Power, Finesse or Power-Finesse?

Learn how the best in the sport have created a hybrid technique using slow baits with fast retrieves

Kevin VanDam

A fair number of bass anglers divide their approach to fishing into two different game plans — power fishing and finesse fishing. Power fishing, as the name implies, is associated with covering lots of water quickly with big reaction baits, often on heavy tackle. Finesse fishing, on the other hand, refers to down-sized baits and tackle, covering less water but doing it much more thoroughly. They are as different as fishing a 4-inch worm on 6-pound test in 20 feet of water and burning a spinnerbait on 20-pound test in 3 feet. A power fisherman might cover a mile an hour. A finesse fisherman could grow a beard in the time it takes to execute one cast.

But there's a third way that's sweeping the Midwest right now, and it's an amalgam of the two. Power-finesse fishing — a name for the approach coined by all-time BASS money winner Kevin VanDam and his occasional angling partner, ESPN television host Mark Zona — marries the two techniques into a presentation that proponents say offers the best of both worlds.

"Basically, what it means to me is using a finesse-type technique but doing it in a power mode," says VanDam, the five-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, who has a solid reputation as a power fisherman. "An example would be snapping a tube. You cast it out there but instead of crawling in on the bottom, you snap it up 8 to 10 feet. Let it fall and do it again, covering a lot of water.

"What's really good about this presentation is at any time you want to slow down and just drag it on the bottom, you can. Swimming a jig is the same thing — you can swim it along at a good clip and then just let it drop and start fishing it slowly."

VanDam, who is most often associated with spinnerbaits and crankbaits — definite power presentations — says power-finesse fishing is using the kind of baits that Aaron Martens and other West Coast anglers have been known for, but fishing them in ways guys might use motion baits.

"I love fishing that way," VanDam says. "I do the same thing with other finesse rigs, like a drop shot rig. That's perfect for that kind of fishing. Just cast it out, let it sink, snap it up and move it 10 or 12 feet. Then do it again. It's fishing finesse baits at a faster pace."

VanDam says power-finesse fishing is a great technique for Northern waters such as the Great Lakes, where the fish have a lot of territory in which to roam.

"It really translates to the clearer water lakes where the bass are feeding primarily by sight, but it doesn't matter where — Lake St. Clair, Guntersville, Amistad, Kentucky Lake — as long as it's not really dirty water. It's really about the bait moving quickly and triggering the strike. But it's not something I'd ever do in a lake where I could only see 6 inches down."

"(Power-finesse fishing) is fishing slow baits fast," says Zona. "That's essentially what it is.

"For decades and decades, the theory was, the calmer the lake got, the lighter you went — baits, lines, jigheads. You always heard that, and you grew up believing that. We thought that was true the more pressured the fish were, too.

"But a lot of us knuckleheads up here on Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie started pounding that bait instead, and we started bombing the bass."

Zona remembers when he first discovered the technique. He was fishing a two-day event and had a good day on the first day of competition dragging tubes, but found that the bite slowed the second day as more boats moved into his area.

"I started jacking that tube bait," he explains. "Instead of shaking it, shaking it, shaking it, I went to the polar opposite. It worked. A little time passed, I tried it on an inland lake, and it worked again."

It's all about the rate the bait falls, Zona says. "In the summer, the fish get cued into slow-moving baits, so when you cross 'em up, they can't stand it.

"It's the same thing as whipping a spinnerbait past a tree," Zona explains. "The fish don't have time to think about it. They just react. That little adjustment is monumental. It's all about the rate of the fall. They will bite that thing completely on instinct."

Instead of using BB-size weights, go to a bigger weight or jighead.

"It's a cannonball effect," Zona says.

The power-finesse technique is particularly effective in sand grass or other bottom vegetation.

"You want that bait to bog down a little bit in the grass, and you want that bait to rip it up a little bit," he explains. "The fish get curious and want to see what's going on."

Zona says a little bitty worm on a heavy jighead is a deadly combination.

"The plastic is secondary. The lead is the primary trigger," he says.

So how good is the technique? Ask Trevor Jancasz, a young tournament angler from White Pigeon, Mich. In his first full calendar year of chasing bass tournaments across the country, Jancasz won $45,000 — from the back of the boat — power-finesse fishing.

His main bait? A jighead and a worm.

"When I'm fishing the big tournaments, it's not my decision where we're going or what we're doing," he explains. "That's how I started fishing it faster. It's kind of like fishing a crankbait or a spinnerbait, just covering water.

"It's what I won all my money on. I can be fishing behind anyone doing anything."

The drill is simple. Cast the bait out, hop it, hop it, then burn up the reel getting it back in so you can make another cast. Start over.

"A lot of bass hit it right off the bat in the first jiggle or two," Jancasz says. "And a lot of them hit it on the fall.

"I've caught them (on) sunny or cloudy days, wind blowing or calm. I haven't found a situation where they're not going to bite. I start throwing it when the water is 45 degrees, and I'll throw it when it's up in the 70s and not put it down in between. And I'm still catching them. I think it's just because it's a whole different look."

Although Jancasz has been fishing bass tournaments with his dad since he was 10 years old, he launched his career (using his high school graduation money) fishing the amateur side of pro-am events. In his first event, he finished 11th. The next tournament, he finished fourth. He had nine Top 10 finishes in four years power-finesse fishing.

Although Jancasz says he learned a lot from Zona, he disagrees with Zona about going to a heavy weight. He starts light and stays light. He uses a 1/8-ounce round-ball jighead the bulk of the time.

"When it gets over 20 feet, I use a 3/16," he says. "I almost never use a 1/4."

The biggest misperception that people have about power-finesse fishing, Jancasz says, is that it's a small-fish technique.

"It's not just a little bait that you catch little fish on," he says. "Dude, you catch some big ones on it — 6-, 7-, 8-pounders. And it's a great bait to throw behind someone else. Sometimes the bass aren't biting on that big stuff. If they're not, they'll bite that jighead worm." 

THE POWER-FINESSE JIGHEAD

One of the more popular jigheads for the power-finesse technique is the Shakey Jig by Bite-Me Jigs of Kendallville, Ind.

Kevin VanDam practically put the company on the map a couple of years back when he caught an 11-plus-pound largemouth in an Elite Series event on Lake Lewisville, Texas, on a Bite-Me jighead. And though bait maker Ted Barry has been making the Shakey Jig for nearly a decade for Midwestern bass anglers, "it took KVD to bring it out in the open," he says.

The Shakey Jig has a flat eye on top of the round head that's perpendicular to the plane of the hook and makes a 60-degree angle with the lead.

"The flat eye and that 60-degree bend keeps that jig straight up and down, and it gives it an awesome hook set that brings fish to the boat," Barry says. "If you're over rock and you're using a conventional 90-degree eye, it makes the jig want to turn right or left."

Barry says he tries to keep the design as simple as possible. He has a slightly elongated keeper on the head, which helps hold the worm on, but he doesn't even like to paint them. And though he's proud of his baits, he gives all the credit to guys like VanDam, Mark Zona and Trevor Jancasz, who have perfected using them.

"I just make the head," Barry says. "They're the ones that make it dance."

For information, go to www.bitemejigs.com.

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