April 10, 2015
By Ned Kehde
Travis Myers of Paw Paw, West Virginia, read the Midwest Finesse column that focused on Ralph Manns' observations about Midwest finesse fishing three times. Then he spent a lot of time thinking about Manns' ideas on how to and how not to catch black bass.
Ultimately, Myers began to compose a response. When he finished writing it, he tried to post it, but our Midwest Finesse website would not allow him to post his entire response. Thus, we said that we would publish it as a Midwest Finesse column.
Here are his insights, which have been condensed and edited:
I could easily recite passages by Billy Westmoreland in "Them Ol' Brown Fish," where he wrote with the aid of Larry Mayer that people would do best to differentiate between species not only regarding tackle but to location.Westmoreland reiterated numerous times that many offerings are largemouth bass oriented. That was back in his beloved Hoss Fly days, and he explained that certain grubs and worms are too big in diameter for smallmouth bass applications.
I have always held Billy Westmoreland, Charlie Brewer, Matt Straw, and my mentor, Dick Bengraf, in high esteem for their knowledge about the ways of the smallmouth bass.
For years, I listened and read intently, and it has served me well to leave my largemouth bass thinking at home.
Manns contends that "Midwest Finesse anglers focus too much attention on catching a lot of black bass rather than concentrating on big ones." But I focus on the seasonal calendar and fish behavior, which dictates the locations where the smallmouth bass will be abiding.
Big fish come at a good enough rate for me, and I do focus on big fish. Consequently, I have been blessed to catch 27 citation-size smallmouth bass in West Virginia since moving here eight years ago from the multispecies rich environment of upstate New York. My wife has caught four. Citations in this part of the world are smallmouth bass that measure more than 20 inches. She might be a better finesse angler than I am, but she fishes less because of her work schedule. We focus on very small remote waters. In fact, I use finesse techniques to catch the largest fish in riverine systems (smallmouth bass) on the east coast. I am not solely after vast numbers of smallmouth bass, but that is simply a byproduct of throwing what my mentor, Dick Bengraf, always told me: "throw what they always eat," which has helped us to catch them when they are tentative and not actively foraging. How often are black bass active? I have no idea. But my thinking has always been that when they are not active, I should offer them a smaller and more alluring bait, or in human eyes, it becomes an easily gotten meal. The converse of this finesse approach, of course, is trying to force feed the inactive black bass with a power-bait offering, which is a trying ordeal — especially for anglers whose job schedules (such as my wife's job) prohibit them from getting afloat at the best times. I have seen that their ordeal is compounded even more with failure and frustrations when these recreational anglers try to mimic what they see on Saturday morning TV from guys who fish for a living.
Manns says "Midwest Finesse anglers may also be plagued by catching a multitude of species which is time consuming and fouls their focus." It is the direct opposite for me. In fact, catching a multitude of species helps me focus. In my estimation and from my experiences, attaining an understanding of the predator-prey relationships on any body of water has greatly helped me. Therefore, I pay attention to such phenomena as frog migrations (which is something Doug Stange wrote about in In-Fisherman in the 1980s) to the bluegill spawn to the behavior of the yellow perch. And by catching a certain species may tell me to stay put or head into the sunrise. What's more, by using offerings that everything eats narrows this part of the equation rather than widen it.
Manns says: "I like stout enough tackle that I can probe woody cover if the opportunity arises, whereas Midwest Finesse anglers will bypass such snag-filled environs."
In his most recent In- Fisherman panfish article, Matt Straw wrote about the numerous five-and six-pound black bass that he has caught in recent years on four-pound-test braided line, including numerous toothy critters. The article stood out to me because he referenced the "Jekyl and Hyde" rod, which is the G. Loomis Trout Spinning Rod TSR791 GLX, and I have five of them, which I purchased after I read Straw's article in In-Fisherman's 2012 Gear Guide. The waters that I fish are snag filled. So, I can't and don't avoid any of the snags with this tackle. In fact, I recently caught a 20-pound carp while smallmouth bass fishing in a deep-water hole where the smallmouth bass abide in the winter or during cold-water times. This hole is covered with 25 feet of water, and the bottom is embellished with giant red oak trees and boulders the size of a Volkswagen. By using a G. Loomis Trout Spinning Rod TSR791 GLX, four-pound-test braided line and back reeling, I readily tamed this carp. In my eyes, this tackle almost gives me an unfair advantage over my quarries.
I welcome all kinds of thoughts and opinions about Midwest Finesse. And as the months and years unfold, and as more and more anglers become converts, I greatly look forward to its progression and a more thorough understanding of its many assets. For me it is just plain fun, which I think the angling world forgets at times.
Travis Myers is a new contributor to the Finesse News Network, and his logs will be published in the monthly guides to Midwest finesse fishing, beginning with the April one, which will appear in early May. He will focus on how, when, and where to catch smallmouth bass in the streams that grace West Virginia.