In the not-too-distant past, the mention of the word "finesse" to bass anglers would be followed by snickers. Anglers pictured wimpy rods and tiny baits — hardly the image hard-core fishermen wanted to project.That was then. Today, in the highly competitive world of tournament fishing, professional bass anglers recognize that finesse deals with execution rather than lure size. According to the dictionary, finesse means "extreme delicacy or subtlety in performance or skill." Performance and skill are exactly what modern bass fishing is all about.Professional anglers have discovered the ultimate big fish power bait — a jig — can be finessed. Actually, under specific circumstances, finesse jigging is a necessity.Size doesn't matte ."In terms of applying finesse to jig fishing, jig size does not really matter," states Jeff Snyder, a professional angler and a 2003 CITGO Bassmaster University instructor. "Finesse jigging means concentrating your effort and making a thorough presentation to a particular target. While downsizing may enter the picture under some circumstances, finessing for me really translates to minimal movement of a jig, regardless of size."However, Snyder admits that there is a place for downsized jigs in finesse presentations. "When you are fishing waters dominated by small bass, such as the Ohio River, then downsizing is necessary." Snyder designed the Bambino jig series with superfine silicone skirts in 1/16-, 1/8- and ¼-ounce sizes for Innovative Sport Group (ISG), along with matching soft plastic chunks, specifically for tough-bite conditions.But simply going to a small lure while continuing to fish it in a conventional way does not work," continues Snyder. "Whether it's a standard jig or a downsized jig, you've got to present it with finesse." Alton Jones couldn't agree more. "The most important aspect of finesse jigging is the presentation," explains the Texas pro with a jig fishing reputation as big as his home state. "You can do a finesse retrieve with either a standard-size jig or a downsized one. Depending on the situation, it may require both a finesse retrieve as well as downsizing the lure."Jones utilizes a ¼-ounce Riverside Jig most often for finesse presentations. He trims the skirt flush with the hook bend, thereby allowing the skirt to easily flair while the bait is sitting still on the bottom. He normally uses a 3-inch Yum Chunk on the bait, but when fishing a lake with larger-than-normal bass, such as Sam Rayburn, he switches to a 4-inch chunk to increase the profile."I consider myself a power fisherman rather than a finesse angler," acknowledges bass pro Rick Morris of Virginia Beach, Va. "But that doesn't mean I can't fish a jig with finesse. For me, power finesse translates to using a compact bait — usually a ¼-ounce jig — rather than a heavy head and big trailer. But it's really about how you fish a bait as opposed to the particular lure size."
When to finesse
While Morris prefers presentations that allow him to cover lots of water quickly to draw strikes, he recognizes certain weather and water conditions are not conducive to this approach. Therefore, when fish are in a nonaggressive mood brought on by intense angling pressure or dropping water temperatures, he must adapt by applying finesse. For Morris, this means dialing down his speed meter and resting the jig in the strike zone for a longer period of time.
Bluebird skies following passage of a cold front and extreme fishing pressure are the two classic situations Snyder believes call for finesse jigging. In his home state of Ohio, he was constantly confronted with both as he developed his bassin' skills. "The standard joke in my neck of the woods is, 'If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes, and it will change.' Another one is, 'Ohio has more bass anglers than bass.' When I was getting my feet wet in state competitions 20-some years ago, I discovered a couple of the area's top fishermen were already working finesse jig magic, although they didn't call it that back then. To survive Ohio tournaments, I learned finesse jig presentations by observing these anglers, and then carried that skill to lakes around the country."For Jones, cold water and clear water automatically call for finesse jigging. "Anytime I am confronted with water temperatures below 60 degrees in Texas, finesse jigging is my first consideration. I also resort to finesse jigging other times of the year when success wanes."According to Jones, there are two keys to successful finesse jigging. First, presentation must be precise."Mention finesse, and you automatically imagine that fishing is tough," explains Jones. "That means bass are holding much tighter to cover and are less willing to move to take a lure. The strike zone has shrunk to near nothing; therefore, the jig presentation must be very, very precise."The second key involves speed of the lure retrieve — both during the drop through the water column and the return along the bottom. In a finesse situation, Jones always uses as light a head as possible — usually a ¼ ounce or even as light as 1/8 ounce — to ensure the bait falls though the strike zone as slowly as possible.
Once on the bottom, you have to give that bass plenty of time to react," stresses Jones. "If you employ a standard hopping retrieve speed, you will never have the opportunity to put fish in the boat."In addition, all three pro anglers veto rattles in jigs when bass are in a negative bite mood.A presentation for every situation
Pitching: Like most jig fishermen, Snyder is a flipping and pitching machine — wind him up, hit the "on" switch and watch him run on high all day.However, when conditions call for finesse, Snyder can enable a selective slowdown switch that affects how long the bait stays in one spot."In finesse jigging, I want to keep the jig in one spot for an extended period of time," says Snyder. "I'll make the perfect pitch to a visible target. If the jig reaches the bottom without a strike, then I'll deadstick it there up to five times as long as a conventional jig presentation. While the jig is resting on the bottom, I'll simply shake the rod tip now and then. If I can't draw a strike, I wind in quickly and pitch to the next target."Another of Snyder's techniques is to yo-yo a jig. When fishing brush or deadfalls, Snyder purposely throws over a limb, winds the jig off the bottom a couple of inches, and works it like a yo-yo by raising and lowering the bait an inch or two."With finesse-type presentation, you must have confidence. Each bit of cover potentially has a bass holding on it that is unwilling to move in order to scarf up a meal," explains Snyder.Bites can be incredibly subtle — a slight twitch in the line rather than actually feeling a solid rap that many anglers expect with a jig. You must also be mentally prepared for a bite at all times.Skipping: When the bite gets tough, Morris often turns to skipping docks.
"Docks are fish magnets on many lakes," explains Morris. "During an aggressive bite, you can pick bass off the outside posts by casting or pitching. But on clear water lakes — southern lakes like Gaston, Murray or Hartwell, as well as northern waters like Thousand Islands — nonaggressive bass move way back under the deepest shade of the dock. So when that happens, that's where you've got to put the jig."Using spinning tackle and a low trajectory sidearm swing, Morris strikes the jig on the water's surface at the front edge of a dock and skips it 20 to 30 feet under the structure. With the jig on the bottom, he shakes or twitches the jig with the rod tip and waits a few extra seconds for a pickup. If no bite is forthcoming, Morris reels in the jig and skips to a new site."On pressured lakes, bass are going to select the lowest lying dock with the widest connection to the bank," details Morris. "If there is a single plank going from the bank to the dock, this generally is not a good dock. The best docks are ones with a big platform attached to a shoreline bulkhead and plenty of shade. The farther the dock extends out from shore, the better, since this gives bass additional depth levels from which to choose."Casting: One of Jones' favorite finesse techniques is something he refers to as "quivering." The presentation is utilized when there is a high degree of probability that bass are in the immediate area — a determination typically based on previous bass activity at the site before the fish acquire lockjaw.Quivering can be particularly effective on lakes under drawdown, where shallow cover has been exposed, therefore forcing bass to hold on smaller bottom objects that are not readily detectable to either the naked eye or the depthfinder."I make a long cast, let the jig settle to the bottom and then begin crawling it along until it contacts an object," begins Jones. "It can be a root, branch, rock or something as small as a large pebble. On clay banks, it may simply be a divot in the bottom. It can be anything that will catch the head of a jig and impede its forward motion."However, Jones does not snap it free. Instead, he repeatedly tightens the line and then gives slack simply by applying and relaxing pressure on the rod tip.
"I do not apply enough force that the jig pops over the resistance. Rather, I want the jig to remain in place while the skirt flairs as the back portion of the jig rises and falls. This gives the appearance of a crawfish — the prey that turned-off bass are more likely to attack than more difficult-to-catch baitfish. Quivering in one spot is absolutely deadly for drawing strikes from nonaggressive bass."
For finesse jigging, professional anglers depend on a specific rod-and-line combination that best suits their particular presentation. The combo is likely different from their conventional jig outfit.Rather than a heavy-power rod, Snyder selects a 7-foot Castaway model with a soft tip but powerful butt for his finesse flipping. His line will be Trilene XT, with pound-test ranging from as low as 12 for sparse cover and small bass, to 25 for heavy cover and big fish.When it comes to skipping, Morris favors a 7-foot medium-heavy action Warrior spinning rod with an extra-fast tip. "Although I may skip heavier jigs with a baitcast outfit on occasion, it is far more efficient to use a spinning outfit with 12- or 14-pound test for ¼-ounce jigs."For casting jigs, Jones opts for a slightly shorter rod. "I want a rod with enough backbone for a hard hook set, but enough tip to cast a ¼-ounce jig. I prefer a medium action 6-foot, 6-inch Berkley Series One rod matched with an Ambassadeur reel spooled with SpiderWire."Depending on the environment and the size of fish, Jones may opt for either 15-pound or 30-pound SpiderWire. However, he never ties a jig directly to SpiderWire. Instead, he attaches a 7- to 8-foot length of fluorocarbon line. "Detecting bites under a finesse situation is all about increasing your sense to the maximum, and the SpiderWire-fluorocarbon leader combo helps you achieve maximum sensitivity."
Bambino Jig: Innovative Sports Group (ISG), www.isgfishing.com; 715-235-2233.
Riverside Flip-N-Jig: Riverside Lures, www.lurenet.com; 479-782-8971.
Worminator Jig: Worminator Baits, www.worminatorlures.com; 757-548-2993.