles and other underwater objects.

However, when Midwest finesse anglers wield a four-inch grub, there are a few times when the subtle twisting and vibration of the grub's twister-tail or paddle-tail is transmitted up the line to the rod and the angler's hand. This usually occurs on days when the wind is mild mannered.

Except when the anglers are using a grub, it best to limit the distance of the casts to no more than 30 feet. Since our the water clarity in northeastern Kansas' reservoirs is relatively stained, the bass are rarely spooked by these close-quarter presentations. What's more, the short casts allow an angler to make the four presentations subtler and more alluring than can be achieved with long casts.

Throughout the year, the swim-and-glide retrieve is the most productive one. But there are periods, which can last for many weeks, when one of the other retrieves will be more fruitful.

The swim and glide is executed by holding the rod at the two-o'clock position, but if the wind creates a bow in the line, the rod is dropped to the five-o'clock position. As soon as the lure hits the water, the angler shakes the rod as the lure falls towards the bottom. The angler begins the retrieve by slowly turning the reel handle when the lure is a foot from the bottom. Throughout the entire retrieve, the angler slowly swims the lure a foot above the bottom. The glide component starts when the angler stops turning the reel handle and allows the lure to pendulum towards the bottom. The angler commences the swimming motif by turning the reel handle when the lure is about six inches off the bottom. On steep shorelines that have erratic or irregular features, it is sometimes difficult to keep the lure swimming a foot off the bottom; therefore, the angler has to test the depth by allowing the lure to glide to the bottom before the swimming motif is resumed. In order to keep their baits at the correct depth along a steep shoreline, some anglers find that it is best to cast and retrieve their lures parallel to the shoreline. But this isn't a sociable tactic when there is more than one angler in the boat -- unless the angler in the back of the boat is willing to stroll his lures behind the boat, which can be an extremely effective way to implement the slide-and-glide retrieve.

We are on the verge of entering the winter season, and it should be noted that the swim-and-glide retrieve has been an excellent one to employ at northeastern Kansas power-plant reservoirs in winters past. And last winter, 1/32-ounce Gopher Mushroom Jig Heads dressed with a Z-Man Fishing Products' four-inch Finesse ShadZ and three-inch Rain MinnowZ were the two most fruitful lures, and parallel casts and presentations were often better than perpendicular casts and presentations

We have discovered that the swim-and-glide retrieve is the most productive retrieve to use during every season of the year when the bass are feeding aggressively and inhabiting lairs that are in five feet or less of water. Some anglers, however, are more comfortable using a 1/16-ounce Gopher Mushroom Jig Head than the 1/32-ounce one -- especially on those days when the bass are actively feeding around locales that are slightly deeper than five feet, or when the wind is howling. And when the wind exceeds 15 mph, many anglers opt for the 3/32-ounce jig.

The second retrieve is called the hop and bounce. It is achieved by dropping the rod to the five-o'clock position after the cast and holding it there during the retrieve. After the cast, the angler shakes the rod as the lure falls to the bottom. Once it bounces on the bottom, the angler hops it off the bottom by moderately rotating the reel handle twice, and then the angler pauses. As the lure falls back to the bottom during the pause, the angler shakes the rod. The angler continues this reel-pause-and-shake motif for the duration of the retrieve. A goodly number of finesse anglers suspect that this retrieve is most effective when crayfish are the primary forage of the bass, which occurs a lot in the flatland reservoirs of northeastern Kansas. A Z-Man's 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ, Z-Man's four-inch Finesse WormZ and Gene Larew Lures' three-inch Baby Hoodaddy allure a lot bass throughout the year with this retrieve. Most of the time, these soft-plastic lures are affixed to a 1/16-ounce Gopher, but there are outings when a 3/32-ounce Gopher jig becomes the best option. Therefore, it is essential that anglers periodically experiment with the 1/16- and 3/32-ounce jig throughout every outing. This retrieve also works well when the bass are feeding on smaller invertebrates than crayfish.

The third one is the drag-and-dead-stick presentation, which is normally performed by the angler in the back of the boat. Some anglers call this strolling, and as it was noted in one of the paragraphs above, it is a dandy tactic to employ on steep terrains. After the angler in the back of the boat executes his cast, he shakes his rod as he allows the lure to fall to the bottom. His rod is held at the three- to four-o'clock position. Once the lure reaches the bottom, he merely drags the lure slowly across the bottom until it is well behind the boat. As he drags it, he occasionally shakes his rod, and periodically he takes some line off his reel, creating several feet of slack line, which allows the lure to lie dead still on the bottom for five seconds. This is our deepest presentation; at times it plummets into 12 feet of water or deeper; thus a 3/32-ounce Gopher jig is the best size to use. But in shallower locations, a 1/16-ounce jig provides a better no-feel presentation.

The fourth retrieve is the straight swim. It is primarily executed with a single-tailed grub or paddle-tailed grub. During the fall of 2011, we began experimenting with a double-tail grub.

When an angler uses a grub, it is often a long-cast tactic, and some casts reach 60 feet or more -- especially when the wind is at the angler's backs and when the angler is plying a massive flat. The angler retrieves the grub at a variety of depths and speeds, depending on the disposition and position of the bass. It is particularly effective when bass are piscivorous and foraging on wind-blown shorelines, inhabiting the top portions of massive patches of submerged vegetation, or pursuing suspended baitfish across flats. Sometimes the retrieve is occasionally enhanced with some shakes and subtle pauses, but the angler primarily swims it without executing any shakes. During the retrieve, the rod is held from about the two to five o'clock position. The rod position depends on the nature of the wind, distance of the grub from the boat, and speed of the retrieve. When anglers need to dissect a massive flat with long casts and quick retrieves, they rig the grub on a 3/32-ounce Gopher, and they also use it when they ply lairs that are deeper than seven feet. Most of the time, the anglers use a 1/16-ounce.

Besides a grub, Midwest finesse anglers employ the straight-swim retrieve with Z-Man's four-inch Finesse WormZ, Finesse ShadZ, and at times, Z-Man's 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ. Unlike the 60-foot casts that the anglers use at times with the grub and 3/32-ounce Gopher jig, anglers have determined that it is best use a 1/16-ounce or even a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig on the WormZ, ShadZ and ZinkerZ and make 2o- to 30-foot casts. After the angler completes the cast, he allows the lure to fall to the depth that he wants the lure to swim, and then he begins to slowly and methodically swim it without adding any additional motion. This is the Midwest finesse anglers' rendition of Charlie Brewer historic do-nothing retrieve and the i-Motion retrieve that some Japanese finesse anglers utilize.

At the flatland reservoirs of northeastern Kansas, finesse anglers rarely fish lairs that lie in water deeper than 15 feet. Across the decades, Midwest finesse anglers have discovered that their short casts and four relatively shallow-water retrieves work well at many of the eutrophic natural lakes that grace many of the northern states.

But anglers who have recently begun using some of the Midwest finesse tactics at such clear-water environs as the highland reservoirs of the Ozarks and mesotrophic natural lakes of the Northwoods region have found that they need to use longer casts, heavier jigs and probe deeper terrains than those of us who fish eutrophic and flatland waterways. Therefore in future blogs, we hope to scrutinize the ideas and ways of the anglers who are using Midwest finesse lures and tactics in the highland reservoirs of the Ozarks. (We have examined one angler's perspective about using these tactics at mesotrophic lakes, which can be seen at https://www.in-fisherman.com/2011/10/02/finesse-tactics-for-smallmouth-bass/)

We will also explore in other blogs why flatland finesse anglers use a drift sock, make short casts, work with short rods and employ a variety of retrieve angles. What's more, we will enumerate various anglers' perspectives about colors of finesse lures, as well as their shape and size.

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