How Midwest finesse anglers discovered the ZinkerZ and several other ElaZtech baits made by Z-Man Fishing Products is a convoluted story.
It began back in September and October of 2006 when we were working with scores of anglers on a story for In-Fisherman magazine about the history of the jigworm.
What spawned this interest in the history of the jigworm was that many anglers and commentators about angling christened 2005 as the year of finesse fishing on the big-time tournament circuits. In essence, it was the apex of the shaky-head jig phenomenon in the tournament fishing world.
According to most of the knowledgeable observers regarding the history of bass fishing, the origins of shaky-head jig reaches back into the 1980s. It revolves around the handiwork of Fred "Taco" Bland of Birmingham, Alabama, William Davis of Davis Industries and Davis Bait Company in Sylacauga, Alabama, and a number of largemouth bass and spotted bass anglers who plied the reservoirs along the Coosa River in Alabama.
It needs to be noted that in the eyes of many veteran finesse anglers the shaky-head jig lies on the outer fringes of finesse fishing. In fact, some true-blue finesse anglers contend that shaky-head motif is more of a power fishing technique than a pure finesse fishing tactic.
Nevertheless, the shaky-head jig eventually became such a potent and popular piscatorial tool that even dyed-in-the-wool power anglers, like Rick Clunn of Ava, Missouri, were occasionally seen wielding a spinning rod donned a shaky-head jig and relatively small plastic worm in bass tournaments throughout 2005.
During this spell, Kevin Van Dam became a major advocate of the shaky-head jig. Besides showing scores of his fellow anglers how he used it, his shaky-head jig tactics were also featured several times on television shows, as well as in some printed and Internet venues.
Back then Van Dam worked with Ted Barry of Bite-Me Tackle Inc., of Kendallville, Indiana, and they created the Ballhead Shakey Jig, which were poured around a variety of Mustad hooks. Van Dam dressed the jigs with three soft-plastic baits, which were Strike King Lure Company's four-inch Finesse Worm, five-inch Zero, and seven-inch Finesse Worm. He normally trimmed two inches off the head of the seven-incher.
At the Bassmaster Elite 50 tournament at Lewisville Lake, Texas, on June 1 - 4, 2005, Van Dam employed a 3/16-ounce Ballhead Shakey Jig with a 1/0 bronze hook with a flat eye and a 60-degree bend. The jig was dressed with a Finesse Worm. He primarily plied the riprap of the dam in water as shallow as five feet and as deep as 15 feet. By wielding his shaky-head jig-and-worm combo, Van Dam caught 20 largemouth bass on the first day of competition and 25 the second day. One of those largemouth bass was a lake-record bass, which weighed 11 pounds, 13 ounces and was caught in nine feet of water along the riprap of the dam.
While we worked on the history of the the jigworm during the fall of 2006, we spent spent a number of hours at Table Rock Lake, Missouri, from Sept. 16 through Sept. 20 interviewing Van Dam about his experiences with the shaky-head-jig and-worm combo.
He told us that a lot of anglers in 2005 and 2006 were under the mistaken notion that it worked best in clear water and on rocky terrains. He explained that he had inveigled untold numbers of black bass around sand or gravel environments, as well as in stained water.
When plying a rocky topography, such as the riprap at Lewisville Lake, Van Dam thought it was best to work with a flat-eyed jig. But on a sand and gravel bottoms, he liked to utilize a jig with a 60-degree bend and a straight eye.
In low-light conditions, Van Dam preferred a Finesse Worm with a green- pumpkin hue. During the midday hours, when it is sunny and calm, he liked a watermelon one or a watermelon with red flakes. In stained water and at some Florida waterways, he used a Junebug-colored worm. And he painted his jigs in either a brown or an army-green tint.
He praised the softness and litheness of the Finesse Worms and Zero. He also liked the Finesse Worms that came out of the package with a kink, noting that the kink rendered additional and unique action, and many Midwest finesse anglers have learned to relish the kinks in their Finesse Worms, too.
Moreover, Van Dam lauded the durability of the Zero and Finesse Worm, which he affixed to the jig with a Texas-posed rigging. He made them more durable by affixing them to the jig with a drop of Super Glue. When he attached and glued the Finesse Worm to the jig, Van Dam said it was critical that the head of the worm is perfectly flat and flush to the head of the jig, and to do that, he cut off a tiny portion of the worm's head. He threaded the worm on the jig so that it was a little off center; this allowed the bait keeper on the collar of the jig to be totally buried inside the worm.
In addition, Van Dam showed us the two retrieves that he employed with this combo. Both were executed by him moving his rod from about the two-o'clock position to the one-o'clock position, and he would delicately shake his rod during each lift. At times, this presentation would consist of a hop and shake. At other times, he would drag it while executing dainty shakes.
During the retrieve, there were spells when he would allow the combo to lie motionlessly on the bottom. He noted that the buoyancy of the Zero and Finesse Worm, as well as the design of jig and the way the worm is fastened to the jig, allowed the Zero or Finesse Worm to slowly rise off the bottom during these pauses.
In 2006, Van Dam was demonstrating his presentation styles by using a seven-foot, medium-action Quantum Tour Edition spinning rod and a Quantum Energy PT spinning reel spooled with either 8- or 10-pound Bass Pro Shops' fluorocarbon line. Nowadays, Van Dam uses newer styles of Quantum's spinning tackle, and sometime in early October, we hope to post a blog about the kind to shaky-head jig combo he wielded during his 2012 tournament season.
Although Van Dam lauded the durability, buoyancy, and lithesomeness of the Finesse Worms and Zero, it is important to note that the words magic and magical didn't cross his lips when he was praising them. The words magic and magical are what several Midwest finesse anglers occasionally use to describe the fishing catching attributes of the Zero and its identical twin the ZinkerZ
In our eyes, Van Dam's tactics were what we called power finesse rather than Midwest finesse -- especially when he was wielding a five-inch Zero. For instances, besides the 3/16-ounce Ballhead Shakey Jig that Van Dam used at Lewisville Lake, he used at other times and venues a 1/4-ounce jig with a red 4/0 hook with a flat eye and a 60-degree bend, a 1/4-ounce jig with a 3/0 red hook with a 90-degree bend and straight eye, 1/4-ounce jig with a 2/0 bronze hook with a 60-degree bend and straight eye, a 1/4-ounce jig with a 3/0 bronze hook with a flat eye and 60-degree bend, a 1/4-ounce jig with a 4/0-hook with a 60-degree bend and straight eye, and a 3/8-ounce jig with a red 6/0 hook and a 90-degree bend with a straight eye. The 3/8-ounce jig was designed to employ a 10-inch plastic worm. In contrast, many Midwest finesse anglers use Gopher Tackle's 1/32-, 1/16- and 3/32-ounce Mushroom Head Jigs that sport relatively small hooks.
As one of our interviews was coming to a close of Sept.20, 2006, Van Dam gave us some four-inch Finesse Worms and Zeros to test and photograph for the In-Fisherman magazine story. Thus, it was Van Dam who introduced us to the manifold virtues of two of the soft-plastic baits that Z-Man Fishing Products manufactures.
Z-Man has been crafting soft-plastic baits, such as the Finesse Worm and Zero, with ElaZtech for Strike King since May of 2005, according to Daniel Nussbaum of Z-Man and Ladson, South Carolina. Before that, Strike King's Finesse Worm and Zero were made from a material called Cyberflexxx, and the brand name was 3X. Cyberflexxx was manufactured by a company in Georgia. ElaZtech and Cyberflexxx are thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs), but their formulas are completely different. Cyberflexxx was extremely soft and tacky and slid off a hook very easily. ElaZtech corrected these deficiencies.
After we interviewed Van Dam and watched him work the Zero and Finesse Worm on a Ballhead Shakey Jig shaky on Sept 16-20 2006, we were intrigued with the Zero and four-inch Finesse Worm, but our love affair with the Zero didn't start for 22 days. Back then, we were wedded to a YUM three-inch Dinger and a Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits' three-inch Senko, which we affixed to a 1/32-, 1/16- or 3/32-ounce red Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig. Our 1/32-ounce Gopher jig sported a No. 6 hook, our 1/16-ouncer had a No. 4 hook, and our 3/32-ounce Gopher jig was poured around a No. 2 hook. Our jig-and-soft-plastic combos were tiny compared to Van Dam's. In our Midwest finesse eyes, the five-inch Zero was too big.
But the perspective changed on Oct. 12, 2006, when we cut the Zero in half, making it 2 1/2-inches long. We affixed it to a 1/16-ounce red Gopher jig with a No. 4 hook. We made our first cast and retrieve with this odd-looking combo at a 55-acre community reservoir that lies in a park and adjacent to a golf course in a small northeastern Kansas town. As we executed our last cast and retrieve of this four-hour, midday outing, our fish counter revealed that we had caught 109 largemouth bass, two wipers, one channel catfish and one walleye. A few of those fish were caught on either a four-inch Finesse Worm on a 1/16-ounce red Gopher jig or a small tube on a 1/16-ounce jig, but the bulk of them were bewitched by the 2 1/2-inch Zero.
From that day to this one, which has encompassed four years and nearly 11 months, the 2 1/2-inch Zero and its identical twin the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ has been the predominate bait in our Midwest finesse repertoire.
In the eyes of most bass anglers, the 2 1/2-inch Zero or ZinkerZ is rather unattractive. Thus many of our Midwest finesse brethrens were reluctant to use it. Instead, they opted for the slimmer, sleeker and well-known Dinger and Senko.
Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Kansas, who is a veteran multspieces guide and Midwest finesse angler, was one of those anglers who was devoted to the Dinger and found the 2/12-inch Zero and ZinkerZ to be too unbecoming to use.
But Holscher's perspectives finally changed in September of 2010. And in January of 2011, I wrote a brief description of Holscher's conversion for Travis Perret's Web site (http://www.felixfishing.com) entitled "The Magic of the ZinkerZ."
Here's what I wrote:
It's the nature of talented and veteran bass anglers to shun talk and thoughts about such things as a magic lure. It's often said that such chatter, ponderings and trumpeting are the province of neophytes, publicists and the world of infomercials.
But in mid-September of 2010, Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Kansas, helped the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks man their exhibit at the Kansas State Fair, and he and several fisheries biologists were flabbergasted by what transpired with the bass that inhabited the exhibit's massive aquarium. And the words magic and magical even crossed some lips.
Holscher is an astute angler, and for several decades, he has been a popular and successful multispecies guide on the many reservoirs that grace the countryside of eastern Kansas. Across these years, he and his clients have wielded scores of the newest and hottest baits available, and never has he considered one of those baits to possess any magical attributes. Then shortly before the fair began, Glenn Young of Z-Man Fishing Products gave Holscher a few ZinkerZs to test.
For a few years before Holscher obtained his first ZinkerZ, several of his friends had been cutting a ZinkerZ in half and attaching one of the three-inch segments to a 1/16-ounce jig and catching bass galore.
Holscher, however, hadn't partaken in this experience, thinking that the ZinkerZ was just another stick worm. But when he was at the state fair, he quickly realized that the ZinkerZ wasn't an ordinary stick worm.
At the Wildlife and Parks' massive aquarium, fair goers periodically watched Holscher demonstrate how he employs a topwater bait, crankbait, spinnerbait and jig.
Except for his jig, the first three lures he demonstrated were ones that many professional and recreational anglers utilize.
His jig, however, was far from a conventional looking lure, and at first sight some fair goers must have thought that this odd-looking contraption didn't possess enough pizzazz to allure any of the fish in the aquarium or at any waterway in Kansas.
Unbeknownst to the spectators, as well as the fisheries biologists who were manning the exhibit with Holscher, it was the same jig combo that several of his friends had been waylaying bass with for a few years.
As his friends fashion their jig-and-ZinkerZ combos, Holscher created his by cutting the five-inch PB&J ZinkerZ in half, and then he affixed a three-inch segment to the jig. In order to not injure any of the fish, all of the hooks on Holscher's four baits were removed.
During his first demonstration at the fair, Holscher first showed the audience various ways to use topwater baits, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Then he picked up his ZinkerZ rig.
His first three baits provoked a lackluster response from the aquarium's denizens, but straightaway the ZinkerZ immediately garnered the attention of the channel catfish, drum, largemouth bass, saugeye and smallmouth bass. And these various specimens attacked the ZinkerZ when Holscher hopped across the bottom, swam it from a foot to three feet off the bottom, and some of them walloped it on the surface. A remarkable number of times, several fish refused to let go of the ZinkerZ. The flathead catfish and gar were the only denizens that weren't allured, and the Holscher said: "The most profound phenomenon was watching the largest smallmouth, which was a five-pounder, inhale the bait on nine consecutive presentations, stretching the three-inch bait to over a foot."
Even though Holscher conducted demonstration after demonstration for several days in a row, the allure of the ZinkerZ never waned. Thus, as Holscher's demonstrations went on and on, and the fish continually were bewitched by Holscher's ZinkerZ rig, he and two of the KDWP fisheries biologists were so astonished, saying that they had never seen anything like what was transpiring. Thus some thoughts that the ZinkerZ might possess some magical qualities resonated in their heads.
Once the fair ended, Holscher resumed his guiding routines, and he and his many clients spent the last 3 ½ months of 2010 primarily wielding the ZinkerZ-and-jig combo. To their delight, they caught an array of species and incredible numbers of them. Consequently, the word magic began to cross the lips of some of his clients.
Now that he has an ample supply of the ZinkerZ in various colors, he is eager to see how the fish react to them in the winter, spring and summer.
As the days, months, and seasons have unfolded since the fall of 2010, the ZinkerZ and several other ElaZtech baits made by Z-Man have become mainstays in Holscher's finesse repertoire.
Gradually other Midwest finesse anglers have discovered the magical qualities of this 2 1/2-inch bait that looks so unsightly to the human eye. Nowadays there are finesse anglers all across the eastern two-thirds of the United States and in parts of Canada who religiously rely on the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ and Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head Jig.
In addition to the ZinkerZ, some of these finesse anglers have discovered that several other Z-Man's ElaZtech baits posses a number of alluring qualities that cannot be found in other soft-plastic baits made by other manufacturers. One of them is Z-Man's Finesse WormZ, which is the same worm that Van Dam used back in 2005 on the Bite-Me Tackle's Ballhead Shakey Jig.
On April 4 and May 3, we posted blogs hailing the effectiveness and durability of Z-Man's Finesse WormZ. Here are the links to those blogs: https://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/04/04/the-super-finesse-worm/ https://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/05/03/the-super-finesse-worm-an-update/
On June 15, we received an e-mail from Cory Schmidt, who is an In-Fisherman Field Editor from around Merrifield, Minnesota, that had some interesting observations about the effectiveness of Z-Man Fishing Products' Finesse WormZ.
Here's what Schmidt wrote:
"Hi Ned, Just wanted to drop you a note about this amazing bait -- the Z-Man Finesse Worm. I was in northeastern South Dakota, fishing a variety of glacial and pothole lakes last week. I decided to rig one of these baits in the PB&J pattern onto a 3/16-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig, while everyone else in our party was pitching jigs tipped with a half nightcrawler.
"As it turned out, I caught over 20 bass and perhaps a dozen walleyes on the very same worm. In fact, it would have likely continued to produce had a pike not finally eaten the whole package in one toothy gulp. Nobody in our party could believe how many fish could be taken on a single softbait.
"What really amazed me about the bait, though, is that the material seemed to form an almost slime-coat sort of effect as it remained in water; almost a gummy feel. I've never used a softbait that developed this sort of texture when wet. It really was quite remarkable. And the fish -- mostly smallmouth bass-- absolutely gobbled it.
"Have you ever noted this slimy/gummy effect on these baits? Or, what can you tell me about this phenomenon?
"Best presentation was a simple slow drag with an infrequent twitch maneuver, as the jig slid across old submerged roadbeds. I can't wait to become better acquainted with Z-Man baits as the season progresses.
"I'm finally starting to see what you've been trying to tell me about these baits for some time. Thanks, Cory"
Besides lauding the durability and effectiveness of the Finesse WormZ, Schmidt was intrigued with the slime and gummy effect that the Finesse WormZ exhibits. According to Jolee Myers, who is involved with the development and testing of Z-Man's baits, the slime occurs when any ElaZtech bait is immersed in water. The oxygen in the water causes the material to break down. The slime, however, is more pronounced with their salt-impregnated baits, such as the ZinkerZ, Finesse WormZ, Hula StickZ, and FattyZ. The salt causes the baits to be more porous, which creates more surface area for the slime to develop. It usually takes a couple hours for the slime to evolve. The higher the concentration of dissolved oxygen in a waterway the quicker the ElaZtech will start to break down and create slime.
It is interesting to note that this slime phenomenon doesn't occur with other salt-impregnate soft-plastic baits that other manufacturers make with PVC, Plastisol, Phthalates or similar elements.
In addition to the ZinkerZ and Finesse WormZ, Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ, FattyZ (which Midwest finesse anglers heavily customized), Hula StickZ, Rain MinnowZ (which is no longer in production) and 3.75-inch StreakZ have been and are becoming the principal baits that scores of Midwest finesse anglers utilize day in and day out. For instance, in a Finesse News Network report on June 17, Dwight Keefer of Phoenix, Arizona, wrote: "I think the [Finesse] Shad-Z ranks in the top 10 bass baits ever produced." And nowadays Keefer rarely uses any other bait than the Finesse ShadZ. (Keefer, by the way, is one of the forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing. For more insights about his piscatorial prowess and endeavors that stretch back into the 1960s , please see the following blogs: https://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/06/10/legends-of-the-heartland/ and http://bassfishingarchives.com/features/mo-sticks-of-the-past-dwight-keefer#more-2239 and https://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/06/26/midwest-finesse-tackle-rods-reels-and-lines-according-to-dwight-keefer/ )
Another veteran Midwest finesse angler who spends his summers pursuing smallmouth bass in Canadian waterways sent an e-mail on Sept. 3 to a couple Finesse News Network members. He noted that on Aug 30 that he had fished 65 times this summer, which encompassed about 422 hours of fishing. During that time, he had caught 3,000 smallmouth bass, which is an average 46 smallmouth bass an outing and seven smallmouth bass an hour. During the many years that he has pursued Canadian smallmouth bass, this was the quickest that he had reached that 3,000 benchmark. What's more, in between those seven smallmouth bass an hour, he inadvertently tangled with some muskies, northern pike and walleye. Ninety-nine percent of the smallmouth bass were caught on the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ and the new Hula StickZ; a few were caught on topwater baits. One of the muskies was 47.5 inches long, and one of the northern pike weighed 22.5 pounds, and both were inveigled on the Hula StickZ. He closed his e-mail by noting: "Anyone can give lip service to hyping a lure. The results above are just the facts about ElaZtech."
In a previous e-mail, he said the only element that has changed in his finesse tactics across the many years that he has employed them is that he began using Z-Man's 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ, Finesse ShadZ and 3.75-inch StreakZ in 2011. And in 2012, he added the Hula StickZ. According to his fishing logs that stretch across many years, those four Z-Man's finesse baits are the reason why he caught significantly more smallmouth bass in 2011 and 2012 than he caught in years past.
To the chagrin of many Midwest finesse anglers who ply the small flatland reservoirs that stipple northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri, Z-Man has stopped manufacturing the Rain MinnowZ. Nussbaum said that sales were not significant enough to warrant Z-Man to continue manufacturing them. Fortunately, the Rain MinnowZ is the most durable of Z-Man's soft-plastic finesse baits, and a dozen of them will last an ardent angler about a year and inveigle 1,000 or more largemouth bass. But as these anglers' supply of Rain MinnowZ wither, they will find that the Hula StickZ and customized FattyZ will be a captivating replacement.
There are two holes that Midwest finesse anglers are hoping that Z-Man will fill in their soft-plastic repertoire. These anglers want a 2 3/4-inch solid-body tube similar to the tube that they are crafting from the head of the FattyZ, and they also want a three- and four-inch grub similar to Bass Pro Shops' four-inch XPS Single Tail Grub.
Even though most Midwest finesse anglers are reluctant to say that ElaZtech's Finesse ShadZ, Finesse WormZ, Hula StickZ and ZinkerZ possess a magical quality, there is no doubt in most of their minds these four baits have reached the stature of iconic bass baits in the world finesse angling for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
Here's hoping finesse anglers all across the United States and Canada will post comments below this blog about their experiences with Z-Man's soft-plastic finesse baits.