There was a time when finesse described ballerinas and card tricks. Now finesse fishing is the hottest thing since the red wiggler and it seems the light tackle, light touch approach is winning every tournament.
California Native Watercraft pro Marvin Goda has seen success using the technique. “When the day heats up, I go to finesse fishing,” he says. Working a small jig in deep holes and edges is a perfect way to find bass trying to stay cool.
In fact, finesse fishing is famous for making fish bite. More anglers report enticing lock jaw bass, trout and panfish by downsizing. The technique even works in saltwater for redfish, striped bass, spotted bay bass and speckled trout.
For many anglers, finesse fishing is a hard nut to crack. “I have to slow down and use super-light tackle,” Goda points out. Patience is a virtue not enjoyed by most tournament anglers; the constant hunt keeps them moving.
Goda uses a fish finder and GPS with sidescan sonar to locate fish and structure on either side of his boat. The first step is identifying fish to target. “Too many times I wasted time on fish arches that were probably carp,” Goda laughs. Learning what bass marks look like allows him to drop his rig into the target fish.
Finesse fishing can refer to drop shots, wacky rigs, shaky heads and a slew of light tackle techniques with weird names. Goda has had great success on Northern California lakes using the Ned rig, a small jighead and tiny rubber tail.
For every possible advantage, Goda uses a light-action seven-foot 1500 series spinning reel and a super-sensitive Uribe Riverside rod with spiral guides. Sprial guides have a smaller ring inside the larger guide eye. The concept is designed to improve contact with the line for increased sensitivity. “I thought the spiral guides were a gimmick, until I realized they give me better control of the fish,” he says.
To continue the theme, light line is an integral component of finesse fishing. Downsizing to light braid or even fluorocarbon line improves sensitivity to feel the lightest bite. Goda connects 20-pound braided main line to a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader with a reverse Albright not. “Add a drop of Super Glue to the knot to lock the lines together,” Goda instructs.
The light rod and line allow Goda to drop the 1/6-ounce or smaller jig as soon as he marks fish on the finder. Once on the bottom, a 2.75-inch floating plastic tail dances in the current. He prefers tungsten weights, which are smaller than lead and more sensitive for fewer snags and more hook-sets.
This is where patience pays off. Anglers can bounce, retrieve, drop and drag the Ned rig, but many times the best tactic is let it sit and do the work. The technique requires short casts and slow retrieves, with most bites coming when the jig is directly under the kayak.
When using light tackle, boat handling is key to keeping the line tight. Stay over the line or downwind to improve chances of feeling the slightest tap.
The downside of light tackle and small hooks is fighting a big fish. Not only is there greater chance of breaking the line, but smaller hooks are harder to lodge in the fish’s mouth. “When I hook a fish, I pedal in reverse to keep the line tight and apply pressure,” Goda says. He often has to pull a big bass out of heavy cover, “I want to get the fish into my work space,” he laughs.
When Goda has tournament limit in the bag, he up-sizes to a five-inch tail for a chance at a trophy. “The strategy has paid off,” he says.
A light touch for big bass. | Photo: Jonathon Tran