Small bait … big results – How to use a finesse jig to catch more bass

When clear conditions make the fish spooky, a finesse jig will still produce bites.

Bigger isn’t always better — a down-sized finesse jig might be just the ticket for days when bass are playing hard to get. Here’s how the pros rig up to take them down.

When you ask a specialist to design a tool, they’ll likely give you a prototype with the details that matter most. That’s what Bassmaster Elite Series pro David Walker did for Z-Man when he designed the Cross EyeZ Power Finesse Jig.

Now, the funky eyeball pattern is a straight-up old school throwback, but Walker’s structural design addressed a more tangible benefit. For him, finesse isn’t all that effective if it can’t stand up to the daunting locales in which big bass often reside.

Woody cover, docks, heavy vegetation — southern anglers often have to contend with rough and tumble neighborhoods, and when conditions require a less intrusive appearance than a full-size jig, a finesse jig has to be able to hold its own against imposing habitats.

If the bite’s tough, don’t hesitate to downsize your jig presentations.

“What makes this a finesse jig is that everything is downsized,” Walker said. “Instead of a 4/0 flipping hook, it has a 2/0; but it’s a heavier wire.

“A lot of the finesse jigs I’ve messed with in the past had a really light wire in them and they were better for casting scenarios; but I wanted something I could still pitch into that cover and not feel like I’m taking a risk by throwing it in there.”

When it’s right

“Water clarity is one of the biggest (factors) for finesse jigs,” Walker said. “When it’s clear, those fish can tend to be pretty spooky, especially if they’ve been around the bank for a while.

“When the fish first move shallow, they tend to be a little dumber, especially if the water’s dirty. But if the water’s a little cleaner, those fish get a little harder to catch. Here, or if you’re fishing pressured waters, that’s when I’m going to go with that finesse style.”

Finesse jig trailers don’t have to be fancy, as this Z-Man Finesse TRD demonstrates.

The ideal setup for a finesse jig, Walker said, is a cloudless day with light to no wind. If it’s blowing 10-15, you rarely need finesse baits, he said. But when the fish are hyper-aware — particularly if the lake’s getting loads of pressure — send in the small stuff.

“There are times when we’re all fishing the same canals and a less bulky bait will get more bites than, say, a normal 3/8- or ½-ounce jig,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Caleb Sumrall. “I like a Missile Baits Ike’s Mini Flip finesse jig, which is a smaller profile jig with thinner skirt strands and a compact profile that comes through cover amazingly.”

While some anglers prefer spinning gear for lighter jigs, Walker likes the fact that he can fish finesse jigs on his baitcaster. Benefits include casting accuracy and a more fluid pitching motion.

Bassmaster Elite pro Caleb Summrall often bounces finesse jigs off cypress trees to trigger reaction bites.

“I’ll fish a finesse jig about the same way as a full-size flipping jig,” Walker said. “The only difference would be if I’m going to fish clear water where there’s not a lot of cover. In that case, I’m going to do a little more casting.

“I’ll throw it farther and fish it along the bottom, back toward the boat; instead of just pitching it into cover, lifting it a few times and making another cast. That scenario is not one of my favorites, because I really like to be able to cover water and pitch to specific spots and keep moving.”

Just like the full-size deal, Walker would much rather power fish with his finesse jig. Instead of painstakingly grinding through one pocket, he can keep moving and cover several.

Top targets

Nothing revolutionary here; you can fish that finesse jig just about anywhere you’d fish a full-size flipping jig. The only difference is a more diminutive figure sneaking into the target zone. That being said, Sumrall describes one of his favorite finesse jig presentations.

Sweetening a finesse jig with scent attractants never hurts, either.

“Flipping a black/blue jig with a matching Missile Baits D-Bomb into cypress trees is my favorite,” he said. “I like to target the shaded sides and I tend to go for the protected side of the cypress tree. I feel like if the fish are that shallow, they don’t want to be on the (windward) side of the tree getting beaten up.”

Mimicking forage is always a good bet, but Sumrall warns against deal-breaking encroachment. In other words, no dropping the bait right on their heads.

“If I can flip past the cypress tree, bring my jig up to the tree and then kill it, that’s my favorite way to fish the finesse jig,” Sumrall said. “I feel like sometimes, if you flip to the tree, there’s a lot of room for error. You can hit the tree too hard and potentially spook the fish.”

His best move: Flip a foot or two past the target and then use his rod tip to sneak it toward the fish. Resembling a crawfish scampering along the side of a cypress tree, this move usually finds a willing taker.

Gear for the rear

Touching up the tips of a finesse jig trailer can increase the attraction.

Addressing a key dynamic for all jigs — fall rate — Walker said his trailer selection also follows a generally downsized strategy, but specific choices depend on what he’s trying to accomplish. For slower falls, he likes the Z-Man Punch CrawZ trailer, but to keep that overall package compact, he’ll bite off the back half of the body and hang the remaining section claws-down.

Elsewhere, when wants a faster fall, Walker uses the straight simplicity of the Z-Man Finesse T.R.D. as his trailer. Less plastic equals less drag, and therefore a faster fall.

“You can get creative with a lot of different trailer styles, but when I’m using a finesse jig, I’m going to try to make that trailer look pretty natural,” he said. “I’m going to stick with more natural colors: green pumpkin, brown, green — not the really bold colors we might use on the flipping jigs.”

Plastic tactics

FLW Tour pro Andrew Upshaw’s a big fan of finesse jigs with skirts trimmed in bristly form. He’ll also alter his Gene Larew Biffle Bug Junior by removing the trailer’s center tail flapper to create a smaller profile with only the legs flapping freely.

The Gene Larew Biffle Bug makes a great finesse jig trailer, but try removing the center tail for a smaller profile.

“This slims up the profile and makes it more compact; and that’s exactly what you want for a finesse jig,” Upshaw said.

Scent can play a big role in closing the deal with downsized presentations, so Upshaw also adds a generous dose of Gene Larew Biffle Juice to the trailer’s center cavity. And to play up the visual ruse, he’ll use an orange or chartreuse dye pen to touch up the Biffle Bug’s legs to mimic the pincers of indigenous crawfish.

“I’ll put a little bit on each pincer; not a lot — just enough to give the jig a little flash under the water,” Upshaw said.

One more rigging tip: If you’re dock-skipping finesse jigs and prefer to hang your trailer, rather than thread it onto the hook, adding a piece of worm onto your jig’s hook shank will stop the trailer from sliding up and potentially marring hook sets.

Many of the preparation and presentation points really aren’t that different from full-size jigs, so it’s not like learning a new technique. Bottom line: Finesse jigs simply offer an option for lighter-detail work when situations call for subtlety.

“I rely on a finesse jig a lot in the wintertime, but they are also very effective throughout the year,” Upshaw said. “You can throw it around grass, wood, rock; you can throw it in 2 feet of water or 30 feet of water — it doesn’t matter.

“Finesse jigs are a great way to get bit.”

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About David A. Brown 142 Articles
A full-time freelance writer specializing in sport fishing, David A. Brown splits his time between journalism and marketing communications.