Dr. Jason Halfen
Epic days on the water are few and far between. Indeed, late summer can be a challenging time to pursue both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Quality fish that were easy to locate and catch in June and July are now perplexing. Sultry water temperatures contribute to our tribulations, driving fish either into heavy cover or down deep to find respite from the heat. Another challenge working against anglers – both in the shallow slop and the deep basin – is an abundance of forage: there is, quite simply, so much food available that bass have a LOT to choose from. It can be hard for an artificial bait to stick out as a vulnerable prey item amid Nature’s abundance.
How can we solve the late summer bass puzzle? Consider Midwest Finesse Fishing – or the Ned Rig – a presentation that has, quite simply, taken the bass fishing world by storm. A refinement of finesse techniques practiced and espoused by tournament anglers for many years, the Ned Rig was brought to the forefront of contemporary finesse techniques by Kansas-based angler and outdoor writer Ned Kehde. This unassuming presentation has been responsible for a staggering number of bass fishing success stories, especially when finesse becomes the order of the day.
The Business End of the Ned Rig
The classic bait for the Ned Rig bait looks like a stickworm that has been cut in half. Looks can be deceiving, however. The highly-refined Ned Rig presentation truly shines with a bait made from a unique, 21st-century soft plastic compound called ElaZtech, available exclusively from Z-Man.
ElaZtech is a proprietary material that renders soft baits resistant to rips and tears; however, this resiliency is not what makes ElaZtech baits the best choice for Ned Rigs. Rather, it is the fact that ElaZtech baits do something that a traditional soft plastic bait – made from plastisol – does not: ElaZtech baits float. This unique buoyancy has a dramatic impact on how the bait looks to a fish: when rigged on a lightweight jig, the industry-standard Ned Rig bait – a 2.75″ Z-Man Finesse TRD – stands at attention as the jighead rests on the bottom. Every twitch of the rod tip makes that upright tail quiver and dance. In stark contrast, a comparably-sized bait made from plastisol lies on the bottom when at rest, hidden among the rocks and grass, never to be seen. It is truly the difference between an ice cream-laden waffle cone held upright in your hand versus one lying on its side in the mud: which tasty treat would you rather eat?
Enhancements to the profile of the original Z-Man Finesse TRD have broadened the appeal of this soft bait family to a broader range of both fish and anglers. For example, Z-Man TRD TicklerZ adds a set of four tiny tentacles to the bait’s tail to provide additional action and visual appeal. The Z-Man Hula StickZ family stretches the tentacled TicklerZ body into a four-inch-long stickbait, perfect when bass – or even walleye – respond favorably to a buoyant bait with a longer profile. Bottom-oriented smallmouth hunting crayfish among the rocks can’t seem to resist the 2.5 inch-long TRD CrawZ, an impeccably designed ElaZtech crawfish that presents its claws in a natural defensive posture when anglers drag the bait across the bottom. Indeed, there is a Z-Man ElaZtech bait that is ideally suited for every Ned Rig situation.
When it comes to jigs, think about three words: light, lighter, lightest. The 1/8 ounce jigs that abound in your collection are the heaviest you’ll likely employ, and then only in deep water or in current. Instead, consider 1/16 ounce jigs with thin wire hooks. Ready to take your Ned Rigs to the next level? Rig up with Z-Man Finesse ShroomZ jigs: lightweight mushroom-head finesse jigs with dedicated soft bait keepers that pin baits tight to the head. These light jigs allow the buoyant lure to slowly fall through the water column, which is just the attention-getter we need.
Critical Ned Rig tackle
Carson-Newman University collegiate angler Lee Rose Koza understands the power of the Ned Rig when it comes to boating bass under challenging circumstances. “Anytime the water is warm and the bass are off the chew, I know I can get the bites I need by pulling out the spinning tackle and throwing a Ned Rig,” reflects Koza. “With the Ned Rig, I can fish shallow or deep, on the bottom or suspended in the water column. The versatility of this unassuming, yet very life-like presentation just flat-out works.”
“The key to Ned Rig success is to pair the light Z-Man baits and jigs with perfectly balanced tackle,” continues Koza. “Typically, I present Ned Rigs using a Shimano Curado CDS70MLA: an incredibly seven-foot spinning rod with medium-light power and fast action. Shimano just redesigned these rods to provide anglers with increased casting performance – which is perfect when presenting light Ned Rig baits – plus enhanced sensitivity to tell when a fish is swimming with the lure or when the hook has picked up a piece of grass. I pair the Curado rod with a 2500-series Shimano Vanford reel. The composite CI4+ body of this reel makes it incredibly light and strong which is perfect for finesse presentations.”
Optimize your Ned Rigging with the right line and leader. Spool up with 10-pound test PowerPro braided line in the high-visibility yellow color. This bright line makes it easier to detect bites visually – which occurs frequently as the bait falls through the water column. Connect the PowerPro main line to the jighead using a six-foot leader of eight-pound test fluorocarbon, which provides enhanced abrasion resistance and virtual invisibility beneath the surface. Link the braided main line to the fluorocarbon leader using an Alberto or FG knot.
Koza adds, “my confidence bait for Ned Rigging is a Z-Man Finesse TRD in Green Pumpkin rigged on a 1/10 ounce Z-Man Finesse ShroomZ jig. Largemouth, smallmouth, and even spotted bass can’t resist the elegant simplicity of this combination. Try it the next time you’re faced with a tough bite!”
Ned Rigging: How and Where
At its simplest, Ned Rigging starts with a long cast, with bait action imparted by the angler in the form of subtle hops and twitches, separated by pauses while the bait settles through the water column to the bottom. Slow and subtle is good; slower and subtler is better. Some of the premier finesse anglers will just about put you to sleep with their fishing cadence, only to be interrupted by frequent, powerful hooksets.
Where should you chase bass with finesse? Just about anywhere. The Ned Rig is well suited to both shallow and deep water, excelling in the still waters of lakes and the moving waters of reservoirs and rivers. Every bass from largemouth to smallies and spots are susceptible to the subtle triggering characteristics of the Midwest Finesse Fishing technique.
Faced with a tough bass bite? Break out the finesse gear to fool those finicky fish. Learn to present the Ned Rig, and it will quickly become a mainstay in your bass fishing bag of tricks!
Dr. Jason Halfen is a long-time guide, tournament angler, and specialist in marine electronics. He owns and operates The Technological Angler, dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage hi-tech tools to find and catch more fish. Learn more by visiting www.technologicalangler.com.