On Oct. 2, 2011, we posted a blog entitled "Finesse Tactics for Smallmouth Bass." It featured a veteran Midwest finesse angler who had recently discovered the manifold merits of Z-Man Fishing Products' Finesse ShadZ, 3 ¾-inch StreakZ, and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ.
From mid-May to mid-Sept for decades, this angler has spent many of his days pursuing smallmouth bass in the oligotrophic waterways of Ontario. We noted that in 2011, 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.
He wielded these baits on either a six-foot or a five-foot, two-inch G. Loomis blank, which he assembled according to the specifications that the late Ray Fincke created, which Fincke described as a stinger-type action. A Shimano Stella 1000 reel was affixed to the five-foot, two-inch rod, and 2500 Shimano Stella reel adorned the six-foot rod. His reels were spooled with either four- or six-pound-test Berkley FireLine. To the FireLine, he attached a six to nine foot leader, which was made either a 8- or 10-pound-test fluorocarbon line.
We recently asked him to summarize his Ontario logs for 2012. He told us that he fished 72 times and caught 3,247 smallmouth bass. Before mid-June, the bulk of those 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 four-inch Hula StickZ.
In 2012, he used the same rods, reels, lines and leaders that he worked with in 2011. But he created another series of mushroom-style jigs, which were embellished with a bait keeper, and when he was plying depths of two to 22 feet of water, he rigged the Hula StickZ and ZinkerZ on a home-crafted 1/10-ounce (2.8 grams) mushroom-style jig. When he was fishing in six feet or less of water, the Hula StickZ and ZinkerZ were usually affixed to a 1/15-ounce (1.88 grams) mushroom-style jig.
He noted that a few of the smallmouth bass were caught on a topwater lure, but 99 percent of them were caught on the Hula StickZ and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ. In his mind the Hula StickZ is the most effective smallmouth bass bait that he has ever used in his many years of pursing smallmouth bass in Ontario. He said: "Anglers can trim an inch off the head of the Hula StickZ, and catch a lot of small smallmouth bass, but using the full four-inches allures bigger ones."
In 2012, the majority of the smallmouth bass in the Ontario waterways that he fished were foraging primarily on crayfish rather than smelt and minnows. Therefore the Finesse ShadZ and StreakZ were not as effective as they were in 2011. When the smallmouth bass are foraging on crayfish and other invertebrates, he has discovered that the Hula StickZ and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ, which are affixed to a jig, have no peers. He found that the three most effective colors of the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ in 2012 were California craw, green pumpkin and green pumpkin red. The only color of the Hula StickZ that he was able to purchase was green pumpkin, but it is now available in eight colors.
Across the years, he has developed several ways to present a soft-plastic-bait-and-jig combo to Ontario's smallmouth bass. But when they are foraging on crayfish, as many of the smallmouth bass were in 2012, he presents the Hula StickZ and 2 ½--inch ZinkerZ to the smallmouth bass by executing a long cast, and then his retrieve consist of three segments. The first part of the retrieve replicates a frightened crayfish, the second part resembles a crayfish that is milling about across the bottom, and the third part duplicates the way a crayfish rummages around on the bottom. But he didn't reveal how he executed the three components of this very complicated retrieve.
Besides catching 3,452 black bass, he inadvertently caught some muskie and an innumerable quantity of northern pike, which he allured on the Hula StickZ. The biggest muskie was 47 ½-incher and the biggest northern weighed 22 ½ pounds.
But he did intentionally spent a few hours during the summer of 2012 fishing for lake trout and walleye, which in years past he hadn't done, and he was astonished to discover how effective a pearl Finesse ShadZ attached to a 5/16-ounce jig was at alluring lake trout in 80 to 90 feet of water. The Finesse ShadZ caught 25 lake trout, and his biggest weighed 14 pounds.
He and some friends also spent two days fishing for walleye. He didn't tabulate the number of walleye that they caught, but they caught scores of them. And when he was fishing for smallmouth bass and he saw what looked to be a walleye on his sonar devices, he picked up his walleye rod, which always sported a pearl Finesse ShadZ on a jig, and with astonishing regularity, he inveigled a walleye or two. His biggest walleye in 2012 was an eight-pounder. On those two outings when he fished for walleye with his friends, the Finesse ShadZ outperformed the livebait rigs that his friends used by a considerable margin. Some of the walleye he caught of the Finesse ShadZ were extracted out of 48 feet of water, but most of his walleye were caught in 17 to 25 feet of water.
Each of his smallmouth bass outings encompassed 6 ½ hours of fishing, and that means he caught an average of 45 smallmouth bass per outing and 6.9 per hour. According to his annual calculations, it was a superb summer of smallmouth bass fishing -- especially, he said, when one factors in all of the lost minutes that occurred when he had to do battle with scores of muskie, northern pike and walleye that he inadvertently caught while fishing for smallmouth bass. While 2012 produced the best smallmouth bass that he had ever had in Ontario, most of the Canadian anglers with whom he crossed paths with described 2012 as a tougher than normal year for catching smallmouth bass. Until 2012, his best average catch was 33 smallmouth bass per outing, and those were eight-hour outings rather than the 6 ½-hour outings that he fished in 2012.
In sum, he credits Z-Man's Hula StickZ as the reason why 2012 was a stellar smallmouth bass time for him at the oligotrophic waterways of Ontario. He reluctantly admitted that he is on the verge of calling it a magic bait, and he is eager to see if it will maintain its magic throughout the late spring and summer of 2013.
After his 2013 smallmouth bass exploits in Canada draw to a close, we will post another blog detailing what transpired with the Hula StickZ, Finesse ShadZ, StreakZ , and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ.