There is a stigma attached to finesse fishing that the style is best for catching numbers of fish and that it lacks the ability to catch big bass. For some professional anglers like John Murray, it can be a way to consistently catch big bass by changing your approach. Murray is known for his prowess with finesse techniques after dominating the West Coast for decades with light line in deep water before taking his talents to the national tours. His confidence and success with finesse fishing are well noted and have been developed through years of experience with the style.
A Time and Place for Finesse Fishing
Finesse fishing is well suited for tough fishing and both the extreme cold and hot water periods of the year. “Finesse in deep water will always be the way to go in the dead of winter and again in the middle of summer, but there are other times when it works great too. Indeed I finesse fish throughout the entire year and even when the fish are in the heart of the spawning period if I feel that the biggest fish are done spawning or not spawning yet,” adds Murray.
Retrieve Speed, Size and Depth
According to Murray there are three major adjustments that can be made to target bigger fish in deep water when finesse fishing to avoid catching smaller bass; they are retrieve speed, bait size and the depth range you are targeting.
► Retrieve Speed – “Bigger fish are lazy; sometimes you really have to soak your bait for them to want it. If you look at the ‘big bass guys’ that are the trophy hunters in California, they often deadstick baits and fish very, very slowly,” says Murray. He has taken this approach and applied it to all his finesse fishing – when catching smaller fish, slow down to increase your chances of catching bigger than average bass.
► Depth – Fish tend to group by size and Murray believes that if you go a little deeper you will increase your odds at catching bigger fish. “A lot of guys get wrapped up in catching two and three pound fish if they are catching a bunch of them, but if they would just go a little bit deeper they may catch bigger ones. If I am catching smaller fish while finesse fishing, or really with any approach, I will try to back out and get just a little bit deeper,” shares Murray.
► Bait Size – Finesse fishing is characterized by downsized lures, but even a slight change in size can increase your chances of catching bigger fish. “When I am dropshotting, I may switch from a four inch worm to a six inch worm if I want to target bigger fish. You still get the benefits of finesse but the bigger bait size may prevent some of the little ones from biting,” explains the Arizona pro.
There are many ways to finesse fish in deep water and multiple techniques that will work, but John Murray can narrow it down to two different approaches – a dropshot and a finesse jig. Both of these techniques cover all his needs for targeting big fish. “The dropshot is a standby for finesse fishing and will definitely catch big fish. My number one bait is a worm I designed for Gene Larew called a Tattle Tail worm, it’s 6 inches long and works great for catching bigger bass with a drop-shot. The other is a Roboworm straight tail, that catches them anywhere,” adds Murray. He prefers a teardrop- shaped tungsten dropshot weight made by River2Sea. “I’ll use 1/4oz almost all of the time but will go heavier if I really need to fish very deep,” shares Murray.
When fishing a finesse jig, Murray will downsize to a 1/4oz or 3/8oz River2Sea football head. “That smaller profile is really important anytime there is a crawfish hatch. You still get the bulky look but you can downsize your line and trailer,” says Murray.
Most bass anglers approach finesse fishing with the thoughts of using very light line and light rods with spinning tackle. That is partially true as light line is usually necessary for fishing lighter baits, but pro John Murray uses a heavier rod than many anglers for his deep water dropshotting for bigger fish. “I like a 7’ MH Lew’s Speed Stick rod with a Lew’s Team Gold Carbon spinning reel. The heavier rod let’s me have more backbone and allows me get a better hookset,” shares Murray.
His rod and reel setup for targeting bigger fish with a finesse jig is a 7’4” MH Lew’s Speed Stick Series casting rod and a Lew’s Team Pro Speed Spool casting reel.
Murray’s line choice is similar for both the dropshot and football jig; he uses 6 to 8lb test Toray fluorocarbon for the dropshot spinning setup and 8-10lb test for the baitcasting rod for his finesse football jig.
Hookset and Fighting Big Fish
Fighting big bass on light line requires extra caution and patience. “I’m a little different than most guys because I always have my drag tightened all the way down for finesse fishing until I set the hook. Once I get a good hook in the fish, I back off on the drag and let the fish run and get tired,” adds the Phoenix-based pro. He went on to explain that when you are fishing deep in open water there is little chance of the fish wrapping around cover.
What to Look For
The great thing about finesse fishing is that it will work equally well in all areas of the water column and throughout the different seasons, but it excels in deeper water. John Murray has two main keys for determining how deep to start – baitfish activity and the season. “The best thing you can do is to start looking for baitfish activity on your electronics when you start the day, even as you are idling out of the marina. If you notice the baitfish at a certain level, you can have a great starting depth range for your day,” shares Murray.
The season also plays a big role, especially when fishing deep structure. “I have found that even in totally opposite seasons like summer and winter, the big fish will be in the same general areas. The only difference is that in the summer they seem to be on tops of areas like humps, reefs and rocks and in the winter the bigger ones will be on the sides and into the ditches around those areas and it is all about where the baitfish tend to be during that season,” believes Murray.
Finesse fishing for big bass may sound like a contradiction, but many pros have come to realize that the fishing style works well for all bass, regardless of size. Arizona’s John Murray has made a living with finesse techniques over the past 30 years and believes that it is an underutilized approach for targeting bigger bass. By slowing down, adjusting your depth and modifying your bait size you can increase your chances of catching big bass with deep water finesse techniques.