Cold Water Delicacy Q&A with Rig Master Ned
As you read this, huddled around the warm glow of your computer screen, Ned Kehde is almost certainly in the water. As long as one of his dozen or so local community reservoirs near Kansas City remains ice-free, Ned will be afloat, casting his fine little jigs and hooking staggering amounts of coldwater bass.
“For years, our goal was to catch 101 bass in a four-hour trip,” Ned acknowledges. “These days, especially on cold winter outings, we make do with fishing for two to three hours between 11 am and 3 pm. On average we still catch about ten bass an hour, just enough mouthfuls to keep this old ol’ man warm.”
Now almost 83 years old, Ned still fishes more than most, adding hundreds of clicks to his worn-out fish counter. Recently, between trips, we caught up with our friend, the legendary Ned Kehde, to discuss business and find out his latest tricks. As he will kindly tell you, Anyone can catch largemouth bass with the delicacy of the Midwest. . .
Where are you fishing these days and what is happening in these fisheries?
Kehde: Today, we are targeting our many community reservoirs, catching largemouth bass in shallow water flats endowed with coon tail and curl leaf algae. Curlyleaf, or crispus, is a winter-hardy aquatic plant that grows and produces foliage and oxygen during the cold months. Finding any of these species can be a gold mine for winter bass, especially while other anglers target submerged brush piles and offshore structures. Contrary to the notion that cold water bass stick to deep water, we continue to catch bass in 5 to 10 foot depths all winter long.
Any difference between the lures you cast now and the ones in the warmer months?
During the winter, we probably rely on insoles that are lighter than usual. So we handle many 1/32, 1/20, 1/16 and 1/15 ounce jigs, mostly OG™ Mushrooms and Finesse ShroomZ™.
Attached to these little jigs, which feature #4 lightweight wire hooks, favorite winter baits are Z-Man® Finesse ShadZ™, Finesse TRDs™ and TRD MinnowZ™. I usually race five rigged rods, the other two often rigged to a shortened (2.5”) TRD BugZ™, TRD TicklerZ™ or ZinkerZ™.
Many people find these tiny, lightweight heads and #4 hooks unacceptably weak for bass, but we usually catch 3, 4, and occasionally 5 and 6 pound bass with these #4 hooks with no problem. Hook sets are nice and easy, with little force required to plant them firmly in a bass’s jaw. Also, these little hooks slide through and over vegetation and wood decking, rarely snagging; remember, we are often fishing in and amongst the green stuff, and with an exposed hook, no less.
Any tricks or adjustments you are doing to your baits?
It’s funny that you should ask. I am a big fan of ElaZtech® salty baits and their propensity to become increasingly attractive to bass as they “age”. As a bait catches more fish and spends more time submerged, some of the salt seeps out of its body, particularly with baits like the TRD, ZinkerZ or Delicacy WormZ™. Some anglers pre-soak their baits before hitting them in the water to speed up the aging process. Or you can stretch them outward, which instantly throws out some salt.
Other anglers I know like to place their baits under the truck’s windshield as they drive to the lake to soften them up even more than usual (ElaZtech is already softer than traditional PVC plastics).
As baits age they become more and more buoyant (an aged ZinkerZ will actually float a 1/32 ounce jig, so we often go down to a 1/16 or 1/20 ounce jig head) . Other anglers I know have noted that aged and salt-soaked ElaZtech baits develop a slimy outer texture, which they believe bass find more palatable.
In winter anyway, these aged baits really shine because the increased buoyancy means a reduced sink rate and increased float action on vegetation, hanging right in the strike zone while retrieving. These factors really seem to encourage bass with low metabolic rates to gobble up our aged baits.
How are you retrieving your fine baits when the water is cold?
Just yesterday, we had 45 degree water and wind gusts to almost 40 mph. Sometimes, you couldn’t even feel the jig. On days like this, especially when the hands get cold, we do a lot of ‘walking’, throwing the jig behind the boat and just moving slowly with the trolling motor. We also employ shake and drag recovery. Then, when our baits hit a sweet spot, we often stop shaking the bait and just stick it in place, for at least several seconds (sometimes much longer). Given the floating bait’s ability to stand upright and mimic a live invertebrate, it can almost be fished like live bait.
The lightweight jighead and floating bait also provide a great advantage when fishing around vegetation. That buoyancy factor allows us to do what we call ‘coon tail polishing’, simply sweeping the bait over the tops of plants, out of obstacle territory and yet highly visible to bass.
Beyond some of your traditional favorites like pumpkin green, what other colors are trending?
Well, I’ve been a redhead devotee for a long time. Red works everywhere.
More recently I’ve been using a lot of sky blue jigheads, which I often hand paint with a special shade of nail polish. This eye-catching shade of blue almost exactly replicates the iridescent blue gills of the green sunfish, a key forage for bass.
I combine red and blue jigheads with many different colors of bait. Lately I’ve been trapping the bass in a Purple Death pattern TRD TicklerZ. The Hot Snakes pattern has also been productive; that’s new to me, sort of an alternative to my old trusty Coppertreuse.
Heard a rumor that you might be trying out some new finesse rods.
I can’t tell you how excited I am about these prototype spinning rods, designed by my friend and Midwestern finesse guru, Drew Reese. While the rest of the fishing world continues to fish rods in the 7 foot range, these rods reach 5’4″ and 5’10”. They are the lightest and most responsive rods I have fished since I weighed in on the classic G Loomis jig rods designed by Ray Fincke, owner of a renowned tackle shop in Rosedale, Kansas.
The 5’4” is also proving to be a fantastic fishing rod, especially with the new Micro Finesse Baits. We will be casting these microbaits a lot more, once the water temperatures drop to 40 degrees.
When you fish as often as we do, it’s a gift to cast with something light enough to eliminate fatigue. Paired with the 4-pound Berkley Fireline test and a 5-foot fluorocarbon leader, these compact, lightweight clubs are perfectly suited for Midwest finesse retrieves such as swimming, sliding, and jerking. We are also catching a lot of fish now by working the bait right under the boat. These shorter rods give us more vertical control and a super direct connection between your hands and the lure. They also greatly improve presentation and bite detection in the wind.
Drew and I think devotees of the Midwestern finesse will really love these rods. Although it will be a few months before people can get theirs. Hopefully just in time for spring!
About Z-Man Fishing Products: A dynamic company based in Charleston, South Carolina, Z-Man Fishing Products has been fusing cutting-edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been one of 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 innovator of 10X Tough ElaZtech soft baits, quickly becoming the most sought after baits in freshwater and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest growing lure brands in the world.