Finesse, it seems, is suddenly a hot topic among tournament anglers. After more than 2 decades of scorn, the national cast-for-cash crowd is finally coming to the party. Not so much as a matter of choice, but because they had to.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of misconceptions about finesse fishing, not the least of which is the name. Anyone who ever had anything to do with choosing or adopting "finesse" as the title for light-line, small-bait methods (present company included) has done a slight disservice to those who came later.
"Finesse" does not describe the tackle - contrary to popular opinion - it describes the technique. The word "finesse" denotes precision or, as the Webster's Dictionary definition describes, "subtle skill, adroit and tactful handling of a situation." Therefore, finesse is always a part of every fishing application.
As we move into the fall season, the subtleties of finesse play a huge role for those recognizing and, as the saying goes, "sweating the details." Nowhere is this more apparent than during those frustrating topwater bites where a day's worth of blowups on surface lures yields paltry results.
"When the no-see-ums are active, they'll often form small pods and cling to lures like a herd of Holsteins following the bell cow to the barn."
In these trying moments, the common assumption is that bass are missing the lure. For those in the BBZ, this is a very hard pill to swallow. First, you have to ask yourself this question, "How accurate are bass at attacking baits?" If your answer wasn't "very good," then you're not giving this top predator its props. If they want something, more often than not, they're going to get it.
Yeah, a couple of missed hits are understandable because everything, even a hungry bass, has a bad day. But we're talking about those days when bass are flailing the surface at something, yet seem pathetically unable to connect with our lures. So, we have to assume that all the biorhythms of all the bass in a particular impoundment are somehow collectively all off the mark on the very same day? Hello.
Clearly, these bass are after something, it's just not what you're throwing. Big baits don't always catch bigger bass even if the lure you're casting is well below the size category of what could be considered a "big bait." Often, a SPRO McRip 110 or Zara Spook is not what they want. What they want is what is following that lure.
While this is not a daily occurrence, anyone who has thrown topwater – especially during the fall – has experienced this frustrating situation – one where bass, even bigger bass – are keyed on extremely small minnows commonly referred to as "no-see-ums."
When the no-see-ums are active, they'll often form small pods and cling to lures like a herd of Holsteins following the bell cow to the barn. Instead of blowing up on a topwater and missing it, bass are actually striking their intended targets – ones positioned just aft of your lure. You're seeing one thing, yet something totally different is taking place. It's so close to your offering the natural assumption is that every bass is experiencing a brain cramp.
Unknowingly, what topwater anglers are creating is a chase scene. It's similar to the effect that fishermen have tried to produce with Front Runners ahead of plugs or trailing small Senkos behind. The difference in our topwater scenario is the chase scene created involves live, unattached bait.
Solving the blowup dilemma first begins with recognition. If you persist in throwing larger surface plugs, you're basically hoping for a missed strike – hoping they flash on the no-see-ums and somehow get wrapped up by your lure.
The next item on the agenda is understanding this: Anything much larger than a 2 1/2- to 3-inch bait will attract the no-see-ums. Gauging down to a small spoon that can be V-waked just under the surface or a darter-rigged plastic that can plumb the water column are just two options. The key is to disassociate yourself from the boils and find the right combination of depth (top-middle-bottom) and cadence that consistently produce fish.
Be forewarned: It's not automatic. Finding the depth and cadence is just one part of the equation. Sometimes the key can be as subtle as the tiny bait being used. Often, you will have to experiment with different types of tails on plastic worms to find the "kick" that triggers the most responses.
Whether you catch them V-waking, on a pendulum swing through the water column or a straight, slow-roll up from the bottom, you'll know it when you find it. You'll be catching fish and severely annoying other anglers around you. After all, they still think that "finesse" just refers to the tackle.