With the Bassmaster Elite Series in the midst of its annual Northern Swing, many pros are in the process of organizing and refining tackle. One technique that is sure to get heavy use over the next six weeks is the Ned rig. Also known as the Midwest finesse rig, one of the early tournament adopters was Canadian pro Jeff Gustafson, affably known as Gussy.
In April 2016, Drew Reese, one of the Ned rig founding fathers, introduced the small, unassuming contraption to Gussy. Reese, a native of Rantoul, Kan., spends his summers on massive Lake of the Woods, Gussy’s home water that spans 950,000 acres along the northern Minnesota-Canadian border.
“I have to admit, when I first saw the Ned rig, I thought it was dumb and gimmicky just like everyone else,” said Gussy, the winner of the 2021 Elite Series event on Tennessee River. “But I knew Drew personally, and I trusted him. I could also see that he had this genuine excitement about it. He insisted that I had to start throwing it.”
Out of curiosity more than experience, Gussy schlepped some Z-Man Hula StickZ and Finesse ShroomZ jigheads to a springtime FLW event on Beaver Lake. During the second day of practice on the stingy White River impoundment, Gussy finally caved.
“Everywhere I stopped I caught them,” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe it; this was Beaver Lake. I ended up finishing 11th in the tournament, and I couldn’t wait to get home and learn more. The more I learned, the more I Ioved it.”
Skeptics will point out that Gussy is sponsored by Z-Man. While this is true today, he was a free agent during his Ned baptism. It wasn’t until he qualified for the Elites in 2019 that he joined the Z-Man pro staff.
“At the time, I wasn’t sponsored by Z-Man, so I tried every other possible variation. I realized the buoyancy of the ElaZtech was something that couldn’t be duplicated. It helped the bait stand up off the bottom and just gave it this subtle, natural look.”
While Ned rig product lines have certainly expanded and evolved, the Hula StickZ remains Gussy’s favorite. He throws it on yellow 10-pound Power Pro braid with a clear 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu leader.
“Most of the time, I’m still using the Finesse ShroomZ jig. They are the easiest to rig the baits on, but you have to realize you’re using a lighter-wire hook. It’s great as long as it’s paired with a light, sensitive rod, like a 7-foot, 1-inch G. Loomis NRX. Almost all of the time I’m using the 1/6-ounce jighead. That might sound heavy, but I’m not trying to get bites on the fall. I want to get it down there fast, especially now with forward-facing sonar. They see it, and they come for it. If I’m fishing really deep water, like deeper than 22 feet, I’ll go with some custom stuff as heavy as 3/8 ounce.”
In terms of cadence, Gussy says less is more. He’s imparting some action, but subtle is the secret sauce.
“It hits the bottom, and I can see my line stop. I’m always ready because it can happen quickly. Then I’ll give it short pops with just a little bit of shaking. Basically, I’m barely moving it off the bottom. I think to myself that I’m only trying to shake the tail.”
Gussy’s second favorite Ned bait is the Z-Man TRD TicklerZ, which closely resembles the Hula StickZ. This smaller, more compact version could be a major player during the Northern Swing.
“The TicklerZ is a shorter, fatter version of the Hula StickZ. There is one color called Hot Snakes that I absolutely love. It’s green pumpkin with chartreuse. I use it a lot.”
For the past six years, Gussy has a Ned tied on at every smallmouth and spotted bass tournament. It’s been a nice supplemental bait for Tennessee River ledge fishing as well. Some Ned critics will argue that small baits catch small fish. Gussy would point to a 6.4-pound Sturgeon Bay smallmouth and several 5-pound tournament-verified largemouth as evidence to the contrary.
“The thing that I find amazing is that it isn’t just for bass. Since I started using it, I’ve caught a 31-inch walleye. I’ve caught nice crappie. My wife recently caught a 43-inch musky. In the winter, we’ll even use a white one for lake trout through the ice. It just has a good profile; the bait catches everything.”