Midwest Finesse: Another Z-Man Saga From Canada
February 01, 2014
Since 2011, we have been chronicling the piscatorial endeavors of a veteran Midwest finesse angler, who spends his late springs and entire summers plying some of the oligotrophic waterways of Ontario.
In an Oct. 2, 2011, blog entitled "Finesse Tactics for Smallmouth Bass," we explained that he was afloat 67 times in chase of Ontario's smallmouth bass, and he caught 2,353 of them. According to his logs, more than 90 percent of them were inveigled by Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ, 3 ¾-inch StreakZ, and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ, which he affixed to a homemade mushroom-style jig. He used five sizes of jigs: 1/32-ounce, 1/16-ounce, 1/8-ounce, 3/16-ounce and 1/4-ounce. The size that he employed depended on the depth he was probing and the velocity of the wind. Besides the smallmouth bass, he tangled with significant numbers of crappie, lake trout, northern pike, and walleye, as well as an occasional muskellunge.
Then on April 4, 2013, we posted a blog entitled "Hula StickZ, Finesse ShadZ and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ in Canadian Waterways; an Update." In this blog we dissected his 2012 Midwest finesse outings in Ontario, where he fished 72 times and caught 3,247 smallmouth bass, which was an average of 45 smallmouth bass per outing and 6.9 per hour, and many of the minutes that he was afloat were encompassed with inadvertent donnybrooks with scores of northern pike, walleye and an intermittent muskellunge. Before mid-June, the bulk of those smallmouth bass were caught on a 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ, which he made by cutting a five-inch ZinkerZ in half. Then from mid-June to mid-September, the bulk of his bass were caught on Z-Man's Hula StickZ. In 2012, he created another series of mushroom-style jigs. When he was plying lairs in six feet or less of water, he rigged the Hula StickZ and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ with a1/15-ounce (1.88 grams) mushroom-style jig. If the wind blew, he would often opt for one of his home-crafted 1/10-ounce (2.8 grams) mushroom-style jigs, and he could also probe depths of 22 feet of water with this jig. As his summer of 2012 came to an end in Ontario, he was on the verge of calling the Hula StickZ a magic bait, and he was eager to see if it would maintain its magic throughout the late spring and summer of 2013.
In both of those blogs, we provided details about the rod, reel, line, and leader that he uses, as well as some information about locations and presentations that he employs.
Before the spring of 2011, he had never affixed a Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ, Hula StickZ, 3 ¾-inch StreakZ or 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ to a jig, but throughout 64 outings in Ontario during 2013, they were the only baits he used.
Throughout the last weeks of spring and the summer of 2013, he occasionally filed reports with the Finesse News Network. Here are the edited renditions of his reports from Ontario:
I have made it to Canada and all is well. It was pouring rain and in the upper 40s when I arrived. It was in the upper 30s when I woke up.
I have always wanted to fish at ice out and this is as close as I will get because the cabin is not winterized. The water temperature is 45 degrees. The lake trout are up shallow and feeding on hellgrammites and smelt.
The Z-Man lure devotees around here are really excited. They have been pounding the trout and walleye on the 3.75-inch StreakZ. There are some great pictures of walleye up to 12 ½ pounds and lake trout up to 16 pounds that were caught under the ice on the StreakZ. And the great winter fishing has carried over into May.
So, I will be venturing out today for a while.
After a few days of crappie, lake trout, and walleye fishing, I decided to try the smallmouth. My expectations were less than zero. The water temperature at the cabin was 42 degrees. We had an east wind at 7 to15 mph, and the sky was covered solidly with clouds. I didn't leave the dock until 2 p.m.
I went to a back bay area and the surface temperature was a balmy 51 degrees. My guess is that down a couple of feet it was five degrees less. I do not know the best fishing times but on the second cast I got a beautiful three-pound, 14-ounce smallmouth on a ZinkerZ spin. At the end of 2 ½ hours, the total was 11 smallmouth (all over 2 ½ pounds and five weighed more than three pounds), three northern pike, and two walleye that weighed 4 ½ and 5 ½ pounds. Most of the strikes were ferocious. The Finesse ShadZ and spinnerless 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ were not effective.
It has been an interesting week. We are starting to see some 60-degree water temperature, and the fish are responding well. I caught 407 smallmouth bass for the week, and I lost one day on a crappie trip. My two partners were like kids in a candy store when we found hundreds of crappie in one to three feet of water while we were looking for smallmouth bass spawning beds.
The last two inches of the Hula StickZ in the shiner hue on a 1/15-ounce jig was a deadly crappie bait.
That day I only caught nine smallmouth bass. You can say I caught about 400 bass in six days, which is just short of 70 per day.
So far, I have discovered these three trends:
First, the ZinkerZ spin is deadly early in the day and on cloudy days. For instance, I fished in the back seat of the boat at a friend's club tournament, and my friend was fishing the plain 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ-and-jig combo. It was a cloudy, cool day, and I caught four of the five biggest bass by using the ZinkerZ spin. That is tough to do, because he is an excellent jig angler, and it is even tougher to do when he is running the boat and getting the first casts.
The second trend is the effectiveness of the California Craw hue of the Hula StickZ and ZinkerZ on sunny days. It outshines the green-pumpkin hue by a significant margin.
The third trend revolves around our three new jigs that we made with bait keepers. The 1/10-ounce jig is deadly right now. The fish are in four to eight feet of water, and the1/7-ounce jig seems to be too heavy for some reason. The 1/15-ounce jig doesn't stay close enough to the bottom on breezy days, and when the smallmouth bass are aggressive and reacting to a quickly dropping and moving bait as they have been this week, the 1/15-ounce jig is too light. If we use the 1/15-ouncer, it takes too much time to get it along the bottom, and thus diminishing returns set in, which adversely affects the number of smallmouth bass we can catch in an hour.
The little bait keeper on these jigs is so much easier than glue, and it allows the Hula StickZ and ZinkerZ to catch 30 or more fish before they wear down and start slipping.
The most incredible part is the size of the fish. As you know a 15-pound daily weight here will keep you in the money if you were a tournament angler. On one of my 100 smallmouth bass days, 34 of them weighed more than three pounds. It was like being back on Lake Erie. Ninety percent of those fish were on the Hula StickZ.
Bill arrives Tuesday so we will be able to do some serious comparisons of baits.
A very quick note from Canada. I am very tired. We had a 200 smallmouth bass outing today. Before 2012, we had never done that in the previous seven years that Bill has been up here fishing with me. Last year we did it twice, and this is our first full day, and we did it already.
From 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Bill, who was in the back of the boat, kicked my butt by using the ZinkerZ spin. I was humiliated. During the next two hours, our catch rates evened out after I began using the Hula StickZ in the shiner hue.
After lunch, I used the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ, and it dominated the ZinkerZ spin. Eventually Bill put on a green-pumpkin Hula StickZ, and it was as effective as the 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ, In fact, by the end of the afternoon, the Hula StickZ might have outperformed my ZinkerZ combo.
The 1/10 ounce jig was the best, but when the wind laid down later in the day, the 1/15-ounce jig did really well.
Bill and I fished six days and caught 897 smallmouth bass. It is by far our best year ever.
I will be heading home soon to pick up my wife and some more Z-Man baits. In about a week, we will be driving back to Canada.
My wife just took a photograph of a four-pound, 12-ounce smallmouth bass that I caught on a California Craw Hula StickZ. If my calculations are right that is a 19-year-old warrior. It was a brute to handle. I doubt that I will ever make the five-pound mark in Canada; they are beyond rare around here, but that was pretty damn close.
It has been a very strange year here, and all that has transpired is too much for me to type. But here are two of the highlights:
(1) The prototype 2 3/4-inch ZinkerZ has just been awesome.
(2) The 1/10-ounce jighead has worked extremely well. The smallmouth bass can engulf it easily. It doesn't readily become snagged in the rocks. And it can be fished out into 10 feet of water unless the wind howls as it did today.
As for the wind, my old bones do not take the pounding so well anymore.
I will be taking my wife back home next week. I will be home for a week, and then I will return to Canada for several more weeks of smallmouth bass fishing.
Daniel and Jonathan arrived here from South Carolina yesterday, and today they fished.
They work for Z-Man, and it is the first time that have fished for smallmouth bass in Ontario.
I fished with Jonathan, and Daniel fished with Bill and Ken. We started fishing at 9:30 a.m. for walleye, and we used the Finesse ShadZ. By 10:30 a.m. we had our fill of walleye fishing, and we kept a few for a shore lunch. Shore lunch was finished at noon and everyone was impressed and stuffed.
After lunch, we went smallmouth bass fishing. Jonathan had never fished with the Hula StickZ or the 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ. We fished exactly four hours and we both caught 51 smallmouth bass, and several of those 102 smallmouth bass were three-pounders.
The threesome of Daniel, Bill, and Ken caught more than 80 smallmouth bass in four hours on the Hula StickZ and 2½-inch ZinkerZ. Several of their smallmouth bass were approaching three-pounds.
Everyone was impressed with the effectiveness of the Hula StickZ and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ.
Here's a little update: Jonathan and Daniel may have hit the best two days of smallmouth fishing that I have ever seen around here. Jonathan caught 186 smallmouth bass in two days of smallmouth fishing, and I am sure Daniel even caught more, but he did not count his catch. They both caught smallmouth that weighed more than four pounds, as well as scores that weighed more than three pounds.
Daniel tried several other Z-Man baits, and he caught a few fish on them, but he quickly noted that the Hula StickZ and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ were the most productive by a huge margin.
I will be heading home on Sept. 10, and I will send a review of this spring and summer's fishing around the end of the month.
Here's a synopsis of my days in Canada.
Spring arrived late, and ice covered the lakes into May. I also arrived five days later than I did in 2012 and found the surface temperature to be 40.4 degrees. But this cold water allowed me to catch large lake trout in five to 10 feet of water on the Finesse Shad Z. The bad news was the smallmouth bass fishing was worse than terrible until about June 3. Last year the smallmouth bass fishing was excellent when I arrived on May 17.
The ice went out on April 7 last year, and I am sure that made a difference. In fact, I fished for smallmouth bass 72 times in 2012, and that was the most that I have ever been able to fish for them in all of my many years of coming to Canada. What's more, all of that time on the water allowed me to catch 3,247 smallmouth bass in 2012.
In contrast to 2012, I fished for smallmouth bass 64 times in2013, and I caught 3,231 smallmouth bass, which is only 16 fewer smallmouth bass than I caught in 2012. Thus, I caught an average of 50.5 smallmouth per day compared to 45.1 per day last year. Traditionally, each smallmouth bass outing encompasses 7 ½ to 8 hours, and one hour is consumed with traveling from one spot to another, which significantly reduces my fishing time. I also lose some time fishing for walleye when I cross paths with them via my sonars while I am fishing for smallmouth bass. Some days I also spend a lot of time dealing with the northern pike that I inadvertently catch.
I also have a new issue that I relate directly to the effectiveness of Z-Man's Hula StickZ and 2 ½-inches ZinkerZ, and it is a pain-ridden one. Across the years, I have developed partial tears in both of my rotator cuffs. Now I am finding that catching so many fish on a daily basis causes a lot of pain in my shoulders and makes for troublesome sleeping. Therefore, I had several outings this year when I quit fishing after I landed 100 smallmouth bass within four or five hours of fishing. In years past, if I was on a good bite, I might fish nine hours or more. Nowadays, my shoulder pain prevents me from tangling with smallmouth bass at a hand-over-fist pace for nine hours or more. It is interesting in that on days when the bite is slower I find I can fish longer. I guess that is the price you pay for too many hook sets during the last 60 years.
My guess is that I averaged less than six hours per outing this year. That works out to about 8.5 smallmouth bass per hour or about a smallmouth bass every seven minutes --plus many bonus fish (such as northern pike, muskellunge or walleye) and missed strikes. More than 80 percent of the smallmouth bass weighed more than a pound, which in my eyes is quite impressive. It was the best big-fish year ever: 190 smallmouth bass weighed more than three pounds, which works out right at three per day and seven percent of the yearly catch, and one of those brutes weighed four pounds, 12 ounces.
I have some definitive numbers that reflect the effectiveness of Z-Man baits, and it is based on a four-year sample that encompassed about 1,500 hours of fishing the same locations. Now I have fished with Z-Man's baits for two full years, and during each year, the fishing conditions were extremely different (and some smallmouth bass anglers described it as difficult fishing), but the Hula StickZ allowed me to average 47.6 smallmouth bass per outing in 2012 and 2013. The two years before the advent of the Hula Stick, I averaged 35.4 bass per day, and those numbers were aided in 2011 by the use of the Finesse ShadZ, 3 ¾-inch StreakZ, and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ, which were more effective than any other lures, such as tubes, that I had used previously.
Moreover, I was fishing more hours per outing during those years. Even though I fished fewer hours in 2013, I increased my catch rate by 34.5 percent, which is a significant increase. Because of my shoulder problems and other factors revolving around my aging mind and body, my fishing skills are decreasing. Thus, the only possible explanation to why I caught more smallmouth bass in 2012 and 2013 revolves around the effectiveness of Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ, Hula StickZ , MinnowZ, 3 3/4-inch StreakZ, and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ.
(1) Here are some links to other the blogs that feature Midwest finesse tactics for Canadian smallmouth bass:
(2) In 2014, Z-Man will unveil a Midwest finesse jig, a three-inch grub, and a 2 3/4-inch ZinkerZ. And when they are available, we write a few blogs about them.
(3) For more information about the ZinkerZ spin, please consult this link: http://www.in-fisherman.com/2014/01/24/zinkerz-spin-precursors-3/