Dr. Jason Halfen
As you scan through your fondest fishing memories, they are likely derived from those trips when the fish were, “jumping in the boat,” or “biting everything we threw at them.” These were the days when you, “caught so many, we ran out of bait,” or the bites when you were, “shaking off three-pounders so we could catch the fives.”
Now, be honest with yourself. Those epic success stories are few and far between. You’ll spend many more days on the water when the time spent fishing far exceeds the time spent catching, and excuses coupled to weather, lunar phase, water temperature, and bug hatches substantially outnumber bites.
The best time to go fishing is whenever you can, and there’s no sense in cancelling or rescheduling a day on the water just because the chips may be stacked against you. Rather, this is the perfect time to trade power fishing for finesse. In its simplest form, finesse fishing has three components: smaller baits, lighter line, and slower presentations. Whether you chase panfish or bass, redfish or walleyes, the same fundamental finesse recipe applies to you. Let’s take a deeper dive on finesse fishing for late summer bass.
Essential tackle for Midwest Finesse Fishing includes a long, sensitive spinning rod from St. Croix Rod, and small-profile ElaZtech soft baits from Z-Man. Image by the author.
Late summer can be a challenging time to pursue America’s favorite gamefish. Quality bass that were easy to locate and catch in June and July have suddenly become perplexing. Water temperatures that are near their annual peak certainly contribute to bass behavior, driving fish either into heavy cover or deep water to find respite from the heat.
While late summer and early fall bass locations are not particularly mysterious, another challenge working against anglers – both in the shallow jungle as well as the deeper basin – is an abundance of forage: there is, quite simply, so much food available that bass have a LOT to choose from. It can be hard for an artificial bait to stick out as a vulnerable prey item amid nature’s abundant shiners, shad, and young-of-the-year panfish, not to mention crayfish, bugs, frogs, and innumerable other tasty treats.
What tools can we use to solve the late summer bass puzzle? Enter “Midwest Finesse Fishing”, or the “Ned Rig”, which has, quite simply, taken the bass fishing world by storm. A refinement of finesse techniques practiced and espoused by bass tournament anglers for many years, the Ned Rig was conceived and brought to the forefront of contemporary finesse techniques by Kansas-based angler and outdoor writer Ned Kehde. This simple, unassuming presentation has been responsible for a staggering number of bass fishing success stories, especially when the going gets tough and finesse becomes the order of the day. Let’s dissect the Ned Rig, starting at the business end with the bait, and working our way to the angler.
The classic bait for the Ned Rig bait looks like a Senko that has been cut in half. Looks can be deceiving, however. The highly-refined Ned Rig presentation truly shines with a bait made from a 21st-century soft plastic compound called ElaZtech®, available exclusively from Z-Man®.
ElaZtech is a proprietary compound that renders baits extraordinarily resistant to rips and tears; however, this resiliency is not what makes ElaZtech baits the best choice for Ned Rigs. Rather, it is the fact that ElaZtech baits do something that a traditional soft plastic bait made from plastisol does not: ElaZtech baits float. This unique buoyancy has a dramatic impact on how the bait looks to a fish: when rigged on a lightweight jig, the industry-standard Ned Rig bait, a 2.75” Z-Man Finesse TRD
, stands at attention as the jighead rests on the bottom. Every twitch of the rod tip makes that upright tail quiver and dance. In stark contrast, a comparably-sized “half-a-Senko”, traditional soft plastic bait lies on the bottom when at rest, hidden among the rocks and grass, never to be seen. It is truly the difference between a waffle cone held upright in your hand, versus one lying on its side in the mud: which tasty treat would you rather eat?
When it comes to jigs, think about three words: light, lighter, lightest. The 1/8 oz. jigs that abound in your collection are the heaviest you’ll likely employ, and then only in deep water or in current. Consider, instead, 1/16 oz. jigs with thin wire hooks. Ready to take your Ned Rigs to the next level? Put to work dedicated, mushroom-head finesse jigs weighing only 1/10-1/20 oz.
Your line is the critical link between you and the bait. In the case of the Ned Rig, spool up with a braided main line and incorporate a fluorocarbon leader. A sleek, ultra-strong braid like Seaguar® Smackdown®
is the singular choice for the serious finesse angler’s main line. Spun with 8 ultra-thin, micro-weave strands, Smackdown is uniquely engineered to accurately deliver dainty Ned Rig baits on long casts.
There is no more intimate connection between you and the fish you’re chasing than your line. Seaguar’s double structured Finesse fluorocarbon
is soft and supple with low memory, perfect for the Ned Rig. Image courtesy of Seaguar.
The sensitivity of Smackdown elevates your game to the pinnacle of bite detection, making it easy to feel a subtle Ned Rig nibble at extreme distances. Link your braided main line to your artificial offering using a fluorocarbon leader, with Seaguar Finesse 100% fluorocarbon being an outstanding choice. An exclusive double-structure process combines two custom fluorocarbon resins to create Seaguar Finesse, a small-diameter line with exceptional knot and tensile strength. It’s soft and supple with low memory, making it a great choice for the Ned Rig.
I typically spool up with 20 lb. test (6 lb. diameter) Seaguar Smackdown with a 6.2 lb test Seaguar Finesse leader, the two lines joined by a Double Uni-Knot. If conditions call for the ultimate in finesse, like those windless, cloudless days spent fishing crystal clear waters, forego the braid and fill your entire spool with Seaguar Finesse fluorocarbon. The line diameter of the 5.2 lb. test Seaguar Finesse is smaller than that of most 4 lb. test monofilament lines, with the added benefits of fluorocarbon's enhanced abrasion resistance and virtual invisibility under water.
Thin and light, yet tough and transparent is a recipe for finesse success.
Finesse bass fishing is not the time for casting gear; rather, spinning rods rule the Ned Rig arena. An extra long, hyper-sensitive rod like the St. Croix® Legend Tournament® Bass LBS86MLXF
is a personal favorite. This new eight foot-six inch entry into the proven Legend Tournament Bass series will launch a Ned Rig a country mile. After the strike, this dark blue, split-grip beauty delivers the power to drive the hook home at long distances, and provides the agile, shock-absorbing properties needed to protect light line from rampaging summer bass.
At it simplest, Ned Rigging starts with a long cast, with bait action imparted by the angler in the form of subtle hops and twitches, separated by pauses while the bait settles through the water column to the bottom. Slow and subtle is good; slower and subtler is better. Some of the premier finesse anglers will just about put you to sleep with their fishing cadence, only to be interrupted by frequent, powerful hooksets.
Where should you chase bass with finesse? Just about anywhere. The Ned Rig is well suited to both shallow and deep water, and excels in both the still waters of lakes and the moving waters of reservoirs and rivers.
Faced with a tough bass bite? Break out the finesse gear to fool those finicky fish. Learn to present the Ned Rig, and it will quickly become a mainstay in your bass fishing bag of tricks!
Anglers of all ages and abilities can Ned Rig. Help a young angler tie one up and teach the art of Midwest Finesse Fishing to the next generation. Image by the author.
About the author
Dr. Jason Halfen owns and operates The Technological Angler, dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage modern technology to find and catch more fish. Let your learning begin at http://www.technologicalangler.com