By Jeremy Smith
As we move deeper into May, bass fishing continues to be excellent in lakes and reservoirs. But unlike the ravenous pre-spawn bite we may have enjoyed, it now often requires finesse tactics to collar a bunch or bass as the spawn approaches.
We could still see cold fronts that turn the bite tough, resulting in poor results with spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and chatterbaits.
But I always have a rod on deck with what’s become one of the hottest setups for pro anglers and casual folks alike: the Ned rig. This simple jig worm is named for In-Fisherman Field Editor Ned Kehde, a veteran finesse angler from Kansas who popularized the setup.
Kehde and his comrades designed it for largemouth bass, but it’s turned out to be a tremendous multi-species tool, fooling smallmouths, white bass, walleyes, crappies, big bluegills, sheepshead, and more. They all occupy warming shallow water during this season, because these conditions also attract lots of small baitfish forage sources.
The rig starts with a light, mushroom-shape head (1⁄16- to 3⁄32-ounce), backed by a small softbait. Kehde is a fan of the 2- to 3-inch Z-Man baits made of ElaZtech, a stretchy and buoyant type of plastic tough enough to catch dozens of bass before they tear it up.
Any small worm, craw, or stickworm can work if you fish it right. Some are stubby in shape, like a stick worm cut in half, while others have thin appendages that create a lifelike wiggle with the slightest twitch. The key is to cast close to whatever cover you come across – clumps of vegetation, underwater points, riprap banks, or boat docks.
Bass are shallow at this time of year, generally from 2 to 8 feet deep. Let the jig fall slowly and you often get a bite on the drop. With needle-sharp hooks, you just need to lift the rod to stick the fish. And then the battle is on with the light tackle used for the technique.
Don’t be in a hurry when fishing this way; you can catch a bass almost anywhere. And don’t worry about bumping bottom as with standard bass jigs.
You often don’t feel the bite at all, just increasing pressure. When the lure hits bottom, let it sit for a few seconds, then give a little shake. Swim it for a few feet, then pause. Often bass prefer a certain retrieve cadence and they’ll let you know when you get it right.
Although most mushroom jigheads on the market lack weedguards, you don’t snag much with these light heads, as they fall straight and don’t generally bury into cover.
To cast and work these finesse baits, I prefer a St. Croix 7-foot medium-power fast-action spinning rod and reel spooled with 10-pound-test braid, with a 3-foot leader of 10-pound fluorocarbon. Hi-vis yellow is the preferred braid color to see slack line strikes that occur a lot with these lightweight baits.
This combination allows you to cast lures weighing 1⁄16 ounce or less with ease, but with the power to set hooks at a good distance and battle a big bass. Non-stretch, high-vis braid helps you see and feel bites, while the fluorocarbon leader can entice a few extra bites in clear water.
At this time of year, you encounter bass of all sizes in the shallows, and they’ll eat a Ned rig. It’s fun to battle 14-inchers on this tackle, and you never know when a lunker will inhale the irresistible little lure.
If you have friends or family members who aren’t avid anglers, set them up with a Ned rig and they’ll soon be catching fish and having a blast. It’s a great way to recruit new anglers of all ages.