Daniel Nussbaum of Ladson, South Carolina, is the executive vice president of Z-Man Fishing Products, and he has been a member of the Finesse News Network for a few years.
On Sept.19, he filed a report to the Finesse News Network that described his and a friend’s smallmouth bass endeavors in Canada.
He wrote: “Our trip to Canada during the last week in August was an incredible experience to say the least. Since we live along the coast South Carolina, we’re probably a bit guilty of being biased towards our southern largemouth bass and saltwater fisheries. Frankly, before this trip, my only experience with fishing in Canada was fly fishing on trout streams, and most of my smallmouth fishing had been limited to small, rocky rivers in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. After hearing about how productive our ElaZtech finesse baits are up north for the last few years, we were very eager to get up there and experience this fishery. What’s more, we wanted to try some of the finesse techniques we’ve been reading about and test some new bait concepts and rigging ideas.
“We arrived during the afternoon of Monday of August 26, and according to our Canadian hosts, the weather was extremely hot. But for a couple of guys from South Carolina, the 85-degree temperature and low humidity made it downright balmy. We were told that we had hit it just right; the warm temperatures had the smallmouth feeding actively in the shallows, and the light winds and calm conditions would make fishing easy, at least for the next couple of days.
“On Tuesday morning, our group of five set out in two boats at the crack of about 8:30 a.m. We are used to pre-dawn starts in South Carolina, especially in the heat of the summer. So the late starts were a pleasant surprise. We made a 45-minute run to the west across glassy calm waters. The first order of the day was to experience how effective our Finesse ShadZ are on the walleye, of which a few kept for shore lunch, and then after our shore lunch, we would focus on smallmouth bass. To catch the walleye, we probed several humps in 15 to 25 feet of water, and once we marked a few fish on the sonar, we vertically presented our pearl Finesse ShadZ dressed on a quarter-ounce homemade mushroom-shaped jig and jigged them lightly just off the bottom.
“We were told by our hosts that most walleye fishermen and guides prefer to fish with live minnows, but after just few minutes of fishing, we found that the Finesse ShadZ was a surefire way to catch them too. I was the first to connect with walleye, which was a 12-incher walleye and my first ever. Not long after that, more walleye started coming over the boat’s gunnels. Probably due to the extremely calm weather, the bite was a little on the slow side and the fish did not seem terribly aggressive, but between our two groups, we probably caught 25 to 30 walleye, and we kept a handful of 14- to 18-inchers to eat. Around 11:00 a.m., we decided to find a spot for our shore lunch. The thought of fried fish and the prospect of chasing smallmouth for the rest of the day had us craving an early lunch.
“After a very memorable shore lunch, our two boats headed out in separate directions to look for smallmouth bass. The two anglers I was with opted to stay in the relatively dirty water areas where we had walleye fished. Visibility in the stained water was about three feet. We started off working rocky shorelines with a four-inch Hula StickZ and cut down 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ in green pumpkin and California Craw colors on 1/8-ounce mushroom-shaped jigs, and we immediately found plenty of hungry smallmouth bass in two to six feet of water. We primarily looked for underwater boulders that we could barely make out in the murky water, and when we found one, we would cast to all sides of it. We let our baits sink to the bottom before starting a slow retrieve interspersed with a series of short and sharp twitches. About halfway back towards the boat, we would pause and let the bait settle to the bottom and lay motionless for moment. Virtually all of the smallmouth bass we hooked spit up small, soft-shelled crawfish, and our goal was to mimic that forage. Because the fish were so shallow, the biggest challenge for me was keeping the bait darting just off the bottom like a fleeing crawfish without getting hung up in the rocks.
“More often than not, each boulder held several smallmouth bass. Occasionally, packs of aggressive smallmouth bass would follow a hooked fish right up to the boat, where it was easy to pick them off with a bait tossed in the direction of the hooked fish. Every once in a while, a walleye or small pike would intercept our lure, but for the most part, our catch consisted of smallmouth bass. We had been warned in advance that a lot of the smallmouth bass were tiny, but I was pleasantly surprised that the ones we caught were in the one- to two-pound range with plenty of larger ones mixed in.
“In addition to the boulders, we also focused on downed trees and quickly found that wherever we found a tree stretching from the shoreline out into about six and eight feet of water, there almost always was a smallmouth bass tucked in under the deeper portion of the trunk or branches. We found our largest fish of the day in one such location, a stocky 3 ½-pounds smallmouth bass that I was certain I would lose to that tree’s branches with the light spinning tackle I was using. Between the boulders and trees, we would pick off a stray fish here or there, but we primarily hopped quickly from one boulder or tree to the next. In essence, the pattern was quite simple. After several hours fishing and catching more than 75 smallmouth bass, we went to find the other two anglers in our group. They had fished clearer water with even better results, and they had kept an exact tally of the smallmouth bass they had caught, which was 100 smallmouth bass in hours, including several three pounders.
“I try to get as much as possible out of trips like this and always like to pick anglers’ brains about lures and color ideas and areas where Z-Man might be missing the boat. When I questioned my two guides from the first day about other types of ElaZtech lures they would like to see, they gave me a puzzled look and responded, “Why would we use any other types of baits or colors when these ZinkerZ and Hula StickZ work so well?” As if our day one fish tallies weren’t enough evidence that these baits are like candy to Canadian smallmouth, the response of these two avid anglers who spend nearly every day of the summer fishing for smallmouth bass definitely drove that point home.
“On day two, I had the pleasure of fishing with a very experienced and knowledgeable Canadian tournament angler in a completely different part of the lake. After a lengthy run on day one, we made a quick turn into a nearby bay just minutes after leaving the dock, and we stayed in that same area the entire day. In this particular bay, the water was very clear, exhibiting eight feet and more of visibility. We started off looking for the same types of boulders and trees that had produced on the first day, and in the clear water, they were not hard to find. We started hooking smallmouth bass almost right away, and we gradually ventured to the back of a pocket where the rocky bottom transitioned into sand and then aquatic vegetation and schools of small baitfish dimpled the surface. We quickly spotted a few big smallmouth bass milling around, and so we backed off to let the fish settle down. Then we fired long casts at these smallmouth bass and started racking up some pretty impressive catches. It seemed that as long as we could not see the fish, they could not see us, and they were eager to engulf our baits.
“After catching a handful of quality fish from each spot, we would move on to the next likely area and found that this pattern repeated itself again and again. Any time we found a cove or pocket with rocks, aquatic vegetation, sand, and baitfish, the big smallmouth bass were there. This allowed us to bypass a lot of less productive water in our search for these pockets. We did, however, try some isolated boulders and rocky points with mixed results, and we caught some large smallmouth bass around isolated trees like we did the day before, but for the most part, we keyed in on those pockets or cove embellished rocks, aquatic vegetation, sand, and baitfish, and we found concentrations of larger fish each time.
“The weather was sunny and warm, and the smallmouth bass were very active. Surface water temperature peaked out at around 80 degrees, which was 15 degrees warmer than it was a few weeks before our arrival. I noticed that the water seemed a bit cooler than 80 degrees just a foot or two below the surface. Still, the sun and warmth had the smallmouth moving up shallow, inhabiting depths of two to eight feet of water.
“I’ve found that the best days to test different fishing lures are those where the fish are plentiful and biting like crazy. Day two was truly one of those days, and I took full advantage of it, trying a number of different soft-plastic baits and retrieves. We used and caught fish on a number of different ElaZtech baits, including MinnowZ, DieZel MinnowZ, Punch CrawZ, Turbo CrawZ, FattyZ, Finesse ShadZ, StreakZ 3.75 , Scented Jerk ShadZ, StreakZ Curly TailZ, and Finesse WormZ, and I rigged in a variety of ways. I also was able to try some new bait designs and shapes, some of which worked and some of which did not. Thus the day was very productive in my mind.
“With all the crawfish around, I figured that the Punch CrawZ rigged on a light jighead would be particularly effective. And with the schools of small baitfish packed into our most productive areas, I expected the StreakZ 3.75 and Finesse ShadZ to be very productive as well. Interestingly though, the Hula StickZ and cut down 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ fished on small 1/10- and 1/15-ounce homemade jigs worked the best, regardless of whether the smallmouth bass were feeding on craws or minnows. The size, profile, and sink rate of these baits seemed to be exactly what the fish wanted, and I found that by going to a lighter jig and starting my retrieve before the bait hit the bottom, I got hung up less and the number of strikes remained about the same. Both the California Craw and green-pumpkin colors worked equally well.
“We fished for approximately eight hours on day two and caught in excess of 200 smallmouth. We caught fish of all sizes, with about 30 of them in the 3-pound class or better. The largest catch of the day was a 3 ¾-pound smallmouth bass that my guide pulled off a tree in eight feet of water using a California Craw colored Hula StickZ. Overall, we had a stellar day, with lots of action, shots at large fish, and opportunities to play around with different baits and tactics.. The other duo in our group headed back to the dirty water areas and tallied almost as many fish using the same techniques.
“When we checked the weather before heading out on the third morning, the radar showed a large, intense storm headed our direction from the west. We opted to hang around the cabin and wait for it to pass rather than venture out into likely high winds and lightning. The weather started to clear after lunch, and four of us headed out in the rain in two boats to squeeze in a few more hours of fishing. By this time, air temperatures had dropped significantly from the low 90s of the day before into the high 70s, and the rain and overcast skies had cooled the water down too. The smallmouth bass were not quite as active and aggressive as they had been during the first two days, and they moved into a little deeper water. The cloud cover also made it more difficult to spot underwater boulders and other likely smallmouth bass hangouts.
“Despite a little bit slower bite than what we enjoyed during our first two days, we started catching some nice-sized smallmouth bass along a rocky shoreline. As probed the shoreline, the boat was floating in eight to 10 feet of water, my guide soon noticed on his sonar fish holding on the bottom underneath the boat. And he gave me a quick tutorial on what to look for on the sonar and the best way to present a ZinkerZ or Hula StickZ to these fish. The drill was to drop our lure down vertically on each fish we saw on the sonar and let the bait sit motionless on the bottom for about five seconds. Then, we lifted the bait up and started twitching the rod slightly for about 10 seconds. If we still had not gotten a strike, we would then let the bait sit still on a tight line suspended just off the bottom, and more often than not, a smallmouth bass would engulf that bait dangling just above the bottom.
“Alternating between casts to the shoreline and drops beneath the boat, we picked away at the smallmouth bass for the next few hours and caught about 65 of them, catching about half casting and half dropping vertically. We caught smallmouth bass of various sizes, ranging from dinks to tournament-quality fish that weighed more than three pounds, and the majority of them were in the two-pound range. We experimented we several other presentations and Z-Man baits, but the 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ and four-inch Hula StickZ rigged on light jigs were far and away the best combinations we could find. It did seem that the green pumpkin color worked much better in the rainy and overcast conditions, whereas the red-flaked California craw color did much better on the sunnier days.
“Upon arriving in Canada, one of our hosts told me that no one ever visits that area just once, and I see now exactly what he means. The scenery, remoteness, wildlife, companionship, and fishing action all combined to create a memorable trip that I would no doubt like to experience again soon. From a professional standpoint, I found the experience to be invaluable. For several years I’ve been hearing about the magic of some of the ElaZtech baits in northern waters, and to see just how effective certain baits and presentations can be on both walleye and smallmouth bass was enlightening . The properties of ElaZtech, such as the buoyancy of the material, its incredibly soft feel, and, of course, its durability, seem to be a definite difference-maker in that fishery, and we gained some very valuable insight on rigging systems and terminal tackle that we can develop to accompany our plastics. And I still can’t get over how overwhelmingly deadly and effective the Hula StickZ and seemingly nondescript cut-down ZinkerZ were when paired with light jigheads. This trip was also an excellent opportunity to get inside the heads of several skilled and experienced anglers and talk about their needs and wants in soft plastics, and we came away with lots of great input, and new bait ideas that we will definitely be incorporating into our product line moving forward.”