Ralph Manns of Rockwall, Texas, is a knowledgeable black-bass angler and veteran tournament angler. He is also a fisheries biologist and longtime field editor for In-Fisherman's publications.
For the past year or so, Manns has periodically fished with Steve Reideler of Lewisville, Texas. Since August of 2013, Reideler has been a Midwest finesse devotee, and his ability to catch largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass from the extremely problematic and overfished reservoirs that he plies in north-central Texas and within the metroplex of Dallas and Fort Worth has impressed a goodly number of members of the Finesse News Network. Reideler's methods have also impressed Manns.
On March 30, Manns sent an email to Doug Stange of Brainerd, Minnesota, who is the editor in chief at In-Fisherman, and to Steve Reideler. In this email, Manns included some of his observations about the effectiveness of Midwest finesse tactics.
Manns expanded his critique of Midwest finesse fishing in an April 2 email to Reideler. In this email, he compared his approach and philosophy of power and finesse fishing to the Midwest finesse tactics that Reideler employs.
Manns said that we could publish his insights in our Midwest Finesse column, and here is an edited and condensed version of both of those emails:
I have now had several trips with Steve Reideler, who only fishes with Midwest finesse gear and lures. I have seen how well it works in conditions where a more traditional bass angler might simply employ power-fishing techniques to cover water and locate bass.
In short, Midwest finesse tactics are deadly once fish are located, and those fish want small lures.
On our latest trip, Steve's combination of a 1/32-ounce Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head Jig and a Z-Man Bait Company's Finesse ShadZ far out-fished me. I should admit that out-fishing me is not all that hard to do. Over the years, I have fished with professionals and about four other friends who consistently put me to shame. The only way I could beat my friends in tournaments was to fish separately with a better game plan.
From my perspective, the main downside to Midwest finesse methods seems to be the total reliance on one scheme.
Although Midwest finesse techniques allow some variation in lure presentations, it likely overlooks the times when black bass are focusing on larger plastic lures, or action baits like crankbaits, spinnerbaits, or topwater baits. But it certainly finds fish if the black bass are there.
Midwest finesse also provides the added bonus in that anglers can catch other species as well. During our recent March 30 trip, where I landed a 4 1/2-pound largemouth bass, we caught 10 adult-sized largemouth bass (measuring 12 inches or longer) that weighed up to 4 1/2 pounds. We also caught 24 hybrid striped bass, and 21 of them measured more than 18 inches, which is the Texas minimum size limit. Besides that bounty, we caught three white bass. I experimented with different lures while Steve landed hybrid after hybrid on his 1/32-ounce Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head jig attached to a four-inch Z-Man Junebug Finesse ShadZ. But I caught only one hybrid striped bass using an action-type bait, such as a Bill Lewis Lures' floating Rat-L-Trap. The hybrids were tight to the shoreline, and eventually I did land some hybrids when I switched to a Z-Man's Junebug Finesse ShadZ on a 1/16-ounce Bass Pro Shops jig and a spinning outfit.
Long before this latest trip, I bought another spinning rod and reel and loaded it with 10-pound Berkley Fireline and an eight-pound-test fluorocarbon leader, and that is the outfit I used to wield the Z-Man's Junebug Finesse ShadZ on a 1/16-ounce Bass Pro Shops jig and tangle with the hybrids.
"Learn from example" is a good motto.
In my eyes, it may be time for In-Fisherman to give Midwest finesse another promotion.
I have never been a true power angler. In fact, I have used smaller lures for decades. Even when I fished in tournaments, I used small lures to get a limit of small bass. Once I got a limit, I used some power tactics to catch some larger bass.
Finesse worms have long been a primary fishing tool for me. I have always had at least one spinning rod with me, and it is spooled with 10-pound-test line and leader rather than the lighter lines and leaders that Midwest finesse anglers use. I like tackle stout enough that I can probe woody cover if the opportunity arises, whereas Midwest Finesse anglers will bypass such snag-filled environs.
Moreover, I do not consider my use of a four-inch Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits' weightless Senko a power technique. Basically, it is a finesse tactic that features an extremely slow presentation, and it has waylaid vast numbers of largemouth bass.
I think that the rapid or quick presentation styles that some Midwest finesse anglers employ are as effective of a way to locate concentrations of black bass as the tactics that other anglers employ with crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and topwater baits. Yet, I still see Midwest finesse as a technique that is most suitable for times when the black bass are less than fully active, such as when they are spawning rather than moving about to feed.
I think big black bass are more difficult to locate and catch, and to catch them takes a lot of skill and attention to details. I think Midwest finesse anglers focus too much attention on catching a lot of black bass rather than concentrating on big ones. Therefore, they primarily catch a lot of small ones, which distracts them from pinpointing all of the attention and skill that are necessary for alluring quality-size black bass.
What's more, Midwest anglers focus on catching vast numbers of black bass which also leads them to over-value poorly managed fisheries, which are rank with small black bass and bereft of a significant number of big ones.
Dallas area reservoirs would have properly been called very tough lakes 10 to 20 years ago. Back then, the black bass population was overharvested, and these reservoirs were rank with tiny bass. I think that widespread practice of catching and releasing black bass has raised the level of reservoirs like Ray Hubbard to becoming a very good bass fishery. Hubbard has recently produced catches for professional anglers comparable to those made at some of the best reservoirs on the Bassmaster's tournament circuits. Recently, tournament anglers caught five-bass limits that weighed more than 20 pounds, and the week before that, one competitor caught five largemouth bass that weighed 30 pounds.
Midwest finesse anglers may also be plagued by catching a multitude of species, which is time consuming and fouls their focus. It prevents them from maximizing every cast and retrieve when a maximized catch of one species is desired. But I must confess that too many years of focusing solely on black bass has prevented me from fully appreciating the virtues of multi-species angling. It's a character fault of mine.