November 30, 2021
By Ken Duke
Ned Kehde takes no credit for the rig or technique that bears his name. He maintains that he is merely the messenger and the connection to the originators of Midwest finesse fishing, most of whom are long gone.
That he has become the namesake of the Ned Rig bass-fishing technique is quite fitting, though. He’s a modern-day St. Paul, spreading the gospel of finesse through his writings, videos and other teachings. It’s Kehde’s modesty that makes him so appealing, but it’s the effectiveness of the technique that has made it ubiquitous in today’s bass world.
To begin, we should make clear that the Ned rig is not a lure. It’s a method, even a philosophy, and it’s hardly new. Midwest finesse fishing is more than 60 years old.
Kehde, now 81, was an early student of finesse and learned from its pioneers in Kansas and Missouri. Anglers like Chuck Woods (creator of the Beetle and Beetle Spin lures), Virgil Ward (TV host of "Championship Fishing"), Dwight Keefer (winner of the 1967 World Series of Sport Fishing), Guido Hibdon (two-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 1988 Bassmaster Classic champion) and others understood that the introduction of spinning gear to the American market in the 1950s made the use of light lines and small lures viable.
Armed with light lines and spinning gear, these pioneers revolutionized bass fishing on the sometimes deep, often clear and always challenging waters of the Midwest. Since then, anglers have found uses for finesse everywhere bass swim.
SIMPLE, EASY, FRUGAL
Ned Kehde’s setup for Midwest finesse might underwhelm you, but the results he gets from his gear are sure to impress. He describes his choices as "simple, easy and frugal." He uses a 6-foot, medium-action spinning rod and Zebco Cardinal 4 reel that he bought in 1970 for $21. He cut the bail off the reel to reduce line twist and spools it with 12- or even 15-pound-test braided line and a 5-foot-long leader of 8-pound fluorocarbon. He connects the braid and fluoro with a Seaguar knot.
Is his setup state-of-the-art? No. The Cardinal 4 was top-of-the-line in the 1970s and early ’80s, but it’s been far outpaced by subsequent technology. Nevertheless, it’s effective, and Kehde’s extremely familiar with exactly what his gear can do, how it works and what a bass feels like when it’s on the other end of the line.
We can all learn a lesson from his approach by mastering the equipment we have rather than chasing after the latest things to hit the market. Sometimes familiar is better than better.
With the surge in popularity of finesse fishing in recent years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a tackle manufacturer that’s not in the business of making Ned-style lures. Plenty of bass have been caught on light jigheads using small, stubby soft plastics as bait, but with the popularity of the Ned Rig has come diversity, ingenuity and refinement.
One company that has worked with Kehde on baits is Z-Man, makers of the popular ChatterBait. Their "Ned Rig Kit" includes the mushroom-style Finesse ShroomZ jigheads and soft plastics that Kehde has used extensively for years now, including the Finesse T.R.D. (The Real Deal), T.R.D. TicklerZ and T.R.D. CrawZ.
The Z-Man baits are made of a proprietary plastic they call ElaZtech, and they are extremely durable. Kehde has personally caught more than 100 bass on several individual lures, and his record is 235, so they’re as economical as they are effective.
Other baits in the Z-Man lineup work, too. Kehde is fond of the 4-inch Finesse WormZ, the 4-inch Hula StickZ, the FattyZ and others. His most productive baits are just 2 1/2 to 4 inches long, and his go-to mushroom-style jigheads (from Gopher Tackle in Deerwood, Minn.) weigh just 1/16- or 1/32-ounce and come in chartreuse, red and blue. The heaviest jighead he uses weighs just 3/32-ounce. Colors run hot and cold in the waters Kehde frequents near his Lawrence, Kan., home, but he’s done well on Black Blue Laminate, Junebug, PB&J, Pumpkin Chartreuse Laminate and—of course—Green Pumpkin.
KEEP IT LIGHT AND SIMPLE
The finesse guru does most of his fishing during what few would call prime times. He’s rarely on the water before 9:00 a.m., and he’s usually off by 3:00 p.m. Most trips last about four hours. Because the Midwest is not known for trophy bass, Kehde targets numbers and sets a goal of catching 101 largemouths, smallmouths or spotted bass during an outing.
He calls it "Bass Fishing 101," and in keeping with the introductory course title, Kehde keeps his approach basic and straightforward. "My mantra is ‘keep it light and keep it simple,’" he says. "I’d rather catch 10 bass an hour than one 5-pounder."
If the gear keeps things light, Kehde’s retrieves keep things simple. He employs just a few, experimenting until he finds the most effective one for any given day and conditions.
First, there’s the "swim, glide and shake." After the cast Kehde holds his rod at the two o’clock position, shaking the tip as the bait falls. Just before it reaches the bottom he begins reeling to keep the lure swimming freely.
The "hop-and-bounce" starts the same way, but Kehde lets the lure fall all the way to the bottom and holds his rod at the five o’clock position. Once the bait reaches the bottom, he lifts it with a couple of quick turns of the reel handle. As the bait pendulums back to the bottom, with Kehde shaking the rod tip slightly all the while, he repeats the process.
The "straight swim" will remind some of the Charlie Brewer "slider or do-nothing" technique. With it, the bait is cast out and steadily retrieved back to the boat, kept off the bottom and swimming throughout the presentation. Sometimes Kehde adds action by shaking the rod tip.
The "drag-and-dead-stick" is a great retrieve for anglers fishing from the back of the boat. The lure falls to the bottom and is slowly dragged behind the boat with stretches of no movement at all. While the more active retrieves pick up feeding fish, this one is at its best when the fish are lethargic.
The "drag-and-shake" is another strong presentation from the back of the boat. With it, casts are made quartering to the rear of the boat or even directly behind it. After the bait reaches bottom, the angler either lets the boat pull the lure along or moves it with short twitches of the rod. Again, it’s a strong method when the fishing’s tough.
Those last two retrieves have really captured the attention of Ned riggers, particularly those fishing tournaments and struggling to boat a few keepers. With such small baits, light lines and slow retrieves, there’s little to give the Ned Rig away as false when a bass swims up to check it out.
LITTLE RIG, BIG BASS
Ned baits—and finesse jighead-and-worm rigs in general—may be small, but they are mighty. Chuck Woods, the house painter who Ned Kehde credits as the earliest finesse master, once caught a 10-pound largemouth in Kansas, where such a bass is a generational outlier.
Fluorocarbon and monofilament lines of 8-pound-test and lighter have produced certified largemouth bass weighing better than 20 pounds, and smallmouth and spotted bass over 10 pounds.
But where the Ned rig really shines is in getting bites. Oftentimes—whether in competition or just out fishing for fun—getting more bites is the key to catching bigger fish.
These two Ned combos offer anglers something for any budget.
Not everyone has a 1970 Zebco Cardinal 4 spinning reel lying around to fish the Ned rig like Ned Kehde does. As such, we put together two Ned rig combos that will help you fish it with confidence.
TOP OF THE LINE
Abu Garcia’s Fantasista Premier spinning rod is built using 3M’s proprietary Powerlux 500 resin system. The blank is axial carbon construction, which provides both strength and sensitivity—a must when fishing Ned rigs deep. A Fuji soft touch reel seat and premium cork foregrip transmit bait data back to the user. Top-shelf titanium alloy guides with zirconium inserts handle light-line duties. A five-year warranty provides peace of mind. ($299; abugarcia.com)
The perfect reel for pairing to the Fantasista is the Revo Rocket, also from Abu Garcia. With its 7:1 gear ratio, the Revo gobbles up line at a blistering 40-inches per turn (30 series). Its 180-yard spool payload capacity (10-pound braid) means you’ll have plenty of line to get down to distant fish. A smooth drag system keeps fish buttoned on small wire-gauge Ned rig hooks. Ten bearings keep the Rocket humming smoothly. ($209; abugarcia.com)
The technique-specific Lew’s KVD Rod Series Dropshot/Ned Rig rod is a 7-foot, medium-light power with an extra-fast tip. The rod is rated for 6- to 14-pound-test lines, making ideal for tempting tight-lipped bass. The KVD offers great spinning rod value with its IM8 blank, stainless steel guides with aluminum oxide inserts, locking reel seat and split EVA handle. ($99; lews.com)
The Lew’s KVD spinning reel series is designed to complement the KVD Series of technique-specific rods. Lew’s KVD200 is sized just-right for Ned rigs. The 8.6-ounce spinner has a 6.2:1 gear ratio and ten total bearings (9+1). An 8-pound-test, 120-yard payload offers plenty of capacity for probing deep. Amenities
include an ergonomically pleasing aluminum crank, stainless steel bail wire, lube port, brass main gear and stainless steel main shaft. A surprisingly good drag system rounds out this econo-performance spinning reel. ($89; lews.com) — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn