Do Little, Do Nothing… But Do It With Finesse!

By: Mike Pehanich

If April is your favorite month to fish for bass, you are not alone!

Unless you live in one of the states in the upper Midwest with a closed bass season, April is a month in which you can put most any category of lure to effective use at one time or other.
But as hope-filled as anglers might be each April, spring weather has a way of spoiling the party with cold fronts, spring runoff, high winds, and even the occasional freak sleet or snowstorm.

The action can be hot today and dead tomorrow. It may shut off abruptly after a hot bite and not pick up again for days!
Many anglers view spring as prime time for their favorite reaction baits, and, indeed, you will want at least a sampling of lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, flat-sided crankbaits, swimbaits, bladed jigs and jerkbaits with you in April. But, just in case conditions get tough, make sure that you bring your finesse tackle with you, too,  and the patient temperament required to make finesse fishing work for you.
What finesse? Why Finesse?

Now finesse spans a wide and ever-expanding spectrum of techniques and lures these days. And, on any given April day, any one of them might shine. But until water temperature rise into the upper 50s and low 60s and show promise of remaining in that vicinity, several  “Do Little” and “Do Nothing” techniques stand out as ways to consistently put fish in the boat. Best of all, these finesse techniques deliver not only numbers but big fish as well!

Spring fish are transition fish. They are either in their winter haunts and preparing to move or already into more reachable spring locations. They can display voracious appetites or be stubbornly tight-lipped. That’s why I like to employ finesse tactics that enable me to cover water and strain high-percentage areas quickly.

There’s a “high-low” logic to the techniques I am about to suggest. Other techniques will work, too, at times, but be prepared with a one-two punch with one technique to cover the bottom and at least one more to capture the attention of fish that are looking and feeding upward.

Bottom bouncing finesse
Everyone knows how deadly jig and trailer combinations can be for bass in heavy shallow cover or on deep structure. But relatively few anglers seem willing to take the simple step of downsizing to finesse jig with an appropriately proportioned trailer during cold water periods or after a cold front or other miserable weather system has passed through.

Finesse jigs are lighter, thinner and less obtrusive than your standard bass jigs. Think jigs with sparse skirts in the 1/16-, 3/32-.  1/8- and 3/16-ounce range. Fit them with a compact but fairly buoyant trailer. The Uncle Josh Spinning Pork and Mini Pork trailers were my top trailer choices until Uncle Josh shuttered the pork shop. So now I prefer pork chunk lookalikes like the 2.5-inch Berkley PowerBait Power Chunk, 2.75-inch PowerBait

Meaty Chunk, and 3-inch PowerBait MaxScent Chunk. Alternate choices are tiny crawfish trailers with buoyant claw-like appendages that not only slow the descent but reach upward like a crawfish in a defensive posture.

Using tackle scaled to these small baits is critical, too. Maybe you can get the job done with your standard baitcasting jigging rods, but you will likely fare better with a carefully selected spinning outfit. My favorite is a 7-foot, 4-inch medium power, fast action spinning rod with just a bit more backbone than you would expect in a rod of this type. I mate it with a 20 series spinning reel and light 10-pound test braid with the diameter of 4-pound monofilament.

Although I prefer the longer spinning rod, a shorter rod may prove better if you find yourself in the habit of overworking the bait, especially when the water is cold or conditions tough. Tame that rod tip or go with a shorter rod. Save the high hops and aggressive jigging retrieves for later in the season. When the water is in the 40s and 50s in April, a gentler jigging action generally will outproduce an aggressive retrieve. Often I will work my rod almost parallel to the water to keep the bait crawling rather than hopping along the bottom.
Horizontal finesse

Early season bass tend to prefer a bait that moves horizontally to one with erratic up and down movement. Slow drop or rise, yes. Sudden rip and fast fall, no, — at least not usually!  Just as my finesse jigging retrieve tends to produce better when it crawls, quivers and makes only small and subtle hops, I like finesse presentations higher in the water column to move horizontally as well.

A few years back, Jackall introduced its I-Shad finesse plastic nose-hooked on a tiny jighead. I’ve used this lure in the prescribed “Do Nothing” slow and steady retrieve on numerous occasions with good results.

But North American anglers have been using a similar technique for decades, one that has caught on feverishly in some areas in recent years. It’s a jig and grub/half-worm combination dubbed the “Ned Rig.” Named after Kansas writer Ned Kehde who has popularized the technique in the outdoor press, it consists of a mushroom-head or similarly shaped jig from 1/16- to 1/8- ounce and half a cigar-style “Senko” type worm.

Many practitioners of the technique, including Kehde, prefer to use half of a Z-Man ZinkerZ worm or the recently introduced Finesse TRD, both made from Z-Man’s soft, durable and buoyant ElaZtech plastic.

A simple slow and steady retrieve is often all you need to prod a bass to strike. Bass often just swim up behind and suck in the bait. Just wait until the rod loads up and sweep home the hook. A short bottom-hopping approach may be best if you don’t have to deal with dead vegetation. Sometimes I will add a quiver to the rod during a painfully slow retrieve to get results.

One other horizontal finesse presentation you might want to add to the mix is the Spybait technique. The GanCraft Screw Bait and Duo Realis Spinbait 80 are two of the more effective renditions of the lure.

If you haven’t stumbled on it yet or have simply resisted it because it seems too simple and silly to work, you may want to give it a second thought.

This elongated minnow-shaped sinking hardbait with small propellers fore and aft may have you shaking your head in disbelief. I caught a bass on my very first cast with this lure, then went on to catch seven more fish in barely 20 minutes. The only retrieve I have tried has been a steady slow Do Nothing crank.

And that has been enough!

About Mike Pehanich:

Mike Pehanich is a nationally known outdoor writer and owner of Small Waters Outdoors consulting and communications. He is a frequent contributor to Bassmaster magazine and Major League Fishing and has bylines in more than 20 outdoor publications including Fish & Fly, Great Lakes Angler, North American Fisherman, Cabela’s Outfitters Journal, In-Fisherman, Outdoor Life, Game & Fish, Wired2Fish, and Fishing Tackle Retailer among others. He is a former editor of the Redbone Journal and a frequent contributor to outdoor television and radio shows and the You Tube channel.

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