Travis Manson knows his strengths and his weaknesses. That self awareness is important as an angler. It serves each of us well in knowing what we need to improve on, and clues us in on what we should rely on when we’re in a situation where we need to get a bite. For Manson, his strength is finesse fishing.
“Some guys don’t know how to deal with a spinning rod in their hands,” said Manson. “Some guys don’t know where to start when it comes to finesse.”
Thus we thought it would be a good idea to have Manson help us shine a little light on the path for anglers who are either new to finesse fishing or would like to hone their skills in this particular area. But there are so many options and little nuances in the finesse fishing world. So to try to narrow it down to a few simple deals, we challenged Manson to give us his three must have finesse fishing setups. Here they are...
When it comes to the rod selection for a finesse swimbait, Manon recommends, “Anything over 7’ in medium light. The longer the better.”
If guys are comfortable throwing a 7’ 10” spinning rod for instance, Manson says go for it.
“That’s going to help you get a lot more distance on your cast.”
But if all you have is something close to the 7-foot range, Manson feels confident you can make that work as well. But he is particular when it comes to line size.
“I like the lightest braid possible, 5- pound test if you can find it, on a 6- to 8- pound test fluorocarbon leader, with about 6- to 8- feet of leader.
For Manson, there are lots of great options when it comes to picking out which swimbait to go with. He mentioned the Megabass Hazedong, the Slim SwimZ by Z-Man and Megabass’s Spark Shad.
“You also can’t go wrong with a little 2.8 Keitech. That’s going to allow you to swim it through the water column. I also do a lot drifting with a 2.8. Just basically making a long cast and letting the wind take us over some of these flats and areas that these fish are holding.”
Manson has a buddy make his finesse swimbait jigheads for him, so he doesn’t have a particular name brand that he prefers. But he likes ones with screw locks as the bait keeper.
“A screwlock is going to help preserve that plastic so you can get multiple fish catches out of one bait. In a pinch I’ll use the Z-Man Ned Lockz as a jighead for my swimbaits.”
Manson likes to vary the size jighead he’ll use based on the amount of wind or the depth he’s wanting to fish. He may go as low as 1/16- ounce and tries not to go above 1/4- ounce.
“Most common is going to be 3/16ths. And 1/8th would have to be a close second to the 3/16ths.”
Moving to a dropshot, Manson prefers a medium light rod again in the 6’ 10” to 7’ 3” range, if he’s dropping the bait straight down on fish.
“Now if I’m casting a dropshot with a finesse bait, I would prefer to have a 7’ medium in my hands. I just feel like it has a little better backbone for those longer casts and getting the hookset with a dropshot.”
The leader is roughly the same for a dropshot as it is for the finesse swimbait for Manson. And he again likes 6- to 8- feet of fluorocarbon leader.
“Right now my goto hook is a Gamakatsu Drop/Split Shot hook in size 1 of the most part.”
The lure selection depends heavily on the type of bait Manson is fishing around, since different soft plastics are designed to mimic different baitfish and other forage.
“If I had to come up with one from a finesse standpoint, I’d go with some type of 3-inch stick bait, like a Yamamoto 3-inch Senko. I think there’s just something about a stick bait. Obviously fish love it. For some reason they’re really effective.”
For this technique, Manson prefers a 7’ or bigger, medium action rod. And he’s going to keep his braided mainline relatively small still, going with 8- to 10- pound test.
“I do like to step it up a little bit with my leader. I might go 8 to 10 depending on the situation, just because a lot of times I’m fishing that tube on the bottom. So I’m in a lot of junk, zebra muscles, shell beds, rocks.”
Manson explains that a lot of times the bites on a tube are pretty aggressive, and he tends to hit the fish pretty hard on the hookset. Having that slightly larger line helps eliminate lost fish do to little nicks in his line.
Manson earlier mentioned sometimes fishing the finesse swimbait right on the bottom, dragging it similarly to how he would a tube. So when does he go with the tube versus the swimbait?
“When I’m trying to cover a lot of water on the bottom, I’m going to go with the tube. That’s just going to allow me to really affectively move through the area and get a good feel for what’s on the bottom.”
With the tube, Manson is able to determine what the bottom contour is like. If there’s sparse grass, clean spots or perhaps a good bit of algae.
“We get a lot of algae up here, and if you’re around that kind of stuff, your best bet is to leave the area and try to find some good clean bottom. And a tube is going to help you determine whether or not you’re around the right type of structure to be fishing.”
These three finesse techniques are a great starting point for any angler looking to expand his or her finesse fishing repertoire. If you’re just starting out, you can keep it pretty simple as all three of these techniques could be fished on the same setup pretty efficiently.
But if you’ve been at the finesse fishing game for a while, pay attention the subtle little changes to the gear Manson will use moving from one technique to the next. And notice to overall attention Manson gives to using small, lightweight baits. The lighter the presentation, typically the more realistic it is in the water. And when fishing finesse, that realism is often the key to getting bit in high pressure, high visibility situations.