Ned Kehde isn’t the kind of fisherman who is willing to sling an over-sized bass lure all day, hoping to catch three or four keepers.
He is fishing for bites. Lots of bites.
In his world, a 6-inch bass is equal to a 6-pound bass. They’re both one more punch on his clicker that he uses to count his catch.
“For me, bass fishing is a numbers game,” said Kehde, 74, as he cast a finesse bait to a rocky bank on a private lake in the Kansas City area. “I would get bored looking for just a few bites a day.
“I can’t remember the last time I used a baitcaster. I use a spinning rod and finesse baits every time I’m out.”
To many, Kehde is the king of finesse. Since he started extolling the virtues of using small plastic baits on small, bright-colored mushroom jig heads, he has converted hundreds of fishermen to finesse fishing.
Kehde writes a blog for In-Fisherman magazine’s website, and encourages other fishermen to exchange results of their finesse methods with him via email. He then forwards those accounts to 177 fishermen on his list.
Many do well … but few can compare with the master.
Several years ago, he established the “101 Bass Club.” Membership requirements are simple. You and a fishing partner catch and release 101 bass in four hours and you’re in.
Twenty-five bass an hour? You’re joking, right?
No, Kehde is dead serious.
He and others in his network have accomplished the task several times in recent years. He looks back on Feb. 9, 2012, as his benchmark moment. Fishing with his cousin, Rick Hebenstreit of Shawnee, the two fishermen teamed to catch 120 bass in four hours.
“I imagine most fishermen don’t believe us,” said Kehde, who lives in Lawrence. “But it happens.”
Kehde’s clicker was getting plenty of use on a recent blustery morning. Fishing the same lake where he and I teamed to catch 101 bass almost to the day a year ago, he again found the bass to be active.
He used a familiar setup: a Shakespeare Synergy spinning rod and an old Garcia Cardinal Four spinning reel — bargain-basement stuff.
His reel was spooled with 6-pound test braided line and a 6-pound test fluorocarbon leader. Attached to that light line was a red one-sixteenth-ounce Gopher mushroom jig head and a Z-Man Finesse ShadZ baitfish imitation.
It didn’t look too impressive … to many fishermen anyway. To the fish, it must have looked extremely appetizing.
As we worked a rocky bank with deep water nearby, Kehde began crawling his bait along the bottom and felt some weight. He immediately set the hook, and a bass drew the line tight. The fish shot to the surface and jumped, but it wasn’t long before it was in the boat.
Game on. For the next several hours, Kehde and I caught a combination of bass and trout at an impressive rate. By the time we were done, we had caught and released 103 fish — 75 bass, 25 trout, and a walleye, a crappie and a bluegill.
Score another impressive victory for finesse baits.
Kehde uses a wide range of small plastic baits in the course of a week’s time — Z-Man baits such as ZinkerZs that he cuts in half and uses on a light jig head, Hula Sticks, Finesse ShadZs, Finesse WormZs, and GrubZs, Gene Larew Company’s Baby Hoodaddies and Strike King’s Bitsy Tubes. His methods have become so well-known that the term “Ned Rig” has become a staple at many area waters.
He uses several types of retrieves, depending on the mood of the fish. When the water is warm and the bass are active, he said, the lure seldom touches the bottom. He retrieves his offering with a shake-and-glide motion. He calls it “no-feel” fishing because he seldom feels the bait on the end of his line…until the fish strikes.
Today, Kehde makes his casts mostly on small public lakes in northeastern Kansas. But he has followed a winding — and fascinating — path to reach this point. He has been bass fishing for 67 years, getting his start by tagging along with his father and uncle on trips to Cole Camp Creek. He went on to guide at Lake of the Ozarks out of Carrington’s Two Waters Resort at the big lake. One of the other guides at the resort? The legendary Guido Hibdon.
“Guido Hibdon and (the late) Harold Ensley were my first teachers,” Kehde said. “They showed me that you didn’t need a baitcaster and a big bait to catch bass.”