The standard definition of finesse fishing for most anglers is using 4-pound line and tiny baits. I think that’s too narrow of a description.
In my book, finesse fishing is a matter of scaling down, whether it’s in lure and line size, speed of presentation or all of the above.
It’s rare that you’ll find me with dainty line tied to what some anglers call “sissy baits.” I’m throwing spinnerbaits, crankbaits and big worms or flipping a jig most of the time. But I do know there is a time and place when you have to scale down. So I don’t mind using finesse tactics when conditions require them. I’ve seen many occasions when it was the only way to catch fish.
The tactic really comes into play later in fall when the water cools down. In Northern waters, finesse methods are about the only way to catch bass prior to the lakes freezing.
Ultra-clear water often dictates smaller line and baits because the bass are more akin to feeding by sight. Therefore, the light line and smaller lures are more natural. Drop-shotting is another finesse tactic that I’ve turned to when conditions were right.
Downsizing works in early fall and in stained-water conditions, too, such as when the fish are getting a lot of pressure and shying away from aggressive baits. Let’s say I’ve been catching fall bass in the back of a creek on big, wobbly crankbaits and suddenly the action dies. I know the bass didn’t leave the area, but there’s a good chance that fishing pressure has made them more wary. That’s when I switch from 12- to 8-pound line and tie on a Shad Rap that has a tight wiggle, no rattles and isn’t as aggressive.
You can downsize a spinnerbait, too. One year while I was fishing at Santee Cooper, S.C., when the water was low, the fish ganged up in the creeks. There were a lot of other fishermen throwing spinnerbaits at them. After a couple of days of constant pounding, the fish stopped hitting. So I switched from a ¼-ounce spinnerbait on 17-pound line to a 1/8-ounce model on 10-pound line and started catching them again.
Another finesse tactic I use is to work a soft-plastic jerkbait, such as a Mann’s SHADow, very slow and with no weight on the line. I rig it with a big Mustad hook and put a slight bend in it. That little bend gives the bait good action as I twitch it gently on the top or while it sinks slowly. It looks like a wounded shad and is quite a diversion from the fast-moving baits they see that time of year.
I prefer fishing soft jerkbaits on Berkley FireLine because I can reduce the line size without sacrificing strength. Also, with monofilament, I miss more than 50 percent of the fish that bite.
A few years ago at Lake Murray, S.C., I put another finesse trick to work when the fish shut off. I had been catching bass in a creek on deep-running crankbaits in the morning and shallower cranks in the afternoon. After a few days of pressure, those fish wouldn’t bite. I decided to switch to a Carolina rig, but instead of throwing a lizard or worm, I rigged a salt-and-pepper tube bait on a 10-pound, 3-foot leader. For added subtle action, I packed the tube with Styrofoam “peanuts” – those little balls used in shipping packages – for flotation.
I worked the bait slowly in the same areas where other anglers were fishing, and I hammered the bass. The little bait floated off the bottom and was something the fish hadn’t seen before.
The point is you don’t have to downsize greatly to add finesse fishing to your bag of tricks. When the fish are showing signs of wariness, smaller line, lures and a more subtle presentation may be required to get them to bite.