Midwest finesse tackle: Bass rods, reels, and lines

This is a photograph of my finesse spinning tackle. It features a Garcia Cardinal Four reel that I purchased for $20 in 1970. Back then Zebco imported and sold the Cardinal Four.

Across the past 42 years, this Cardinal Four has been spooled with a variety of lines, been attached to numerous rods and tangled with an untold number of bass.

Nowadays, this Cardinal Four is spooled with 10-pound-test Zebco Omniflex Braid and a five-foot leader made from eight-pound-test Cajun fluorocarbon line.  It's  mounted on a six-foot, medium-action Shakespeare Synergy spinning rod, which is a very inexpensive rod.

Several of my other Cardinal Four reels and six-foot Synergy rods are spooled with either Cajun Primeaux Braid or Cajun Braid Fishing Line, and all of them have the same fluorocarbon leader as the outfit in the photograph.

This photograph reveals that the bail on this Cardinal Four reel has been customized to make it a manual system. The bails on all of my Cardinal Fours have been customized.  Therefore, I use my index finger rather than the bail to place the line on the line roller after I execute a cast. This helps to eliminate various line woes that often plague anglers who use spinning tackle. It is also a more efficient way to fish.

In the eyes of most serious anglers, my finesse spinning outfits would be classified as  low-rent and extremely out-of-date.  I would agree with them. In fact, when Kevin Van Dam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and super star on the Bassmaster tournament circuit, saw one of my Shakepeare spinning rods and Cardinal Four reels on Sept. 28, 2011, at Table Rock Lake, he shook his head, exhibiting an element of polite dismay and puzzlement  that anyone would use such an antiquated outfit in the second decade of the 21st century.

Van Dam, however,  fishes nearly 180 degrees differently than we do. One example of the difference is that he is a proponent of making extremely long casts. But in the flatland reservoirs in northeastern Kansas, we have found that short casts allow us to work our finesse  baits more effectively and to allure more bass than long casts do. Therefore, we don't need theexpensive and state-of-the-art rods and reels that Van Dam likes to wield in order to make the marathon casts that he regularly executes.

Joe Davis of  Tulsa, Oklahoma, loves old Cardinal Fours, saying that they are some of the finest spinning reels ever made.  At the same time, Davis has been trying to coax me into the 21st century. Thus last fall he sent me a present, which was a state-of-the-art Quantum Exo PT 25 spinning reel. Since then I have been using it, and I have found it to be a delightful reel. Now that Davis has finally pulled me into the 21st century, I will continue to use Exo PT 25 along side my collection of vintage Cardinal Fours  on every outing.  There are only two problems that I have with the Exo. One is that I have to use a bail. The second is  I can't back reel when I am fighting a bass. So far,  I have  learned to live with those two up-to-date features, but I occasionally think about  customizing the bail by making it a manual system.

This photograph shows a bit more of the type of rods and reels that I have been using for decades. It shows where the bail assembly has been removed from the winding cup. A hacksaw and file removed the bail assembly from the line roller. Photograph by Rick Hebenstreit.

We have written enough words about my Midwest finesse rods, reels and lines. Therefore let's describe the rods, reels and lines other practitioners of this method use to catch bass.

Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Kansas, who is a multispecies angler and veteran guide, uses two rods for his Midwest finesse applications. They are  Quantum's six-foot and 6 1/2-foot   Tour Edition PT  spinning rods. They possess a medium-action and a fast taper.  Each rod sports  a Quantum Accurist PTi 30 spinning reel. The reels are spooled with eight-pound-test Cajun Braid and a five-foot Cajun fluorocarbon leader in either six- or eight-pound test.

A bass caught on finesse tackle in the spring of 2011 by one of Clyde Holscher's clients.  Photograph by Clyde Holscher.

Dwight Keefer of Phoenix fished with the great and late Chuck Woods in the 1960s.  He used Woods' finesse tactics to win the World Series of Sport Fishing at Long Lake, Wisconsin, in 1967 when he was a sophomore at the University of Kansas. He also used Woods' tactics to earn a berth at the 1972 Bassmaster Classic. After many years of battling serious health woes, Keefer is finesse fishing again. Nowadays he works with three spinning outfits. One is a six foot, 10-inch  Shimano Cumulus spinning rod with medium-light power and extra-fast action.  It is fitted with American Tackle Titanium/Nanolite Guides and bedecked with a Daiwa Fuego 2500 spinning reel that is spooled with six, seven or eight-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper Fluorocarbon.  His second rod is a six-foot, five-inch Shimano Cumulus spinning rod with medium-power and extra-fast action; it's donned with a Daiwa Fuego 2500 spinning reel that is spooled with six, seven or eight-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper Fluorocarbon.  The third is a six-foot, light-powered, fast-action G. Loomis GLX SJR-721  spinning rod with American Tackle Titanium/Nanolite Guides and fitted with a  Daiwa Fuego 2000 spinning reel that is spooled with six, seven or eight-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper Fluorocarbon.  In 2012, Keefer plans to experiment with Berkley NanoFil line that is devoid of a leader.

Steve Desch of Topeka is a long-time devotee of finesse fishing for bass. Like Keefer, he uses three different  outfits. One is a six-foot, eight-inch, medium-light-power Bass Pro Shops' Extreme Woo Daves Signature Series spinning rod, and it's fitted with a Diawa Regal 2500XiA spinning reel that is spooled with eight-pound-test Bass Pro Shops' Excel lo-viz green monofilament. The second outfit is a six-foot, medium-power, fast-action St. Croix Triumph spinning rod and Diawa Regal 2000 XiA spinning reel that is spooled with six-pound-test Bass Pro Shops' Excel lo-viz green monofilament. The third is a six-foot IMX  G. Loomis SJR720 mag-light spinning rod and Diawa Regal 2000 XiA spinning reel that is spooled with six-pound-test Bass Pro Shops' Excel lo-viz green monofilament.

When Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Missouri, who's a veteran and successful professional angler on the FLW and PAA circuits,  wields a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on a 1/16-ounce jig, he employs a seven-foot, two-inch, medium-power, fast-action Bass Pro Shops' Johnny Morris CarbonLite Series Spinning Rod. This rod is fitted with a Bass Pro Shops' JM20 John Morris Signature Series Spinning Reel that is spooled with 10-pound-test braid and a five- to six-foot leader made from Bass Pro Shops' XPS  Signature Series Fluorocarbon line.

Casey Kidder of Topeka has been an avid Midwest finesse angler since 2004. He uses four spinning outfits. One is a six-foot, three-inch, medium-power, fast-action St Croix Legend Tournament Walleye Vertical Jig Model. The second is a six-foot, eight-inch, medium-power, extra-fast-action  Shimano Cumara. The third is a 6 1/2-foot, medium-power Falcon rod. The fourth is a six-foot, medium-light power Falcon.  These rods are fitted with either a Daiwa Exceler 2000 spinning reel or Daiwa Tierra 2000 spinning reel, and they are spooled with 10-pound-test, highly visible Sufix Performance  Braid and a five-foot leader made from either six- or eight-pound-test P-Line fluorocarbon. According to Kidder, "any spinning rod will work as long as it is not too stiff." From his experience, the most critical element in finesse fishing for bass  is using braided line rather than monofilament or fluorocarbon lines.

In sum, Midwest finesse anglers employ a  variety of rods, reels and lines to catch an astounding number of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. Here's hoping readers of this blog will add to this variety by posting descriptions of the finesse bass rods reels and lines they use.

Photograph by Clyde Holscher.

Recommended for You


Buzzbaits for Bass

Dan Johnson - February 02, 2015

To help you get a handle on it all, we offer the following rundown of top choices on the...


10 Best Bass Fishing States In America

Matt Straw - November 01, 2017

Which of the ten is the best? You decide.


Deep Cranking Confessions from the Pro's

John Neporadny Jr - December 18, 2017

Here's some important crankbait lessons from the big leagues.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Mustad's New Tungsten Weights

Long known as one of the world's premiere hook makers, Mustad's Reid McKinstry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that the company is now one of the leaders in making tungsten terminal tackle products for anglers.

Minn Kota's Brad Henry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that there's much to like in the new Minn Kota Riptide Terrova saltwater trolling motor that comes with I-Pilot and an 87-inch shaft.

Simms' Challenger Raingear

John Frazier of Simms Fishing Products details the warm and dry features found in the new Challenger raingear being brought to market by the Bozeman, Mont. company.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


Understanding Spring Walleye Migrations

Gord Pyzer - June 02, 2018

'Walleyes spawn in spring and understanding spring walleye migrations, whether you live north...

Boats & Motors

2- Vs. 4-Cycle Outboard Motors

Dan Johnson - April 16, 2018

Now more than ever, understanding each category's strong suits is critical to choosing a...


Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - January 22, 2017

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate...

See More Stories

More Midwest Finesse

Midwest Finesse

Googan Baits' Drag n Drop Worm

Ned Kehde - June 14, 2019

The Drag n Drop Worm has a small four-inch shad-shaped body with a flat bottom.

Midwest Finesse

Mister Twister's Comida

Ned Kehde - July 10, 2019

Mister Twister's Black/Blue Flake Comida is a classic stick-style bait.

Midwest Finesse

Julys of the Past

Ned Kehde - June 28, 2019

July is usually a successful month for Midwest Finesse anglers.

See More Midwest Finesse

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.