By Terry Battisti
Northwestern Staff Writer
*Nov/Dec '07 Issue (vol 15, num 6)
Does the Increasing Popularity of Big Baits Spell the End of Finesse Fishing?
A few notable headlines from 2007 tournaments:
“Kennedy brings in 40-07 to the scales at Clear Lake.” – Clear Lake BASS Elite Series - bass caught on swimbaits.
“Steve Kennedy smashes four-day tournament record with 122-14.” – Clear Lake BASS Elite Series – bass caught on swimbaits.
“Newman and Davies win Casitas with 34.58.” – WON Bass Southern California team tournament - bass caught on swimbaits.
“Hite uses Swimbait and Jig to take Clarks Hill event.” – Clarks Hill BASS Elite Series event - bass caught on jigs and swimbait.
What do they all have in common? Swimbaits and other power presentations played a role in each big catch.
Headlines like these have dominated national bass magazines, websites and television since the 2007 season began. These headlines also reverberated loudly – tackle wise – at this year’s ICAST show in Vegas where it seemed that every tackle company had jumped on the big-tackle bandwagon. It’s a far cry from 2005 and 2006, where the shakey head, drop-shot and finesse-worm craze dominated both the tournament scene and ICAST.
During those two years it seemed every manufacturer went headlong into designing countless forms of shakey heads, developing special drop-shot hooks and sinkers and coming up with yet more baits designed specifically for use on these two rigs. If you weren’t fishing finesse, you couldn't compete.
To be honest, though, these headlines are nothing new. Serious tournament competitors in Texas have been crashing mats with mortar-sized jigs and ultra-heavy braided line for the better part of ten years. On Alabama’s Lake Eufala, slow rolling a one or two-ounce spinnerbait over deep structure has been a mainstay for savvy anglers and flipping heavy cover hasn’t lost its appeal to anglers serious about a win.
But the California swimbait craze tops all of those bubba-style techniques. Anglers there may live in the finesse capital of the world, but they’ve known the power of the Big Bait for more than 15 years and use them consistently in tournaments not just to catch a kicker fish but also to weigh in record-class bags. At ICAST, it seemed that tackle companies have reversed their thinking and have retooled back towards heavy flipping, large topwater baits and most of all swimbaits.
Is Finesse Gone?
So, has finesse fishing gone the way of the proverbial flat-line? Hardly. What the industry is experiencing now is a reverse swing of the pendulum. What’s hot today will only be hot for a while – except for the Senko of course, which seems like it’ll be deadly forever.
Coming off an unbelievable spring where swimbaits ruled the Elite Series events, many companies are jumping on the swimbait bandwagon as evidenced by the large number of mainstream tackle companies trying to break into that market. Companies like Tru-Tungsten and Strike King are testing the waters with new swimbaits and many others will surely follow.
Swimbaits aren’t the only heavy hardware that’s hitting the store shelves, though. Tackle companies continue to develop one-ounce and heavier jigs and worm weights for punching through thick grass mats, while hook companies continue to produce hooks that won’t straighten on 65- to 80-pound braided lines. There’s no shortage of one-ounce and heavier spinnerbaits either.
Yet, with all the excitement about saltwater-sized tackle, anglers must not forget the light-line tactics that were the rage just two years ago – that is, if they want to continue to be successful.
Seasonal and Local Patterns
Basic seasonal patterns are nothing new. Winter has always been regarded as a time to fish deep with finesse tactics due to the cold water, while spring was historically the time to fish bigger baits in shallow water. Summertime has been considered the prime flipping season and also a good time to target deep ledges with big worms or jigs. Depending upon where you live, the fall season can be a mix of both and the veteran angler knows when to change from finesse to the big bait and visa versa.
To be successful anglers also need to recognize local seasonal preferences. For example, big swimbaits aren’t the ticket in southern California during the summer months. Yes, you can still catch some good fish on them but the main pattern switches to more of a finesse bite during the dog days, due to the buildup of threadfin shad and the decrease of the stocked trout populations.
Likewise, in areas where the heavy grass bite thrives in the summer, the grass bite all but dies in winter due to cold water and decaying organic matter. This gives way to deep-water finesse tactics being the best way to catch fish. Each angler needs to understand these seasonal patterns and know when to take advantage of the big-stick or step back and pick up the spinning tackle.
David AND Goliath
Bass fishing isn’t so much finesse vs. bubba as it is about being a versatile angler. Successful fishermen have long known that it’s difficult to win a tournament on finesse or big baits alone, and it’s even harder to survive all year on one or the other. So, although most of the new lure designs for 2008 need to be thrown on rods rated for 30-pound or heavier lines, don’t forget the finesse gear of yesteryear. It’s time we get David and Goliath to work together.