Z-Man Goes to Canada — Part 3
Daniel Nussbaum of Charleston, South Carolina, is the president of Z-Man Fishing Products. He has been a member of the Finesse News Network since 2011 and is a periodic contributor to In-Fisherman's Midwest Finesse column.
On Oct 1, 2013, we published a Midwest finesse column that Nussbaum wrote about his maiden outings on Aug. 26, 27, and 28, 2013, at the Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Canada. He fished with Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, and several of Reese's friends. Reese resides on the shores of the Lake of the Woods from the middle of May to the middle of September. Reese is one of the pioneers of Midwest finesse fishing, a Finesse News Network member, and occasional contributor to Midwest Finesse columns. The title of this column is "Z-Man Goes to Canada."
Then on Sept. 5, 2016, we published a column that Nussbaum wrote about his return to the Lake of the Woods on Aug. 26, 27, and 28, 2016. The title of that column is "Z-Man Goes to Canada Again."
After the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show on July 11-14, 2017, at Orlando, Florida, Nussbaum went smallmouth bass fishing in Pennsylvania, and he wrote a report about it. The title of that column is "Z-Man Goes to the Susquehanna River," and it was published on Aug. 2, 2017.
He returned to the Lake of the Woods on June 3, 4, and 5, 2018, to film and fish with Drew Reese and several of his friends.
Here is a slightly edited version of his report about his three-day adventure at the Lake of the Woods:
On June 4, Z-Man's videographer Shane Clevenger of Charleston, South Carolina, and I traveled to Lake of the Woods at Sioux Narrows, Ontario, with the primary goal of capturing the story of Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, and his involvement in the development of our finesse baits and jigheads on film. Initially, Drew was the primary impetus behind bringing a series of finesse baits and jigheads to market and opened my eyes to the possibility of a marketable Midwest finesse product line.
Our objective for this trip was not just to film the interviews and action footage. We also needed for a new video in our Project Z: ProFileZ series, but also to record a series of tip videos to help educate anglers on how to best utilize our various ElaZtech finesse baits. In addition, Drew wanted us to record him explaining the history behind finesse fishing and the pioneers of this style of fishing in the Midwest, which ultimately will be included in Ned Kehde's Midwest Angler's Archives, which is housed in the Kansas State Historical Society. So, on this trip, fishing unfortunately took a back seat to filming, though we still managed to get plenty of fishing in during our three-day stay.
On the morning of June 5, we awoke to cloudy skies, cold air temperatures, and a stiff breeze. Nonetheless, we headed out in two boats: Drew's boat, and the second boat was captained by seasoned Lake of the Woods anglers Bill and Ken McGhie. We began the day targeting lake trout over a series of humps in 25 to 50 feet of water. Soon after arriving at the spot, we marked some scattered schools of smelt and a few lake trout on the sonar and dropped a Z-Man's smelt Finesse ShadZ and five-inch Z-Man's smelt Scented Jerk Shad, which were affixed to a 3/8-ounce jig, to the bottom.
Drew's preferred technique for enticing lake trout is simple. First, he lets the bait fall all the way to the bottom before reeling it up off the bottom slightly. From there, he basically just allows the bait to suspend off the bottom by holding his rod tip close to the water without moving it. Drew explained that between the buoyancy and softness of the ElaZtech material, the bait has a perfect horizontal posture and exhibits subtle and natural tail movement without any rod movement. In fact, Drew says that any jigging motion — save for an occasional slow lift of the rod tip — is actually counterproductive, and I was in no position to argue as anglers on both boats began hooking ten-pound class lake trout almost instantly.
After catching and releasing eight or nine lake trout, we moved on to targeting smallmouth bass. While the first week in June is typically prime time for bass fishing on Lake of the Woods, conditions were less than ideal during our trip. After a brutally cold and long winter, air and water temperatures spiked sharply during the last week in May, and then the water tempertature dropped considerably just before we arrived. Most of the smallmouth bass, which had been moving into shallow water and were poised to begin spawning the week before we arrived, had scattered to deeper water just before our arrival.
By Lake of the Woods standards, the bass fishing was dreadfully slow for June. Fortunately, dreadfully slow on Lake of the Woods is better than what most of us are accustomed to, and we still managed to catch well over 100 bass between five anglers after lake trout fishing that afternoon, despite battling 15 to 25 winds and multiple interruptions for filming, not to mention a lengthy break for a traditional Canadian shore lunch of fresh fried walleye.
On the first day, there was really no rhyme or reason to the bass bite. Drew caught most of his fish swimming a 3.5-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin GrubZ on a 1/6 ounce Z-Man's Finesse ShroomZ jighead, while Shane opted for a three-inch Z-Man's smelt Slim SwimZ. Bill and Ken utilized a Z-Man's green-pumpkin Finesse TRD, with Bill casting towards boulders just off the shoreline while Ken dragged his bait along the bottom beneath the boat. I decided to put the new Z-Man's TRD CrawZ through its paces, alternating between casting and dragging depending on whether Ken or Bill was seeing more action. The fish were very scattered from the shoreline out to a depth of about ten feet of water, and we all caught fish using these different baits and techniques.
To our delight, day two of our trip started off calm, sunny, and warm. Drew, Shane, and I set out for the morning, with our first order of the day being to film a video of Drew catching lake trout along with several corresponding tip videos. The trout had apparently scattered a bit since the day before, but after a half hour or so, Drew hooked into the first lake trout of the day. We caught a couple more and captured some footage of Drew explaining his technique and discussing the merits of the Finesse ShadZ before turning our attention to smallmouth bass fishing.
We were hoping that the sunny skies and warmer water temperatures on June 4 would provoke the smallmouth bass to begin moving into shallower water. While the fishing was still slow by Drew's standards, we immediately began finding more fish in shallow water behind boulders and making spawning beds than the previous day. Drew and I fished while Shane filmed, and we caught maybe 25 or so bass during the next couple of hours, and a couple of those smallmouth bass appeared to be residing around spawning beds. After Drew boated a beautiful three-pound, eight-ounce smallmouth bass, we headed back to his cabin for lunch.
After lunch, we were joined by Bill and Ken, and we headed to a different area to fish for smallmouth bass and film for the afternoon. As the afternoon wore on, the fishing seemed to improve both in terms of quantity and quality. We found the most success targeting large boulders along the bank or isolated rock piles that rose to within a few feet of the surface. Again, a variety of baits — GrubZ, Slim SwimZ, Finesse TRDs, and Hula StickZ — all seemed to perform equally well.
On our third and final day of fishing and filming, Shane again headed out with Drew for the morning to finish filming, while Bill and I explored several shallow coves and pockets to the northwest of where we found a few smallmouth bass on June 4 starting to move up shallow to spawn. While Bill repeatedly apologized for the poor fishing, the fishing seemed great to me, and we caught 33 bass in the next two hours throwing TRDs and TRD CrawZs to shallow boulders.
Around lunchtime, we rendezvoused with Drew and Bill. We put our fishing on hold for a couple of hours to capture some underwater video and aerial drone footage, and after we wrapped that up, Shane and I switched places so I could spend an afternoon fishing with Drew.
I failed to count how many smallmouth bass Drew and I caught on the final afternoon, but I would estimate that we caught more than 50. Again, we found the smallmouth bass scattered; some were in shallow water either to spawn or feed, and others were still in deeper water. Throughout the trip, Drew pointed out how cold the smallmouth bass felt when he handled them, indicating that they were just moving up from the colder, deeper water. Drew did most of his damage with a 3.5-inch Z-Man's blue-glimmer-sparkle GrubZ , and it is interesting to note that the smallmouth bass would not touch the green-pumpkin one he had relied on for the last two days. I spent this outing gaining experience with the TRD CrawZ.
Bill and Shane opted to head south and ply some clearer water, and they found numerous shallow-water smallmouth bass. From the sounds of it, Shane put on a clinic with the three-inch Z-Man's smelt Slim SwimZ to the point that Bill scrambled to rig one up and asked Shane how he was fishing it. Slowly swimming the bait just off the bottom proved to be the ticket for Bill and Shane.
Over the course of the three days, our group caught literally hundreds of fish — mostly smallmouth bass, but also lake trout, walleye, and northern pike. All of them were caught on Z-Man's ElaZtech finesse baits.
Looking back on the trip, a few key takeaways come to mind:
First, swimming baits were among the most effective on this trip, and it seems to be a category that is overlooked by finesse anglers. The three-inch Slim SwimZ is a very popular bait with saltwater anglers, but it has not really caught on among Midwest finesse enthusiasts. And how often do you hear about people swimming a grub, like the 3.5-inch GrubZ that Drew insists is the best ever made, these days? The fact is that both baits pair perfectly with Z-Man's Finesse ShroomZ jigheads and should be part of every finesse angler's arsenal.
Also, this was my first chance to really put the TRD CrawZ through its paces, and after fishing it for three days, I can honestly say that this is going to be a dynamite bait. I knew the smallmouth bass would eat it, and they certainly did. But I was most surprised at the number of walleye I caught using this bait. In fact, the two largest walleye of the trip were caught on the TRD CrawZ. As we were filming underwater footage of our different finesse baits, I was truly impressed with how realistic the TRD CrawZ looked scooting along the bottom, with its claws slowly rising when the bait was paused. No question about it, this dog can hunt.
Finally -- and I think I say this after every trip to the Lake of the Woods --it really is an amazing fishery. Even though we fished during an off week, we still caught plenty of fish. Rarely did we go five minutes without a bite, and on numerous occasions, we would find an area holding a concentration of fish and catch 10 or 15 in short order. Lake of the Woods certainly is not the place to go to catch a trophy smallmouth bass, but the amount of fish up there, not to mention the lack of fishermen and the miles and miles of pristine shorelines, is just mind boggling to me.
When I was in college, I used to work on a deep-sea charter fishing boat that had a sign over the cabin door that read 'you should've been here tomorrow,' a clever spin on the old 'you should've been here yesterday' saying. Sure enough, as soon as we left, the fishing absolutely broke loose; the day after our departure, Drew caught 138 bass by himself, and Ken and Bill both reported far better fishing than we experienced during our stay during a tournament that weekend. Nonetheless, I am thoroughly convinced that no trip to Lake of the Woods in the summer is a bad one, even if the fishing is as terrible as it was according to our hosts on this trip.
(1) Here are links to three of Nussbaum's Midwest Finesse columns:
https://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/z-man-goes-canada/. It was published Oct. 1, 2013.
https://www.in-fisherman.com/gear-accessories/z-man-goes-to-canadaagain/. It was published on Sept. 25, 2016.
https://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/z-man-goes-to-the-susquehanna-river/. It was published on Aug. 2, 2017.
(2) Here is the link to our Midwest Angler's archives at the Kansas State Historical Society: https://www.kshs.org/index.php?url=archives/304390.
(3) Here are three links to Midwest Finesse columns about Drew Reese: