The Little Varmint, part 1

Bill Babler of Blue Eye, Missouri, is a heralded fishing guide at Table Rock and Bull Shoals lakes. What's more, he is a recent convert to the Little Varmint. Babler took this photograph of his Little Varmint rig and a Table Rock Lake crayfish on June 9.

Back in 2010, Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Missouri, was the first angler to wield a Little Varmint and catch a black bass on it at Table Rock Lake, Missouri. And for many months, he and a couple of his close friends, such as Robert Robbins of Branson, Missouri, and Lloyd Lefty Evans of Kimberling City, Missouri, were the only Ozarks anglers who used it, and they caught an impressive array of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass on it.

King's Little Varmint consisted of a half of a five-inch Z-Man's Fishing Products' ZinkerZ affixed to a 1/16-ounce jig with a sparse fiberguard. At times, King and his friends also used a half of a five-inch Strike King Lure Company's Zero. Back then it wasn't called the Little Varmint by King and his friends. They called it The Turd because it resembles the goose excrement that litters the boat docks at many waterways.

In northeastern Kansas, where this rig was created, it is called either a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ Midwest finesse rig or a 2 1/2-inch Zero Midwest finesse rig. The Zero and ZinkerZ are identical baits; Z-Man manufactures the Zero for Strike King Lure Company.

In the eyes of most bass anglers -- especially those anglers who ply the crystal-clear highland reservoirs that grace the Ozarks, the 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ affixed to a jig is such an unattractive and unassuming bait that many bass anglers have been reluctant to give it a whirl. In fact, a few bass anglers have remarked that it looks like a bait that channel catfish anglers would use and dip into a container of stink bait, such as Sonny Hootman's Super Sticky Channel Cat Bait. Another bass angler called it chopped liver.

But those negative notions in the Ozarks began to change in April of 2012, when Dave Reeves of Lansing, Kansas, began reporting on the Finesse News Network and Ozark about catching oodles of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and spotted bass at Table Rock Lake by wielding either a 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ affixed to a 1/16-ounce jig. Here's a link to some of Reeves' first revelations:

By the spring of 2013, several more Table Rock Lake anglers, as well as a few of its fishing guides, began employing it. This gradual conversion could be seen in the comments posted on Ozark, where Reeves continued to write more of his insights, and other anglers responded to his observations. It was also exhibited in a Midwest Finesse column that we published about Larry Seger of Kimberling City, Missouri. It was entitled "The Midwest Finesse Ways of Doc Seger." ( Seger, however, doesn't use a 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ. Instead, he attaches a 2½-inch Table Rock Bait & Tackle Company's Chomper Salty Sinker to either a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce round-headed jig. Both of Seger's jigs sport a sparse fiberguard.

Then during the spring of 2014, a virtual hysteria erupted on Ozark regarding the 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ rig. Gradually a surprising number of Table Rock Lake's guides began attaching this rig to their clients' rods, and even if their clients were novice anglers, they were able to catch Table Rock's black bass at an amazing pace. In fact, the Finesse News Network received a note on June 9 from Bill Babler of Blue Eye, Missouri. Babler is a well-known angler and guide at Table Rock, Taneycomo, and Bull Shoals lakes, and he readily confessed that the rig had inveigled "literally thousands of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass." Babler also noted that Bill Beck of Kimberling City, Missouri, who is another legendary angler and guide at Table Rock and Taneycomo lakes, recently began calling the 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ rig "The Varmint." Then as the spring of 2014 unfolded and more and more Ozark anglers began to wield The Varmint, these anglers began referring to it as the Little Varmint. And according to Babler, the name Little Varmint has now become the household name for this traditional Midwest finesse rig among the anglers around Table Rock Lake.

As the years have rushed by, we have occasionally written about the origins and various manifestations of the bait that the Ozark anglers call the Little Varmint, and after reading some of the comments on the forum section of Ozark, we think this an appropriate time to write a few more words about its roots.

The first 2 1/2-inch Zero rig that Babler, Beck, King, Reeves, and untold others of Ozark anglers are using was jerry-rigged on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig on Oct. 12, 2006, at a 55-acre community reservoir in northeastern Kansas. On that outing, two of us used it, as well as a three-inch green-pumpkin tube on a 1/16-ounce jig and a four-inch Strike-King green-pumpkin 3X Finesse Worm on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, and we caught 109 largemouth bass, two wipers, one walleye, and one channel catfish.

In September of 2006, we were working with Kevin Van Dam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, about how he used a shaky head jig dressed with either a soft-plastic worm or stickbait, which was an extremely popular tactic on the Bassmaster and FLW circuits back in 2005 and 2006. In fact, Van Dam used a shaky head jig and four-inch Strike King 3X Finesse Worm to catch an 11-pound, 13-ounce largemouth bass along the riprap of the dam during the 2005 Texas Bassmaster Elite 50 Pro tournament at Lewisville Lake, Texas. As we worked on the story, Van Dam gave us some four-inch Strike King 3X Finesse Worms and five-inch Zeroes to photograph for the In-Fisherman story, as well as to test.

For our traditional Midwest finesse applications, the Zero, however, was too big. Therefore on Oct. 12, 2006, we cut it in half and put it on the same jig that we traditionally affixed to a three-inch YUM Dinger or three-inch Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits' Senko. Straightaway we were astonished about its durability, buoyance and ability to allure largemouth bass and other species. Since then, it and the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ have been one of the primary baits in our Midwest finesse repertoire.

Before the advent of the Senko, Dinger, Zero, and ZinkerZ, we dressed our jigs with the angling world's first stickbait, which was created by the late Chuck Woods of Kansas City. In our eyes the first stickbait was the Beetle, which Woods originally created in the late 1950s out of tattered or torn Creme worms. Ultimately it was manufactured by Virgil and Bill Ward of Bass Buster Lure Company of Amsterdam, Missouri.

After Woods created the Puddle Jumper for Ted Green's Mar-Lynn Lure Company of Blue Spring, Missouri, we used it and the Beetle, and we rigged the Puddle Jumper to either a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jig. (It needs to be emphasized that a jig lies at the heart of all of our Midwest finesse applications. We no longer use split-shot rigs, mojo rigs, and slip-sinker rigs. All of our soft-plastic baits --except a tube -- are affixed to 1/32-, 1/16-, and 3/32-ounce Gopher jigs. )

At times, some modern-day stickbait aficionados have poop-pooped our contention that the Woods' Beetle was the first stickbait. But for years on end, we employed the Beetle and his Puddle Jumper on 1/32-,1/16-, and 3/32-ounce jigs, and we retrieved them the same way that we retrieved the three-inch Senko, three-inch Dinger, 2 1/2-inch Zero, and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ.

Woods was always enchanted with spinners, and from the beginning, he often attached a jig spinner to his Beetle-and-jig combo, which eventually became the noted Beetle Spin. But we never added the spinner to our jig-and-Beetle combos.

In tribute to Chuck Woods, some of us northeastern Kansas Midwest finesse anglers occasionally call fishing a Beetle, Puddle Jumper, three-inch Senko, three-inch Dinger, 2 1/2-inch Zero, and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on a jig "chucking."

In short, the Little Varmint's legacy stems back many generations, and it has bewitched black bass and other species from its birth.


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