Epic days on the water are few and far between, and this time of the year is no exception. Indeed, 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 are now perplexing. Sultry water temperatures contribute to our tribulations, driving fish either into heavy cover or down deep to find respite from the heat. Another challenge working against anglers – both in the shallow slop as well as the deep 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 abundance.
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 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 unassuming presentation has been responsible for a staggering number of bass fishing success stories, especially when finesse becomes the order of the day. Let’s dissect the Ned Rig, starting at the business end, and working our way back to the angler.
The business end of the Ned Rig
The classic bait for the Ned Rig bait looks like a stickworm 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 unique, 21st-century soft plastic compound called ElaZtech, available exclusively from Z-Man.
ElaZtech is a proprietary material that renders baits 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-stickworm”, 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 an ice cream-laden 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. These light jigs allow the lure to fall through the water column slowly – which is just the attention getter we’re looking for.
Critical Ned Rig tackle
Now let’s talk line. When Ned Rigging, I spool up with 20 lb. test (6 lb. diameter) Seaguar Smackdown with a 6 lb. test Seaguar InvizX leader, the two lines joined by a Double Uni-Knot. The Smackdown Flash Green color pattern lets me detect light bites visually as well as by feel, giving me a significant advantage when finesse fishing. If conditions call for the ultimate in stealth, 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-pound 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 8’6” entry into the Legend Tournament Bass series will launch the Ned Rig a country mile, provides both the power necessary to drive the hook home at the end of a long cast, as well as the agile shock-absorbing properties needed to protect light leaders from amped-up summer bass.
Ned Rigging: How and Where
At its 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, exceling in the still waters of lakes and the moving waters of reservoirs and rivers. Every bass from largemouth to smallies and spots are susceptible to the subtle triggering characteristics of the Midwest Finesse Fishing technique.
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!