Small Baits, Bite Detection and the Short Rod Crusade

Ladson, SC – Before and after local fishing forays, circa the 1960s, a cadre of exceptional Midwestern anglers gathered to shoot the breeze down at Ray Fincke’s old Kansas City tackle shop. Fincke’s resembled a lot of other family-owned baitshops of the time—truckloads of lures, rods, livebait and other angling essentials all crammed into a cozy little space. Imagine the good-natured razzing, the exchange of breakthrough angling ideas that must have passed, as Ned Kehde, Chuck Woods, Guido Hibdon, Drew Reese and other architects of Midwest finesse (aka Ned rig fishing) sipped coffee and spent hard-earned dollars on the latest and greatest tackle.

A generation later, the legendary Ned and Drew have been joined by thousands of their closest friends—successful Ned rig fans from all over the planet. To this day, they continue innovating fish-catching products (Reese was co-creator of Z-Man’s celebrated Finesse TRD™TRD TicklerZ™ and Finesse ShroomZ™.) And now, in concert with Z-Man, Reese has perfected Drew’s Ultimate Ned Rig Rods—the first true-to-technique tools built with the highest-grade blanks, components and rod-building wizardry available.

Fist bumps to the original heroes of Midwest finesse style angling—and in celebration of its longtime friendship with these great anglers— Z-Man has merged the past and future of Ned rigging into a singular series of light-line, finesse lure spinning rods. Designed by Reese himself, Drew’s Ultimate Ned Rig Rods merge the original art of Midwest finesse with impeccable rod-building brilliance.

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Two medium-light power / fast action models include a 5’4″ (4- to 8-pound test) and 5’10” (4- to 10-pound test) rod, each epitomizing an emerging trend toward shorter, lighter, ultra-precise spinning rods. The quill-like rods weigh a mere 1.75-ounces and 2.2-ounces, respectively.

“There’s an undeniable joy in fishing shorter, feather-light, super-efficient spinning tackle,” notes Reese, among the first anglers to tap the power ElaZtech® baits for bass. “I think we’re already seeing a renaissance in true light-line, finesse bait style fishing. As fishing pressure intensifies—and folks discover they just want to detect more bites and keep catching fish— this movement will only grow. It’s why, in part, we built these sweet little rods to bring out all the best advantages of Ned rigging for bass and a host of other species.”

Founded on elite-grade carbon fiber blanks, Drew’s Ultimate Ned Rig Rods integrate Toray 12K High Modulus Fibers with a modulus value of 50 million, resulting in superlative tensile strength exceeding 640 Ksi. Skeletal, super lightweight SSR guides with stainless steel frames and double swaged stainless-steel inserts enhance line flow, while bolstering strength and durability. A premium cork Tennessee handle greatly reduces rod weight, increases sensitivity and allows for user-customized reel placement to optimize rod balance.

“Anglers who see a Tennessee handle today might scratch their heads,” admits Reese. “But experiencing a rod’s true performance can’t be fully realized until you’ve found the precise balance point, or fulcrum, between rod and reel. We chose a cork Tennessee handle because it’s many times lighter and ten times more sensitive than traditional reel seats. The rod’s handle allows each angler to maximize comfort and sensitivity by customizing reel placement on the sweet spot. For me, it’s a 2000 size Daiwa, positioned just forward from the handle’s center. Couple strips of electrical tape work nicely, providing a secure, low-profile grip that fits comfortably in your hand.

“In order to achieve the same balance with a 7-foot rod, by contrast, you’d need to extend the butt section by two feet, and that adds extra, unnecessary weight to the rod.”

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Countering inevitable questions about shorter rod lengths in the face of the “longer/better” movement, Reese makes a compelling case for weight, sensitivity and lure control. “These might be the first sub-6-foot spinning rods in a generation,” he notes. “But pick one up and you’ll immediately wonder why you’ve been weighed down by 7-footers for so long.

“Many of these ideas on the merits of shorter, lighter rods came from Ray Fincke, the legendary tackle shop man, who gave us all a local gathering place to exchange ideas and spin yarns,” recalls Reese. “Back in the 1980s, Ray designed two such rods for one of the top rod companies in America. These were brilliant, light line tools for the time, overshadowed today by the hundreds of heavier, longer models. But I never strayed far from Ray’s ideas on rod design, which started me on this quest to build on his ideas and produce a pair of truly exceptional finesse rods.

“The overarching idea is that creating a superior sense of feel is all about rod weight and length. A shorter, super-light blank simply puts you in closer contact with your lure and the fish. It’s an almost intimate connection. Like your hand is in a direct conversation with your lure. It’s right there, and each move of the rodtip transmits straight to the lure and back to your fingertips again. Now reduce the rod’s weight by several ounces and you effectively trim so much unnecessary baggage between your fingertips and the lure.

“Imagine, every little twitch of the rodtip moves the bait a short precise distance. It’s almost a 1-to-1 relationship. Whereas the same maneuvers with longer 7-foot sticks tend to move the lure much greater distances, often to the detriment of a precise presentation. Now add a light, low-stretch braided line to one of these shorter precision rods and you’re suddenly detecting more strikes than you can imagine.

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“Almost everyone who’s sampled these rods says the same thing. Suddenly, they’re feeling everything. They’re immediately detecting exactly what their lure is doing, where it goes and the intensity or hesitancy with which different fish bite.”

On a recent trip to Lake Michigan, Reese caught six bass over 5 pounds and forty over 4 pounds—all on 4-pound test braid, 1/10- and 1/15-ounce Finesse ShroomZ™ jigheads and his favorite TRD series baits. “The rod-line-lure combo allowed easy 40-yard casts, and I never lost a fish. I lent my friend Bill Ward (son of the legendary Virgil Ward) a couple of the rods, and he caught a bunch of lake trout with 3/8-ounce jigs, easily detecting every bite, even in 80 feet of water. Later, at Truman Lake, he outfished his son 7 walleyes to 0 with the rods. When he finally lent one to his son, he quickly detected four strikes in a row. While these rods certainly shine for crappie and walleye, they truly bring out all the best advantages of Ned rigging for bass.”

Reese hints that anglers wielding longer, heavier spinning rods— even with relatively light lines—only detect a fraction of the strikes—especially the subtle inhale-and-spit or ‘soft-mouthing’ variety. “You might sacrifice a few feet in casting distance versus a 7-foot rod, but you’ll offset that with a major increase in accuracy, putting the bait exactly where you want it. And in terms of bite detection, it’s not even a contest.”

Ned rig namesake Ned Kehde, who’s been field testing Drew’s rods for over a year, concurs with his old friend, expressing spontaneous joy over what he calls a renaissance in his finesse fishing endeavors. “As an outdoor writer, after decades of riding along with topnotch tournament anglers, it occurred to me that these rods won’t appeal to the competitive bass crowd. But for everyday folks who simply like to feel every bite and headshake and catch tons of bass or whatever is biting, Drew’s Rods are going to add a wonderful element of joy to their fishing.

“It’s funny, I used to refer to my style of fishing as ‘no-feel,'” Kehde admits. “But Drew’s rods have changed that to feel everything.” (Check out Ned’s in-depth article on the short rod trend at Wired2Fish.com.)

Reese reveals his favorite rod / line / lure combinations:

  • Drew’s 5’4” – 4-pound test Fireline – 1/15-ounce Finesse ShroomZ with Finesse TRD or Finesse ShadZ™; 1/10-ounce Finesse ShroomZ with TRD TicklerZ
  • Drew’s 5’10” – 4-pound test Fireline – 3/16-, ¼- or 3/8-ounce jigs with Finesse ShadZ, Slim SwimZ™, Jerk ShadZ™

Melding cutting-edge rod crafting with whispers of retro finesse, each element of Drew’s Ultimate Ned Rig Rods has been carefully customized and perfected by Reese, with extensive field testing by Ned Kehde himself. The first true-to-technique rod series designed precisely for light lures and lines, fine-wire hooks and exceptional bite detection, Drew’s rods were built to skyrocket daily catch-rates into the hundreds.

Available in August, Drew’s Ultimate Ned Rig Rods feature a two-year limited warranty, MSRP $169.99 (5’4″) and $179.99 (5’10”). www.zmanfishing.com.

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About Z-Man Fishing Products

A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide.

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