September 16, 2011
By Ned Kehde
At 10:45 a.m. on September 9, Steve Desch of Topeka, Kansas, and I were preparing to launch the boat at one of the county reservoirs that we ply about three times a month, and at the same time a young and extremely polite bass angler was loading his boat on his trailer. Before we launched and before he drove away, the three of us chatted for a spell.
He told us that he had been afloat before sunrise, which occurred at 6:58 a.m. Since early starts are an integral part of many serious bass anglers' repertoire, he was curious why we were starting so late in the day, and we told him one reason was because of the algae bloom that was afflicting this lake. Our response put a nonplus expression upon his brow. Therefore we quickly explained that a heavy planktonic algae bloom often causes a small reservoir, such as the one he had been fishing this morning, to experience oxygen depletion. We elaborated further by telling him that during the night the algae consumes vast quantities of oxygen, which can make the fish lethargic, and it takes a lot of morning sunlight to regenerate the oxygen levels. Thus, at about 11:30 a.m. the bass typically emerge from the doldrums that the lack of oxygen created and from our experiences, the bass become less tentative about striking a lure. We also told him that this phenomenon occurs at most of the reservoirs across northeastern Kansas, and it can occur during many months of the year. After our explanation, his nonplus and courteous demeanor was replaced by a well-mannered but skeptical expression; we could detect by the glint in his eyes that he thought that he was listening to the spiel of a pair senior citizens who might be on the edge becoming a touch odd.
Nevertheless, he remained curious enough to politely ask us about some of the finesse baits that donned our spinning outfits.
By looking at his rods on the deck of his boat, it was obvious that he was a devotee of power tactics, but he did confess to us that he occasionally wielded a three-inch tube and a Zoom Fluke. Since he had a hankering to use a Fluke every now and then, we gave him a four-inch Z-Man fishing Products' Finesse ShadZ, which has recently become one of our most fruitful bait, and in some ways it has the appearance of a Fluke. After he said thanks and examined it for a spell, he asked us if we Texas rigged it on a 3/0 wide-gap offset hook. When we showed him that our favorite way to rig it was with an exposed hook on a 1/32-ounce Gopher Tackle's Original Mushroom Head Jig, he replied: "That's nothing more than a crappie jig." We agreed with his description and told him that this tiny jig with a No. 6 bronze Mustad hook affixed to a ShadZ had caught us scores of bass since the fall of 2010, including some lunkers that have weighed as much as six pounds, three ounces.
As we parted company, he graciously thanked us and put the ShadZ and tiny Gopher jig in his shirt pocket. But by the look on his face, Desch and I knew that bait will never don one his rods.
Desch has confessed plenty of times that when we initially crossed paths and he watched us wielding a Strike King Bait Company's Zero that was trimmed in length to two-and-half inches and affixed to a Gopher jig that he was skeptical that such an odd and ugly looking creation could catch bass. Before Desch was convinced of the manifold virtues of the Zero and some of the other finesse baits and presentationws that we employ, he had to witness their effectiveness across more than a half dozen outings.
Likewise, Desch had a difficult time convincing his dear friend and old fishing partner, Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Missouri, about the merits of using some our finesse tactics. Now after nearly two years of coaxing and cajoling, King, who is a successful professional angler on the FLW and Professional Anglers Association circuits, says his favorite way to fish recreationally for bass is to wield a tiny jig dressed with a small soft-plastic bait. King says that he is amazed at how well the little hooks perform. And he has even used this combo at a PAA tournament.
Desch and I were well aware that our conversation with the young angler at boat ramp was too hurried to make anything more than a cursory impression.
For example, we didn't have enough time to tell him that we also use a 1/16-ounce Gopher with a No. 4 and No. 2 hook. Desch prefers the No. 2 while I like the No. 4. And there are spells when the bass want our baits on the bottom and presented in a dragging and deadsticking motif that we opt for a 3/32-ounce Gopher with a No. 2 hook
We didn't explain to him that we have determined that a small jig hook allows a soft-plastic bait similar to the Finesse ShadZ to quiver and undulate more than it quivers and undulates when it is affixed to a big hook, and in our eyes, that is a significant factor. Furthermore we have found the subtle presentation created by a lightweight jig and small hook seems to be a critical element in alluring bass when they are in a lethargic and tentative mood because an algae bloom has altered the oxygen level.
We also failed tell him that we use these jigs affixed to a soft-plastic finesse bait 97% of the time when we are pursing black bass, and we use these combos because we have discovered that they are the most effective tool for catching vast numbers of bass in our reservoirs every day of the year. To validate that contention, we could point to these data: in 2008, 2009 and 2010, a pair of us (and sometimes it was a threesome) caught 13,417 bass in 366 outings and 1,465 hours of fishing while using one of those small Gopher jigs affixed to one of the soft-plastic baits listed in our August 23, 2011, blog or illustrated on the blog about kinky worms and other cock-eyed finesse presentations on Sept. 11, 2011. This translates to catching nine bass an hour, which is as many bass as this young angler caught during the four hours he fished that morning. (It's interesting to note that Desch and I fished three hours; a thunder and lightning storm prevented us from fishing another hour. We used a ZinkerZ, Rain MinnowZ and three-and-half-inch Finesse WormZ on a 1/6-ounce jig, and we caught 33 largemouth and smallmouth bass, failed to land five bass, and caught a channel catfish, two white bass and about a dozen bluegill and green sunfish.)
During the past three years, we caught the bulk of the 13,417 bass at the city, county and state lakes that that stipple the landscape of northeastern Kansas. Even though these lakes are heavily fished, they are chockfull of largemouth bass, and several are graced with some smallmouth bass. When it comes to catching vast numbers of bass, many of our northeastern Kansas are exceedingly fruitful. Their one shortcoming, however, is very few big bass inhabit them.
Because these lakes are brimming with small bass, Desch and I, as well as several other ardent recreational anglers, focus our attention on attempting to catch 101 bass in four hours, which we merrily call bass fishing 101. And about a half dozen times a year we reach or surpass that lofty benchmark. In fact, on September 6, Pok-Chi Lau of Lawrence, Kansas, and I caught 149 small bass in four hours at one of the state reservoirs. During the last 15 minutes of this outing, we had our sights set catching 151 bass, but we couldn't muster two more bass to reach that goal. Eventually we caught two more, but it took us another 28 minutes to do it, proving that at times our finesse tactics are fallible, too.
Besides alluring scores of bass, another virtue of these tiny jigs with exposed hooks and dressed with a soft-plastic bait are practically snag free — especially around rocky terrains, and they work through coontail, bushy pondweed and milfoil marvelously. What's more, since we hook so many bass during a year, we have found that these small hooks don't injure the bass as much as big hooks do, and they are particularly easy on the bass when the barbs are removed.
After Desch and I ended our Sept 9 outing, we chatted for a bit and concluded that the only way that we could have convinced the young angler that we aren't two old codgers who talk as if they have lost several of their marbles was to invite him to fish with us. But we hope this tale about our failure to convince the young angler about the merits of finesse fishing for bass will provoke readers of this blog to ponder it, try it and ask us questions about it. And we will try to answer your questions.