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Is Bigger Always Better?
by Nick Ruiz

"Bigger baits catch better fish". I'm pretty much willing to bet that nearly every angler reading this article, at one point or another has heard that cliche. But, does this hold true in every situation? As an angler fishing highly-pressured Long Island waters, I seriously doubt it! Not just here, but everywhere, it's time to face facts, bigger isn't always better.

So with that in mind, we ask ourselves what are we left with? Answer: Finesse! Finesse, a word that many long time, traditionalist bass anglers cringe at the sound of, has brought about a revolution in the way many anglers approach bass fishing. Lighter lines, lighter lures, and lighter rod setups have all taken the bassin' market by storm. Even as we speak, new products are added to the already enormous line up of finesse offerings. However, an interesting point of fact is that many of the "new wave" finesse lures that are being bought up by the zillions, have been on the market just as long if not longer as their larger counterparts. Also, in many cases, they are merely miniature models of the same bigger lures that anglers have been using and trusting, just in a smaller sizes! Example, the Rapala floating minnow, which was in existence well before the Allies took Normandy, has been catching fish for nearly eight decades. It has been produced in sizes ranging from just over an inch, to the well known magnum muskie plugs for all eighty plus years. So what? Big water anglers stuck to the largest plugs, bass anglers bought up the mid-sized baits, and for nearly all eight of those decades, the only anglers that would give the first five levels of smaller sizes even so much as a passing glance, were those in seek of crappie or small snake-sized chain pickerel.

Flash ahead to 1999. On a recent trip to the ridiculously over-pressured waters of Lower Massapequa Reservoir just outside New York City limits, I managed to chalk up seven bass weighing from one to two and a half pounds on the smallest size of floating "rap" (Rapala) available. Is this extraordinary? Not really. It's offering the fish what they want. So with that said, it undoubtedly bears the question...

How do I go about "getting finessed? " Well, if it was a hairstyle instead of a fishing style, we could go to the barber. But unquestionably the first step to change our style here is to take a look at what you are using, what you are comfortable with now, in the form of rods, reels, and baits. Take stock in yourself, your gear and your skills, then you can begin your "downsizing process".

The most simple way to throw a bit of finesse into your fishing arsenal is to simply buy smaller, lighter versions of the same exact items you use now. For some, this may end your quest for finesse, simply to buy downsized versions of what you currently use, and to deploy those downsized versions under tough fishing conditions. However, others among you may wish to take this finesse technique to a whole new extreme.

In this article, I'll attempt to cover some of the finer points of finesse for those who wish to follow finesse to its logical, scaled-down conclusion. I'll tell you how, with practicality, you can add a little finesse into your repertoire so that finesse gets you more bass in your boat!

Contrary to popular belief, finesse is not just smaller lures. It's smaller everything. Including the rod and reel. Finesse rods and reels are not to be confused with "dinky", or "wimpy" rods, simply because of their lighter, more flimsy appearance. There is in fact an army of rod manufactures that have turned a portion of their rod production facilities over to the manufacturing and perfection of the finesse style rods. Depending on how "finessey" you want your presentation to be, the actions can range from medium light, all the way down what even I'll admit may be an absurdly supple ultra light.

Most all finesse rods that I use are spinning rods. With that said, how would one go about selecting the perfect finesse rod for his or her application. Normally selection depends on preference, style, and the "comfort factor" like we talked about above. One must first ask, exactly what it is you want to do with this setup. Pitching light tube style baits versus finesse style crankbaiting? Those two tactics would reacquire entirely different rods. But before this becomes too complicates, let me just say that for your first finesse rod, just try an inexpensive, generic medium light or light action spinning rod. This will give you the introductory feel for the finesse type setups. In the future, when you decide whether or not you would like to further continue this style of fishing, then you can use your experience with this "starter" rod as a judge of other rods, whether or not lighter or heavier action is in order for you. By then, you will have the experience under your belt to start making subtle distinctions between finesse tubing versus finesse crankin' rods. If it kind of sounds like you're learning to fish all over again, you're right. In a certain sense, it is. And with the new finesse experiences out on the water, you also get a renewed sense of fun and excitement!  You really should try it, unless you just can't handle peer pressure from your flippin' and pitchin' pals!

What's a rod without a reel? Of course, one could have the greatest rod on the face of mother earth, but what's a rod without the reel? Finesse reels are usually one of two things. They are either the smallest version of a "regular" bassin' reel available, or they are an ultra light, or panfish type spinning reel. Some good choices I've seen recently are Mitchell's Zero Gravity ultra light reel, and JWA's SC3000 "Spidermite" spinning reel. Both of these reels are very similar, and fall into the "micro" category. Many of the smaller versions of existing reels will do the job rather efficiently as well. Quantum, Daiwa, Abu Garcia, and Shimano all make smaller versions of their more popular reels, which would normally go unnoticed by bass anglers while shopping. But go into any tackle store and take a new look at these small reels. They are designed specifically to hold the lighter lines associated with finesse fishing, as well as give a bass angler more "meat" on the reel if for nothing else than a comfort and confidence factor. Selection of these reels should be made the same way as traditionally sized reels, taking into consideration the anti-reverse, ball bearings, and overall style, as such the reel features have just as great of an effect on finesse fishing as they do any other style. Granted many anglers would take one look at these "miniatures" and immediately worry that they would look like a complete moron using it, but there is hope! Read on...

The line is key. With rod and reel selected, it comes time to make the mind-numbing "What line should I use?" decision. "Too many choices" has become an all too common dilemna in the product-flooded bassin' market. Hey, we're big business, boys, and everyone's competing for our tackle dollars! A quick word of advice: Mono! In an age where there are more line compositions than there are flavors of designer coffees, traditional monofiliment lines reign supreme. One might ask why not braid? After all, it is super sensitive. The only reason I don't use braid here is because braid floats, and a floating line in a light lure presentation will absolutely obliterate the lure's own floating action. Another factor, is that while mono will somewhat blend and disappear underwater, braid will remain completly visible and effectively kill any attempt at making the bait look natural. Pick your brand, pick your style. Remember the comfort factor with what you already use on your regular-sized tackle, then think of the "thin" styles of the same brands which are very effective for finesse.

Line weights for finesse presentations falls somewhere between six and ten pound test, with most of the applications easily handled by the more popular eight and ten pound varieties. Especially for beginners, eight pound test is the one choice that is hard to beat. If you can, buy a spare spool or two for your finesse reel, and keep them filled with 6 and 10 lb. test. Use a magic marker to write 6, 8 or 10 inside the spool respectively. You can effectively handle it all now. Just start with 8, and your intuition will guide you when to use 10 for more aggressive fish in slightly heavier cover versus when to use 6 for the most reluctant fish, often in the clearest open water.

Lure selection. With your new rod/reel/line set up, the question at hand here is obviously lure selection. Due to finesse's rapidly increasing popularity in just the last few years, there are more lures, lure types, and rigs that fit the finesse description that I can ever hope to cover for you in one article. Therefore I'll list my favorite few in the following paragraphs.

Long Island's chosen son, the Gitzit, can be rigged as one of the most deadly finesse baits known to man or fish. A wide gap hook, like Gamakatsu's standard wide gap worm hook in 1/0 or 2/0 will work extremly well in this application, with the larger gap accommodating the bulky body of the famed tube bait. To this, add an internal clip type weight, like the one produced by Eagle Claw, in 1/32nd oz. and all the way up to 1/8th oz. depending on the depth of the presentation as well as the way fish are taking the bait. With this rig assembled, you are now in possession of one of the most popular finesse rigs on the planet - not just a great Long Island rig. Fish the Gitzit in and out of just about any cover you can get a boat near, and pay close attention to line movement. In many cases strikes will be extremely subtle! Make note, if the bass develop an extreme case of lock jaw, it is possible to fish one of these lures completly weightless. While this "live lining" technique takes a considerable amount of practice to master, it is very deadly on super-pressured waters. Make another note, just about any soft plastic can be "live lined" in this fashion, with lizards and wide tail style worms making the top of my list.

A fluttering strip of pig skin, Strike King's Pork-O is another overlooked bait that can be rigged for finesse. You do not see or hear much of it these days, but the Pork-O if rigged correctly can tempt some of the largest, most wary bass into striking. It's unbelievable. The rig that most consistently produces for me in Upstate new York waters consists of the Pork-O Junior (5 ¼ inch in length), on a 1/0 or 2/0 Gamakatsu weedless worm hook. This, fished on a six and a half foot medium action spinning rod, with 8 to 10 pound test mono. (Ed Note: Becaused of it's ability to seductively charm the biggest bass, the Pork-O is a case where braided line can be applicable for it's much higher strength and hook-setting power (at low line diameters) in and around heavy cover, although I still prefer mono for the best Pork-O action and ease of working the bait.) The presentation I normally use with a Pork-O consists of pitching the bait as close to shore as possible, making as little entry noise as possible, and s-l-o-w-l-y, dragging it over lay downs or whatever cover is present. With a good pair of polarized fishing sunglasses one can watch the bait travel through the cover. Here's the key: when the bait is resting on a lay down, s-l-o-w-l-y drag it off and allow it to free fall as long as possible, then at the bottom of its descent, give several delicate but sharp, pulse-like rod jerks which gives the Pork-O the appearance of a rippling, swimming bait. Ninety-nine percent of the strikes will come right as the first twitch is applied and the other one percent will come while the bait is in free fall. Strike detection is not even an issue when fishing this rig, as such when a bass takes the bait it usually feels something similar to snagging the bumper of a passing semi-truck.(Note: Cutting the bottom few inches of the Pork-O into two or more tentacle like stripes, sometimes, significantly enhances the "bass appeal" of the lure.) It should be mentioned half the challenge of fishing this rig is trying to yank a poorly-dispositioned bass on eight pound test line, from lay downs and all sorts of other "nasty stuff"! While this style of "pork pitchin'" will take a little practice, and a metric ton of patience, the reward is well worth the effort! All I can say is get some Pork-O's while you can! Even if you do not fish finesse, they make super trailers for big bass jigs and your bass have probably never seen such rippling, seductive trailers.

My final tid-bit and my pet lure pertaining to the finesse discipline of bassin' concerns the use of the time-honored spinnerbait. No doubt, you have just thought to yourself, "Exactly how in the world can a spinnerbait be finessed?" Answer: With plenty of modifications! First of all, the base lure I normally start with is the Bass Pro Shops, "Crappie Spin." Top colors to start with are chartreuse, white, and blue & white. The first step to constructing a finesse bassin' weapon, is to change the stock size 1.5 Colorado blade to a silver or gold 1.5 Indiana style blade. The Indiana style blade provides the necessary balance between the sound and buoyancy of a Colorado blade with the speed and fishibilty of a willow leaf. The next step is to trim back the skirt about ¼ of an inch to give the bait a smaller profile. To this add a Zoom Split Tail Trailer, but, due to the smaller size of the lure, some trimming may be in order. Trim it so the body of the trailer covers the hook shank, but without bunching. Also, some tail trimming may be in order. Trim enough of the tail so it protrudes from the skirt about an inch and a half to two and a half inches, depending on how aggressive the bass are biting that day. While on the subject of trimming, to add to the "bass appeal" of this rig, with a very sharp razor blade, cut each of the two tentacles down the middle lengthwise so that you end up with four thinner tentacles. This can be considered a secret weapon for those lock jaw days. As far as the color of the trailer, match it to the color of the skirt. I know Zoom makes trailer colors in all the skirt colors available on the "Crappie Spin". Another way to set this unique little offering apart from the rest, is to experiment with various "dip dyes", such as the ones produced by Lake Hawk. Adding a highlight color to the trailer can mean the difference between a good day, and a day where you refer to every piece of fishing equipment you own as "that #@%&! piece of garbage". For starters, adding a chartreuse tip to the white bait always seems to turn on finicky smallmouths - and quickly too!

With that said, I hope that this insight into the world of finesse fishing, will at least peak your interest enough to give it a try the next time you hit the water.

Catch ya’ on the water...Nick Ruiz

Author Information.

Nick is a member of the Long Island Bassmasters, through which he fishes tournaments and engages in a constant learning experience with some of the best anglers on the Island. He also makes frequent trips to the Tri-State area’s various “big water” reservoir and lakes. Nick also plans to take the next step up from local and club tournaments by fishing Operation Bass’ Redman Tournament Trail this year in the Northeastern Division. He plans to become a certified New York State freshwater fishing guide this summer.

Nick has learned through hard experience on heavily-fished Long Island, NY waters. Here, the bass population has seen it all and know it all. You either develop and precisely execute your own meticulous tactics that fish have rarely seen before - or you go fishless.

Email Nick at

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