If you believe spinning rods and light line can’t catch big bass, you are sadly mistaken. A spinning rod has long been referred to as a “fairy wand” in the bass fishing world and has a bad—and false—reputation for only being used to target small fish. Professional angler Matt Lee has made his living fishing competitively the past five years and he’ll be among the first to say he isn’t afraid to target big bass with a spinning rod.
He has the utmost confidence in using his finesse tackle to catch sizable bass and the results prove it. Lee recently set the all-time weight record for smallmouth bass in a Bassmaster tournament when he caught a five fish-limit weighing 27 pounds and 12 ounces; and he caught them all on a spinning rod.
Fishing across the country has taught Lee the intricacies of catching big fish with light line and he recently offered some insight that will make you more confident with a spinning rod.
Big fish fall for small baits
It’s absolutely true a drop shot, shaky head and other finesse presentations typically thrown on a spinning rod catch numbers of small bass, but these presentations are just as likely to catch big bass, too. This is especially accurate if you’re faced with tough fishing conditions or a highly pressured fishery.
“You can absolutely catch a 10-pound bass with a 3-inch worm,” Lee said. “Just think of a big dude heading to pig out at his favorite buffet. Sure he is probably thinking about loading his plate with big steaks or fried chicken, but it’s not like he’ll turn his nose up at a French fry or potato chip! Bass are the same way; if you put a small bait in front of a big fish I promise you they’ll gladly eat it.”
Lots of anglers know a finesse set up is imperative when fishing for smallmouth or spotted bass in clear water, but they fail to recognize its efficacy in other scenarios. Lee relies on his spinning rod setup no matter the species he is fishing for in all kinds of water clarity.
“Light line and a spinning rod is equally effective whether you’re talking about Lake Guntersville, the Sabine River or the St. Lawrence River,” Lee explained. “It doesn’t necessarily matter what the water clarity is. A small bait on light line is less intrusive than a large, bulky bait and will get you more bites in an area if you know there are bass present. It can be a tool for almost any scenario.”
Equipment is important
Using the proper equipment is always important, but the right rod and reel setup becomes more critical when targeting big bass with light line. For an all-purpose finesse fishing setup that’ll handle large fish, Lee suggests a 7-foot, medium-heavy rod with a 2500 to 3500 (mid-sized) spinning reel. The rod needs to have enough tip to not rip a small diameter hook out of a fish’s mouth, but enough backbone to make solid hook sets and long casts.
With your reel, you have to understand and be comfortable with how its drag performs when a big bass makes a strong run. Lee has caught countless fish using his Quantum spinning reels and trusts their drag systems whole-heartedly. Still, after every five to 10 casts he checks to ensure the drag is set to have ample resistance, but is loose enough to feed line to a fish making a hard run. Lee believes having a reel with a smooth drag and spooling it with braided fishing line is paramount.
“If there’s one tip I could give to make you a better angler with a spinning rod it is to use braid for your main line,” Lee said. “Braided line handles big fish better, casts farther, has a lot less line twist on a spinning rod and will save you money. Using braid on your spinning reel is truly a no-brainer, you’ve got to get comfortable with it.”
Lee advises it’s equally necessary to learn a strong knot to connect your braided line to your fluorocarbon leader and practice your knot tying until it’s perfected. Lee relies on one of two knots when tying braid to fluorocarbon: The Alberto knot and the FG knot. Lee insists your fishing line will break at your lure knot long before these leader knots will fail if tied correctly. Once you have the appropriate equipment, you need to practice.
“The only way to gain confidence in your spinning rod setup is to catch as many fish as possible with it,” Lee said. “Whether you are wanting to test your knot-tying ability, how smooth your reel’s drag is or how your rod handles big fish you have to practice; and the best way to practice is by catching fish. Force yourself to use a spinning rod the next time you are out fun fishing and the bass are biting well.”
Lee uses private lakes and days away from competition as “training grounds” when trying to learn a new technique or to gain confidence in new equipment. The next time you are out fishing and the bass are chewing a jig, try throwing a drop shot or a wacky rig. You’ll likely get several bites and have the chance to catch fish on an unfamiliar technique. This helps you gain confidence in these presentations and can add them to your repertoire.
Lee’s go-to finesse set-up
“A 7-foot, 4-inch Quantum Tour KVD Spinning Rod with a 25-size Smoke S3 Spinning Reel is the most-used combo in my boat,” Lee said. “That setup is sensitive enough to feel every bite but has enough backbone to fight and wear down any size bass. I spool my reel with Flash Green 20-pound Seaguar Smackdown Braid for my main line and add 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon as my leader.”
3 finesse baits that catch big bass
While it’s possible to catch a big bass on any finesse lure, experience has given Lee more confidence in three finesse presentations over any other options. Whether there’s money on the line or he’s trying to put a guide client on a big Guntersville bass, theese are his primary choices.
“I have a drop shot rigged up every time my boat hits the water,” Lee said. “I use a 1/4-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten Drop Shot Weight most often and vary between two hooks depending on what kind of cover I’m fishing around. I use a 2/0 Owner Cover Shot hook if I’m fishing around heavy cover and a No. 2 Owner Mosquito Hook when fishing open water. Those two hooks are truly the best drop shot hooks I’ve ever fished with.”
Wacky-rigged finesse worm
Lee’s second confidence bait for big bites when using his spinning tackle is a wacky-rigged finesse worm. Specifically, Lee likes to use a Strike King KVD Fat Baby Finesse Worm and he’ll add a small nail weight to the head of the worm. This is the presentation Lee used this year at Lake Hartwell in the Bassmaster Classic to catch big largemouth around docks on the final day and ultimately finish in 4th place.
A small swimbait like 2.75-inch Strike King Rage Swimmer rigged on an Owner Ultrahead Round Jig Head is Lee’s final pick for a finesse presentation to catch bigger-than-average bass.
“Lots of guys want to throw the big, sexy swimbaits and they forget how effective a small swimmer can be,” Lee said. “I employ a small swimbait anytime I know bass are feeding on small baitfish. It’ll catch aggressive smallmouth, suspended spotted bass and is deadly around schooling fish of any species.”