Spend some time listening to Lawrence angler Ned Kehde speak about fishing, and it’s clear he pays attention to every little detail about his surroundings when fishing for bass.
Water level, water color, solunar calendars, temperature, boat direction in relation to the shore — all elements that affect how he presents his bait and what he uses. In Kansas waters, it can sometimes be difficult to elicit a strike from a bass. But with the Midwest Finesse system, which utilizes multiple retrieves and a variety of jigs, anglers who commit to his method soon find that getting a bite is easier than they realized.
“It’s just been one of these baits that we’ve found — you know, we’ve been fishing this way since the 1950s and this whole thing started with a guy in Kansas City with a guy named Chuck Woods back in the 1950s — and we’ve just been attached to it over the years. And for some reason, a guy calls it the ‘Ned Rig’ and it just caught on for some reason. I don’t call it the Ned Rig, but you know everybody else can call it that if they want,” Kehde said in his trademark self-effacing fashion. “But it’s a good rig, I’ve been using variations of it for a long, long time.”
The rig, which doesn’t need to be cast out very far to be effective, will fall enticingly slow upon hitting the water because of the light weight of the setup and the buoyancy of the Z-Man plastic baits, which are made with a substance called ElaZtech. These highly flexible, nearly indestructible baits will float straight up once the jig head hits the bottom, but often bass will take off with the hook in their mouth before it even hits the bottom. Kehde primarily will use a ZinkerZ, often in the green-pumpkin-goby color, attached to a light Gopher Tackle mushroom jig head. The flat jig head helps the plastic stand straight up on any structure. He has about five plastic baits he’ll use, but all of his setups use a Gopher jig head.
Anglers will want to use a light pole setup, with 4- to 8-pound fluorocarbon line or leader. The fluorocarbon line is important because it sinks quicker than monofilament line. There are six retrieves that are typically used — swim gliding, dead sticking, hop and bounce, drag and shake, straight swim and dragging.
“The best advice is to fish with the smallest jig possible, which is either a 1/16th-ounce or 1/32nd-ounce jig,” Kehde said. “Go light. Err on the side of lightness when you’re fishing this stuff. Too many guys want to feel what the bait is doing, they want to feel it on the bottom, so they use a 1/8th-ounce or even a 3/16th-ounce. In Kansas, it’s not necessary at all. It’s better to go lighter than it is to go heavier. Fish with spinning tackle and just make as many casts and retrieves as you can just to get used to it. Sometimes it’ll take you five or six trips before you really get the hang of what it’s supposed to feel like.”
The goal of this technique is to catch 100 fish in four hours, regardless of weather or water conditions.
“It’s an easy bait to use if you just let the bait do the work,” Kehde said. “Don’t overwork it, don’t do too much with it. We have a tendency in fishing to use these baits that have a lot of action and with a lot of heavy-duty, fast cranking of your reel. We don’t do that, but at the same time we can cover a lot of water with this.”
Hayden sophomore Thomas Heinen, who had an opportunity in March to do some fishing with area fishing guide Clyde Holscher and Kehde to work on his presentation, has become a student of the Midwest Finesse system and has utilized it during several of the high school fishing tournaments he’s placed in.
“The Ned Rig is just my go-to bait,” Heinen said. “I have had lots of experience fishing it. This is one of those baits where you just have to have confidence in it. Learning how to do the six main retrieves will put more fish in your boat.”
The finesse lure’s versatility came in useful during a snowy state qualifier in March, which saw the bite slow as water temperatures dropped to the low 50s.
“When fishing gets very tough, my favorite way is the deadstick,” Heinen said. “The fish just can’t resist it.”
Kehde often touts that the Midwest Finesse system can work year-round, even in the cold of winter, and so it did for Heinen and teammate Brock Bila.
“I didn’t have to change my strategy very much except the fact that we had to fish very slow,” Heinen said following the qualifier. “Especially with the baits we were throwing. Lots of finesse.”
After placing second in the qualifier, Heinen advanced to the B.A.S.S. Kansas High School State Championship last weekend at Big Hill Reservoir. Again fishing the Ned Rig, Heinen and Bila came in as runners-up to qualify for the Costa Bassmaster High School National Championship this June.
Heinen said he mostly uses the Z-Man TRD but is starting to also use the ZinkerZ.
“What I do is cut the bait directly in half and use either end,” Heinen said. “The bait gets really soft after you catch a few and that’s when the bait is just getting started. The bait couldn’t look or feel any more realistic after that! The more ripped up it is, the better.”
Holscher also uses the Midwest Finesse setup and fishes often with Kehde. He compared fishing with the light setup to holding a pebble in the palm of your hand and having it suddenly disappear — that’s when you have a bite.
Holscher said it’s a more Zen-like approach to fishing than what a lot of tournament anglers use.
“The terminology ‘power-fisherman’ — and I’ve been there, done that back in the late ’80s, early ’90s with tournament fishing Lake of the Ozarks and Truman and all of that — you basically just thrash the water. It’s a different type of deal. I’m blessed to be older and have been doing this for 45 or 50 years, so it really was a joy for Ned and I both to be with Thomas and share some of those little subtleties.”