The History and Evolution of the “Tennessee Handle” for Bass Fishing Rods
Short spinning rods played a vital role in the development of Midwestern finesse bass fishing from the start.
Much of the genesis of this excellent fishing method and tools began at Ray Fincke’s tackle store on Southwest Boulevard in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, in the 1960s.
At the age of 16, Ray inherited the store when his father, Louis, passed away suddenly in 1952. The hardware store started in the 1930s in his father’s hardware store office and was primarily geared towards fly fishermen.
In 1960, a fortuitous event occurred which has a magnificent effect on the fishing world for the next 61 years, and it is likely to continue for many years to come.
It all started when Ray Fincke built and moved into a house next door to Drew Reese’s family. Additionally, Drew’s dad owned a car dealership on Southwest Boulevard near Ray’s hardware store, and Ray’s wife worked for Drew’s dad at the car dealership. By this time, Drew was 13 and was happily suffering from fishing fever, and his father encouraged him to talk to Ray about fishing. After this initial conversation, Ray and Drew became staunch friends, and at the age of 13, Drew began to ride flies for the hardware store. Throughout his high school years and until he graduated from the University of Kansas in 1969, Drew worked part-time in the Fincke store.
From Ray, Drew learned a lot about the art and some of the science of making fishing rods, especially fishing rods. This, of course, happened many years before casting rods began to play a significant role in the repertoire of the vast majority of black bass anglers in the United States and Canada.
Drew’s first fishing trip with Ray was in 1961. Ray took Drew and his father to fish for rainbow trout at the Lake Tanyecomo Tailrace, below the Table Rock Lake Dam. Ray provided them with two very inexpensive buggy-whip spinning rods and Compac spinning reels that were wound with a four pound test monofilament line. On each of the lines, Ray affixed a split shot and a woolly worm fly that Drew had created. To their delight and amazement, Drew and his father caught over 100 trout, and Drew’s lifelong passion for finesse fishing was ignited. Then, 10 years later, he used his Midwestern finesse tactics to compete in the inaugural BASS Master Classic in Lake Mead, Nevada, where he finished in seventh place, using a six-pound test line.
As the 1960s unfolded, the customer base for the Ray tackle store grew and became a gathering place for all manner of anglers. Monday night was a quasi-bass club before the advent of bass clubs and organizations like the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society. This is where the great and late Chuck Woods, who created the Beetle, Beetle Spin, and Puddle Jumper, often played with decoys and tried to make new ones. And Ray started to create a line of rods and sell gear for black bass anglers.
Besides Drew Reese, all of these activities in Ray’s shop in the 1960s also caught the eye of another high school and college student. It was Dwight Keefer, who ultimately used one of Fincke’s rods and some of Woods’ lures to win the World Series of Sport Fishing in Long Lake, Wisconsin, in 1967. Keefer also competed in the BASS Master Classic at Percy Priest Reservoir, Tennessee, in 1972.
From the 1950s until his death on March 21, 2011, Ray Fincke built and repaired dozens of casting, fly and casting rods for anglers. He was regularly praised for his genius in rebuilding or restoring bamboo fly rods. His most famous creation was a 5ft 4in fine casting rod which he called the Stinger. It was made from two blanks. One was a 19 inch long fiberglass blank. The other was an ultralight graphite blank four feet six inches long. To lengthen the rod and add more power to the butt section, Fincke slipped the 19 inch piece of the fiberglass blank over the graphite blank and firmly glued the blanks together, then he used some wire. packaging for decoratively covering the union of the two blanks. . The butt of the cane had a nine inch cork handle. This rod featured five stainless steel guides: a # 25, # 16, # 12, and # 10. The tip was a No. 8 Carboloy.
Ultimately, Fincke’s influence on finesse fishing spread across the country when he helped Gary Loomis design the 5ft, 4in, and 5ft 10 Classic Spin Jig rods. inches in 1981 and 1982. In essence, these two rods were similar to Fincke’s Stinger. They became the G. Loomis SJ 6400 and SJ 700 rods, which were described as possessing extra-fast action with magnum-light rod power. They were ideal canes for wielding little marabouts or hair jigs, beetles, beetles and worms.
Drew Reese married the SJ 6400 and SJ 700 in 1982, and over the course of his many years of using these rods he has become one of the world’s leading practitioners of Midwestern finesse fishing, qu ‘he prefers to call light angling.
Today Reese, who is 74, lives in rural northeast Kansas near the town of Rantoul. And except during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, he spent much of his days hunting smallmouth bass that live in Lake of the Woods in Ontario, Canada, Lake Erie and Lake Bull. Shoals in Arkansas. Since 2011, he has been instrumental in persuading Z-Man Fishing Products to manufacture a jig head and several soft plastic baits for Midwest finesse applications.
After Gary Loomis sold his company to Shimano in 1995, the availability of the SJ 6400 and SJ 700 rod blanks gradually ended. But it wasn’t until the spring of 2021 that Drew started searching the internet in hopes of finding similar rod blanks. But because the modern fishing world is in love (for some unknown or obscure reason) with long rods, it was a chore to find a white less than 6 feet long.