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Midwest finesse tackle: rods, reels and lines, according to Dwight Keefer

Midwest finesse tackle: rods, reels and lines, according to Dwight Keefer

Five decades ago, Dwight Keefer of Phoenix was a teenager, studying the art and science of Midwest finesse tactics with its founder the late Chuck Woods of Kansas City.

Keefer learned his lessons well. When he was a sophomore at the Universityof Kansas in 1967, Keefer won the Kansas Open at Norton Lake, Kansas, and the World Series of Sport Fishing a Long Lake, Wisconsin.   Then in the early 1970s, Keefer competed in some Bassmaster events, including the 1972 Bassmaster Classic. At all of these events, he utilized the tactics that Woods taught him.

Nowadays, he has become enthralled with Midwest finesse tactics once again. This time around he is fishing reservoirs in Arizona, and his most effective bait is a Z-Man Fishing Product's Finesse ShadZ affixed to Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head Jig.

According to Keefer, the Finesse ShadZ is one of the 10 best bass baits ever made.

But it is a difficult bait to cast. At the clear-water reservoirs and offshore lairs that he plies in Arizona, Keefer says it's essential to be able to make long and accurate casts.  Consequently, Keefer has been working on ways to make this combo an easier one to cast.

He has experimented with 20 different combinations rods, reels and lines across the past 15 months. During this period, he totally stripped and customized several very expensive and highly rated rods. Now he has a spinning outfit that will cast a Finesse ShadZ on a 3/32-ounce Gopher jig 40 yards and nearly 60 yards on a 3/16-ounce Gopher jig.

We thought that a lot of anglers would like to know about his thoughts, experiments and findings.  So, we asked him to write a short treatise on what has transpired.

Here is what Keefer wrote:

"I am writing about my quest to find the right rod to fish Z-Man Fishing Product's Finesse ShadZ.

Before I delve into the technical aspects of my quest, here's a short historical sketch of my many years of working with finesse rods.

I have been very blessed to have been surrounded by many of the greatest fisherman and manufacturing geniuses.


When I was seven years old in 1955, my dad, Frank Keefer, gave me my first finesse fishing outfit. It was a Shakespeare 1810 closed-face spinning reel spooled with eight-pound-test monofilament line and a six-foot Shakespeare medium-light Wonderrod. My dad was an expert at fishing weightless plastic worms, and he used the Creme Scoundrel and Sportsman'sWorms. He also designed many different jig heads and lead inserts to fish the worms weighted. My dad's father, Arthur Keefer, was the very first power fisherman I knew. Grandpa Arthur used a Shakespeare level-wind casting reel with braided line and built many of his rods out of Calcuttabamboo and fitted them with agate guides. Arthur was a carpenter and built and sold wooden fishing boats to support himself in his later years. I dearly miss both of them, and I cherish the many fishing trips we had on the farm ponds and Marais des Cygnes River near Ottawa,Kansas.

In 1962, I met Ray Fincke and went to work for him at Fincke Tackle Company in Rosedale, Kansas on Southwest Blvd. Ray was a true perfectionist and connoisseur of the finest fishing rods being built at that time. He was an expert at using and custom building an Orvis split-bamboo fly rod, as well as creating and using his custom-made Fenwick bass rod. Ray taught me how to build custom rods, and I worked for him part time until I graduated from college. While I worked for Ray, I met Drew Reese, who also worked for Ray. Drew was very accomplished at finesse fishing, and we spent many days finesse fishing, tubing and wading farm ponds and later fishing the big reservoirs in Kansas and the Ozarks. Drew was a very experienced at rod builder, and he had great influence on my fishing life.

In 1970, I went to work for the Shakespeare Company, and I met Jim Butler who was the executive vice president of Shakespeare Manufacturing. I visited Jim many times at the Columbia, South Carolina, Shakespeare rod and line manufacturing plant, and we would tour the plant and have many late night talks about rod design and rod manufacturing. Shakespeare made the Back Country Special rod, which was a five-foot, 10-inch two-piece finesse spinning rod, and Jim gave me a dozen one-piece blanks of that rod and whenever I needed any one-piece finesse blanks Jim was accommodating. I also set it up for Ray Fincke to buy the one-piece blanks from Shakespeare. Jim was a manufacturing genius and was instrumental in the design of the Ugly Stick. After Pure Fishing had bought Shakespeare, Berkley Bedell hired Jim out of his retirement to build and run their rod manufacturing plant in China. The Shakespeare Ugly Stick has been the number-one selling rod in the United States for many years.

In 1972, I met Bobby Murray of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Bobby had just won the first Bassmaster Classic and I was the Shakespeare representative in Arkansas and western Missouri. We started comparing our rods, reels and line combinations, and our finesse outfits were remarkably similar. He introduced me to a custom rod builder in Hot Springs, and I took some of his custom finesse rods back to Ray Fincke. Many people don't know that Bobby is a very accomplished finesse fisherman. Recently, Bobby has been using a cork bobber with his soft-plastic finesse presentations and seven-foot finesse rod. He caught a nine-pound largemouth bass last year using this method. Bobby and I have spent many days finesse fishing together, and I don't recall ever out fishing him. However, he is two years older than me, and with my current nutrition and fitness program I should be capable of out fishing him at least one time in the next twenty years or so.

Now, here are some of the technical details that I am currently working on:

Technology has progressed at almost geometric speed in the fishing tackle business, affecting all levels of manufacturing of rods, reels, lines and terminal tackle. Today, the graphite high-modulus rods are truly incredible. When working with these rods, it is important to know their modulus ratings. Unfortunately, some high-modulus rod manufacturers do not divulge the modulus ratings of their rods. It is interesting to note that Bass Pro Shops labels the modulus rating of its Johnny Morris CarbonLite Series Spinning Rod.

Therefore, after several years of conducting research with high-modulus rods, I have developed what I call my best-guess-modulus-rating chart via some. Here are my modulus ratings of several graphite rods:

(1) Johnny Morris CarbonLite Series Spinning Rod has an 85 million modulus rating.

(2) Shimano Cumulus has a 65-70 million modulus rating.

(3) G. Loomis GLX has a 65-million modulus rating.

(4) G. Loomis IMX has a 55-million modulus rating.

(5) G. Loomis GL3 is an IM8 rod, and it has a 47-million modulus rating.

(6) G. Loomis GL2 is an IM7 rod, and it has a 42-million modulus rating.

(7) A graphite IM8 rod has a 47 million modulus rating.

(8) A graphite IM7 rod has a 42 million modulus rating.

(9) A graphite IM6 rod has a 38 million modulus rating.

(10) A standard graphite rod has a 33million modulus rating.

Toray is the leading manufacturer of high-modulus graphite for some rod manufacturers.  Here are the modulus ratings for their products:

(1) Toray's M46J has a 63 million modulus rating.

(2) Toray's M50J has a 69 modulus rating.

(3) Toray's M40J graphite has a 47 million modulus rating.

I have personally bought, sold and traded dozens of high-modulus spinning rods over the last several years.  I have also customized and tested these rods side by side each other and the same model using a Daiwa Fuego 2500 spinning reel spooled with seven-pound-test Sunline Sniper Fluorocarbon line with the same Finesse ShadZ rigged with 1/16- and 3/32-ounce Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head Jigs. I tested rods that ranged in length from six feet to seven feet, two inches. My initial objective was to make the most sensitive lightest rod possible with the longest casting distance with minimal physical fatigue that had enough power to handle a five-to-six-pound largemouth bass. Cost was not an initial issue, but when I bought a G. Loomis NRX, I couldn't come to peace with myself of spending almost $500 and stripping it because the guides were not right for ShadZ usage.  I weighed every blank after stripping the rod of its guides and handles. I also weighed every guide, cork handle, Eva or Hypalon grip and reel seat that I had removed or added.

Here is what I discovered:

1) Modulus is the most important factor.  Modulus describes the stiffness to weight ratio of the graphite that's used to create the rod blank. When you cast a lure, the rod flexes with the weight of the lure, storing energy as it flexes. When the motion of the rod stops, the rod flexes and releases all of its stored energy to propel the lure. When you increase the modulus of the graphite, you increase the ability of that graphite to store and release energy. You also increase the speed that the rod releases the stored energy. That increases the lure speed that is generated in the cast. Increase the modulus and you increase the reaction speed and power of the rod blank.

2) The lightest overall weight of a rod does not necessarily meet the ShadZ objective. My re-built Shimano Cumulus No. CMLS X610ML six-foot, 10-inch rod weighs 3.1 ounces. The Johnny Morris CarbonLite Series Spinning Rod No. CL69MLSDS six-foot, nine-inch rod weighs 3.6 ounces. The Johnny Morris CarbonLite is clearly more sensitive and executes notably longer in distance.

3) Fuji SiC guides with titanium frames are not the best guides for executing long casts with the Finesse ShadZ. American Tackle Company's titanium framed Zircon guides produce eight- to 10-foot longer casts than theFuji guides. And thePacificBay's DLC stainless steel frame guides with titanium-carbide inserts with a physical-vapor-deposition coating on the Johnny Morris CarbonLite created casts that are least 10 feet longer than the American Tackle Company's guide on a Shimano Cumulus rod.  At this time, I have not put the American Tackle's Zircon guides on a Johnny Morris CarbonLite rod.

4) Thank you Johnny Morris.  Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops are forthright and courageous enough to label their rods have an 85-million modulus rating, and I believe what they print. There is a significant sensitivity difference between the Johnny Morris CarbonLite compared to the Shimano Cumulus and the G. Loomis GLX. The Shimano Cumulus has a suggested retail price of $399.99, the G. Loomis GLX retails at $345-$395 and the Johnny Morris CarbonLite at $99.99 with frequent sales prices at $79.99. And the Johnny Morris Carbonlite casts a Finesse ShadZ farther than the other rods.

5) Move the hook/drop- shot keeper to the bottom of the Johnny Morris CarbonLite Series Spinning Rod.  I discovered during testing and usage that the fluorocarbon line would catch on the hook/drop-shot keeper when the wind was blowing. I moved it from the side of the rod to the bottom of the rod, and there were no further problems.

In sum, I have discovered that there is a lot of sophisticated engineering that goes into the development and manufacturing of high-modulus spinning rods. What I find to be so profound is that they can charge $300 to $500 for a spinning rod and install the wrong size guides of it.

I hope this information will be helpful to other finesse anglers.

To keep things in perspective, I would like to close with the following observation: If my Grandpa Arthur were alive today, he would be fishing a Revo Winch spooled with Power Pro 65-pound-test line on a flipping stick. If we were bass fishing together at Saguaro Lake, Arizona, he would look at me and say: "Dwight, why are you using that fairy wand?" and then he would probably catch the new Arizona state-record largemouth bass on a live shiner."

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