There are many cases where a full-size jig is just too much for finicky or lethargic bass. Finesse jigs are a versatile alternative to traditional finesse rigs like the ned rig or shaky head when fishing gets tough. This is a comprehensive guide, outlining everything you need to get started fishing a finesse jig for bass.
Broadly speaking, a finesse jig is a jig with a small, compact profile with a fairly light-wire hook. There are finesse versions of football jig, flipping jigs, casting jigs, you name it. A finesse jig comes into play when you are looking to downsize from a traditional size jig in order to entice finicky fish to bite. It is a very effective “power finesse” presentation in cold and pressured waters where bass will often turn their nose up to the bigger profile of a traditional size jig.
When to Fish a Finesse Jig
One standout feature of finesse jigs is the versatility they provide. Finesse jigs can be fished all-year round. Here are a few standout situations where a finesse jig really shines.
Finesse jigs are a great Winter bait. In winter, water temperature is down and fish are usually somewhat lethargic. A compact, small profile jig worked slowly along the bottom is an easy target for a hungry bass that doesn’t want to work too hard for a meal.
Elite Series pro, Jamie Hartman speaks about “soaking” a finesse jig in cold water. What he means by this is slowly dragging the jig, maintaining contact with the bottom and letting the jig sit from time to time. This presentation is an effective way of carefully covering cold water, and getting bites from finicky winter fish.
Bass have good visibility in clear water and as a result, tend to be ‘spooky’. Smaller, subtle baits thrive in clear water because they are non-intrusive and are less likely than bulky baits to spook fish. The small profile of a finesse jig fits perfectly into this category and is a more than viable alternative to traditional finesse presentations like a ned rig or shaky head in clear water conditions.
As our waters receive more and more fishing pressure, fish are becoming increasingly difficult to catch. This is why we have seen such rapid rise in popularity of finesse techniques such as the drop shot, ned rig and the shaky head in recent years. A Finesse jig is a less-utilized finesse alternative that can be used, in many cases in place of a shaky head or ned rig, and can be just as effective.
Where to Fish a Finesse Jig
In short, a finesse jig shines anywhere you would usually fish a shaky head. Docks, rocks on the bottom, edges of brush piles and laydowns are all great places to throw a finesse jig. Finesse jigs usually come with a fitted weed guard meaning they can be thrown into the majority of cover types while being largely weedless. Don’t limit yourself to specific cover types with a finesse jig. Throw it anywhere and everywhere, especially when the bite is tough.
Retrieving a Finesse Jig
I feel like I say this for every technique, but there is no right or wrong way to retrieve a finesse jig. there are times where fish will be on a reaction bite and be looking for something with a faster, more aggressive action. On the other hand, lethargic or finicky bass are more likely to take a finesse jig worked slowly and carefully along the bottom. While certainly oversimplified, here are some guidelines to give you a starting point on your retrieve.
Lethargic, Winter bass are unlikely to take a finesse jig aggressively hopping along the bottom. Stick to a slow ‘dragging’ style retrieve and allow for long pauses between movements.
In warmer water, fish are more likely to react and take something with an active action. Hopping a finesse jig like you would if you were pitching a traditional size jig works great. A more rapid dragging motion works well too.
Keep in mind there will be days where warm water fish just aren’t taking fast moving baits. Slowing down in spring/summer can make all the difference and get you bites from wary bass. Never stop experimenting, keep trying new retrieve variations until you find the cadence for the given day.
Best Trailers for Finesse Jigs
A key feature of the finesse jig is its compact profile. You want to choose a trailer that is somewhat proportional to your jig and doesn’t bulk up the profile too much.
Style wise, you have a few options. In most cases you want to keep the action of your finesse jig subtle, choosing a trailer without excessive appendages and resultant action is usually your best bet as a result.
Cold and/or Clear Water Trailers
In cold or super clear water, I like to go super simple on my trailer and choose something with minimal action in order to keep my presentation as subtle as possible. Soft plastics traditionally used for the ned rig fit this category like a glove. One of my go-to cold/clear water finesse jig trailers is the Z-Man TRD TicklerZ. It’s basically just a standard TRD with little tentacles on the top for a tiny bit of extra action. It gives my jig some substance without exaggerating the action too much.
Warmer water fish are more likely to respond to something with a little more life to it. In murky conditions, you want a trailer that has enough action to displace some water and bring your jig to the attention of lurking bass. In both cases, I will lean towards a trailer with more (but not too many) appendages and more action. For me, the Berkley Pit Boss (3 inch) hits the sweet spot. It’s compact, but has top appendages to give the presentation a bit of life without being overbearing.
Do yourself a favor and keep your color selection simple. Color selection is so easy to overcomplicate and in my opinion, this is really not necessary.
In clear to slightly stained water, stick to natural colors like green pumpkin, PB&J and watermelon. In murky water, black and blue and other dark colors usually work best as they create a strong silhouette.
It is absolutely fine to mix and match your jig and trailer colors as well. Just try and stick somewhat to the guidelines above based on water clarity.
My Favorite Finesse Jigs
There are so many fantastic finesse jigs on the market, it can be really tough to decide which ones to try first. I tend to lean towards smaller profile, lighter-wire-hook jigs. For me, this is a finesse technique and I like to keep my jig selection as finesse-focused as possible. Here are two of my favorite finesse jigs:
Keitech Tungsten Guard Spin Jig
A beautiful little finesse jig with fantastic build quality. A tungsten head gives solid weight without being too big. Super sharp, light wire #2 hook with a hand glued 5 strand weed guard. This jig is versatile, largely weedless and has saved me many times on tough fishing days. Comes in 1/8oz and 5/32oz weight options.
This is a deadly little jig, especially when paired up with ned-style plastics. It has a ShroomZ-style head, similar to that of ned rig jigheads by Z-Man, and this helps create a lifelike, stand-up action on your trailer when it is sitting on the bottom. Light wire #1 hook with flexible but strong dual-wire weedguard. comes in 1/8oz and 3/16oz weight options. This is often the finesse jig I turn to when bass want something super slow on the bottom. This is my “do nothing” jig that I leave in the strike zone for as long as possible with minimal movement.
As you can see from my jig suggestions above, I am an advocate for the small, light-wire approach. I firmly believe this is the best way to get as many bites as possible in tough fishing conditions. My tackle suggestions are based on the premise that you will be fishing lightweight, light-wire jigs.
Rod for Finesse Jigs
Because you will be casting a light jig, you want a rod that has a softer tip in order to cast the bait effectively. This will also ensure that you do not straighten your light-wire hook when striking. You don’t need anything fancy here, just a spinning or casting rod with medium power and a bit of flex in the tip, similar to a rod you would use for treble hook baits like a spook or jerkbait.
Reel for Finesse Jigs
Any good quality spinning or casting reel (depending on your rod choice) will do the trick here. If you are like me and prefer to fish finesse presentations on a baitcasting setup, you will need to be a little more particular on your reel choice. Not all baitcasters are optimized for throwing lighter baits. I use two different casting reels for finesse jig fishing, the Shimano SLX DC (pricey) and the Shimano Caius (budget).
Shimano SLX DC
This casting reel is absolutely fantastic for throwing light lures, like a finesse jig. The electronic braking system gives you solid protection from backlashes, even when fishing into the wind. It handles light line well and is a joy to fish with.
The Caius offers incredible value for money. It casts light lures better than any other reel in its price range (in my opinion). It may not have the premium feel of the SLX DC, but if you want a budget baitcaster you can cast a finesse jig with, look no further than this.
Because this is a finesse presentation, you want to limit the visibility of your line as much as possible. Light test fluorocarbon is the best way to do this, making it the obvious best choice for finesse jig fishing. On a casting setup, I go for 8-10lb Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon. For spinning setups, I don’t recommend going for more than 8lb as fluorocarbon becomes difficult to manage on a spinning reel past this point.
Finesse jigs are a dynamic addition to any anglers finesse fishing arsenal. They offer versatility and subtle presentation in any setting and thrive in tough fishing conditions. My approach to finesse fishing lies very much on the “lighter” side as I believe this approach is the best way to maximize bites. There are certainly viable, more “power” finesse approaches to fish a finesse jig, but I am confident that my guidelines will help get that elusive bite when you need it most.
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