May 17, 2023
By Mike Gnatkowski
Even though it was early spring and the water was still cold, I watched as two anglers in a bass boat shotgunned spinnerbaits along the docks across from us. They were wasting no time. They'd fling their lures parallel to a dock and burn them back to the boat before moving on to the next. Then they moved to our side of the channel and did the same thing.
"How are the green fish biting today?" I asked as they quit casting long enough to pass.
"Not too well," the angler on the trolling motor said. "We caught one nice smallmouth, about 3 pounds, but that's been it."
I wished them good luck and they went on their way, pounding the next series of docks. I didn't tell them that I'd caught six bass already and I wasn't even trying, fishing tiny jigs under a float while targeting panfish. If I told you how many largemouths and smallmouths I've caught on micro finesse jigs when bass fishing, you wouldn't believe me. I'm not talking about downsizing to a 1/4- or even a 1/8-ounce jig. I'm talking about really tiny stuff. Catching 4- or 5-pound bass on 1/32- or 1/64-ounce jigs and similarly tiny soft plastic lures isn't rocket science, but I doubt many do it.
You might not think the micro baits would interest bass. I discovered the connection decades ago while fishing for panfish on Rice Lake in Ontario, and the technique has worked in many other places since. Our target species then were bluegills and other sunfish, but numerous times during the day, when my float would slip under, I'd set the hook and it wouldn't budge. More often than not, a 15-inch largemouth or smallie—and some much bigger—was attached to the other end.
Why bass bite tiny baits isn't really clear. Bass spawn before panfish do, so they might be defending their nests. There are all kinds of nest raiders, both large and small, that bass must defend against, after all. Bass might also take advantage of the glut of panfish fry in the shallows after they spawn.
"Finesse baits are nothing new for bass," says MLF bass pro Scott Dobson. "It typically pays to downsize during the post-spawn, when you're targeting pressured fish or when conditions are calm and clear."
Dobson is a firm believer that a tube jig is the best lure ever made for smallmouth bass, and he'll switch from a 4 1/2-inch bait to a 2 1/2-inch version when things get tough and bass want something smaller. "I'll go to a 2 1/2-inch tube in green pumpkin with gold and purple metal flake on a drop-shot rig," he says. "It's the only color you need."
Dobson has had success drop-shotting with crappie-size crawfish imitations, too. "You have to remember that bass are seeing a lot more lures these days, with the advent of forward-facing sonar," Dobson says. "When fish are spooky or pressured, you want a bait they can just suck in without expending much effort."
He adds that smallmouth bass are more inclined to demand finesse tactics than largemouths. He stresses that you'll not only want to use a smaller bait, but you'll want to downsize your weight, too. The idea is to present a natural fall to produce a reaction bite or generate a stalk. When many bass anglers downsize, they're still not downsizing to the extreme. Z-Man Fishing's Micro Finesse ElaZtech baits take finessing to a new level. The Micro Finesse line is intended mainly for panfish, but bass will jump all over these baits, too.
It wasn't my intent to catch bass when I field-tested the Micro Finesse baits for the first time last fall. When we pulled up to the spot I wanted to fish, shiner minnows were flipping and flashing on the surface. I directed a pendulum cast with a silver/sparkle Micro Finesse Shad FryZ on a ShroomZ jighead inches from the break wall and let the jig fall, but it never made it to the bottom. I bemoaned my luck because I knew there was a gnarly log near the wall, but when I snapped the rod tip back, whatever was on the other end of the line moved. A largemouth with the circumference of a fence post came blasting to the surface, even though the water was cold. It jumped three more times before spitting the hook just as I was going to lip it.
"Our original thoughts when designing the Micro Finesse baits were two-sided," says Cory Schmidt of Z-Man Fishing. "The baits have proven to be a huge success on panfish, especially crappies, but I think anglers will be surprised how deadly they are when used as an ultra-finesse technique for bass. Bass eat a lot of small stuff. They gorge on young-of-the-year crappies and bluegills, tiny crawfish and bugs, and have a diverse diet that is surprisingly made up of a lot of fairly small creatures."
Ned rigs have become mainstays in the bass fisherman's arsenal, and Z-Man's Micro TRD is an even smaller version of the famous TRD stick bait employed in many Ned rigs. The 1 3/4-inch version is one anglers should reach for when bass have lockjaw. Made of super-soft ElaZtech, the buoyant material allows the jig to rest with its tail up when matched to a Micro Finesse ShroomZ jig head. The jig has a flat side, so the bait pushes right up against the backside of the jig and a thin, welded wire keeper holds it in place.
The vertical posture attracts attention when hopped and jiggled like a feeding minnow. The ShroomZ jigs are fashioned from fine wire with needlepoint hooks that penetrate easily, even with light line. Add a drop of super glue between the bait and the head, and you'll be better off tying on a new lure than trying to change soft plastics.
Other baits in the Z-Man Micro Finesse line have more appendages and moving parts, which often makes them even deadlier. "Because ElaZtech is so soft and subtle, it moves and twitches with very little activation," Schmidt says.
The buoyancy and suppleness of ElaZtech makes it ideal for swimming and manipulating baits higher in the water column. Miniscule tungsten ice-fishing jigs, like Custom Jigs and Spins' Chekai and Majmun jigs, are perfect for swimming and finessing. The minute jigs excel in skinny water, where a stealthy presentation is needed. Switch to lead versions if you're looking for an even slower fall.
The best presentation for micro finesse baits is with a float or bobber. Floats allow you to present the jig at a specific depth and suspend the bait at the fish's eye level for an extended period. There's no other way you can do that. Remove the spring on the bobber and replace it with a piece of surgical tubing to hold the line in place in the notch and protect frail line. Quivering tails and appendages are more than a bass can stand. I don't know of anywhere, expect Lake Okeechobee in Florida, where you'll find a bass angler using a bobber. Refined drop-shotting is a surefire method of presenting micro finesse baits. Tie a tungsten jig on the bottom and add a second bait 6 inches to a foot above on a dropper.
"The ideal rod for fishing micro finesse baits for bass has a faster action than the normal panfish rod," says Schmidt. "It's what many people consider a trout rod, with a lighter tip and a little more backbone. Most panfish rods are too wimpy."
Schmidt's preferred stick is a St. Croix Legend Elite LEP70LXF panfish rod. My personal choice is Favorite's 7-foot Yampa River spinning rod with a medium power and moderate action. The rod is lightweight, won't break the bank, is extremely sensitive and has the backbone to battle either a 10-inch bluegill or a 6-pound largemouth.
I match the rod to Favorite's Jack Hammer spinning reel or a Pflueger Supreme XT. It's imperative that the reel has a silky-smooth drag, or you'll risk popping the light line. Stay away from smaller reels because their diminutive spools tend to coil light line.
Fill the reel with a quality, clear, 6-pound mono like Sunline's Super Natural, or go to 4-pound test if you dare. Braid fans can use 3- or 4-pound Power Pro and add a leader of mono or fluorocarbon.
Many bass aficionados wouldn't dream of using minuscule plastics and bobbers when fishing for largemouths and smallmouths, but they're missing the boat.