Z-Man Fishing Products' Finesse T.R.D. has been in the hands of Midwest finesse anglers for more than a year. In essence, it was designed to replace the customized Z-Man's ZinkerZ and Strike King Lure Company's Zero, which is five inches long, and Midwest finesse anglers have been cutting the ZinkerZ and Zero in half, creating a 2 1/2-inch stickbait, since Oct. 12, 2006, and affixing it on a small mushroom-style jig.
During the early fall of 2014, Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, and Sioux Narrows, Ontario, who helped Z-Man create the Finesse T.R.D., said that the T.R.D. had completely replaced the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ in his Midwest finesse repertoire. Reese, who spends most of days afloat at the Lake of the Woods, Ontario, said he didn't know what he was going to do with the residue of ZinkerZs that he had accumulated since he became a ZinkerZ and Z-Man's devotee on April 1, 2011.
The T.R.D. is also being used by a few of the anglers who compete on the Bassmaster and FLW circuits, such as Jeff Lugar of McGaheyville, Virginia, who used it to catch 64.8 pounds of smallmouth bass at the Bass Pro Shops Northern Open at Lake Erie, Sanducky, Ohio, on Sept. 24-26, 2015.
But in northeastern Kansas, the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ is experiencing a renaissance. This rebirth was noted in our Finesse News Network log that Pok-Chi Lau of Lawrence, Kansas, and I posted about our Sept. 4 outing at a 180-acre state reservoir in northeastern Kansas, we noted:
"Our most reliable pattern was to employ a well-worn 2 1/2-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin-orange ZinkerZ affixed to a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig around patches of American pondweed and bushy pondweed, and one patch of coontail. This combo and tactic inveigled 14 largemouth bass. Some of the largemouth bass engulfed it on the initial drop, and others engulfed it when it was presented with a swimming retrieve that was occasionally punctuated with a slight pause. These largemouth bass were abiding in about three feet of water. It is interesting to note that we failed to elicit a strike by employing a new Z-Man's green-pumpkin-orange Finesse T.R.D. on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig."
And on Sept. 5, we received an email from Steve Reideler of Denton, Texas, who is a regular contributor to FNN, and he said, "Your notations about catching 14 largemouth bass on the 2 1/2-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin-orange ZinkerZ and failing to get a strike on the same colored Finesse T.R.D. is interesting to me. Rick Allen of Dallas and I experienced a similar event on Lake Lewisville, Texas, last month, where we caught 11 bass on a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man's Junebug ZinkerZ but caught only two on a Z-Man's Junebug Finesse T.R.D. It baffled us as to why the ZinkerZ was more fruitful than the Finesse T.R.D." On Sept. 18, Reideler sent another email, saying that the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ continues to be more effective than the T.R.D. at the north-central Texas reservoirs that he and Rick Allen have been fishing.
After we received Reideler's Sept. 5 observations about this phenomenon, we received emails from Dave Reeves of Lansing, Kansas, and Travis Myers of Paw Paw, West Virginia, about the differences that have noticed between the T.R.D. and the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ.
Reeves and Myers are veteran 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ anglers, but some of their observations are almost diametrically opposed. These differences might stem from the fact that Myers fishes rivers and Reeves fishes reservoirs.
Reeves is a member and an occasional contributor to FNN and a talented Midwest finesse angler who spends a lot of time fishing at Table Rock Lake, Missouri, and he periodically fishes some small reservoirs in northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas. He is also proprietor of Prescription Plastics, which manufacturers a 1/16-ounce and 1/8-ounce mushroom-style jig with a hook guard that was designed to accommodate the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ, and these jigs work well with the T.R.D., too. During the past two years, Reeves' jigs, which are called Ozark Finesse Heads, have become popular with scores of anglers at Table Rock Lake who employ the T.R.D. and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ.
Myers is a member and frequent contributor to FNN and a gifted Midwest finesse angler who spends most of his days afloat pursuing the smallmouth bass and other denizens that abide in the rivers that grace eastern West Virginia.
Here is what Reeves revealed in his emails about the T.R.D. and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ:
Straightaway, Reeves admitted that he was still in the ZinkerZ camp.
He noted that the ZinkerZ casts better with the extra salt, and after the salt has disintegrated and it has absorbed water, it still casts better than the T.R.D. It also gets considerably softer than the T.R.D. From his experiences, the T.R.D. seems to tear up a little faster than the ZinkerZ.
According to Reeves, the softness and the salt (or pores left behind) of the ZinkerZ definitely provide a different look underwater when the bait is at rest, but in the eyes of many newcomers to these two baits, this might be an extremely nuanced observation. Yet, for an angler like Reeves, who uses the ZinkerZ 80 percent of the time, the subtle differences between the T.R.D. and ZinkerZ are readily apparent.
And before Reeves affixes a ZinkerZ to one of his jigs, he says that he roughs them up a lot, which loosens the salt and allows the tiny salt cavities or pores to open a tad. At times, he has allowed hot-tap water to run across them, but he has not been able to discern if the hot water is as effective as stretching them and rolling them between the palms of his hands. As he affixes it to his jig, which sports a No. 2 hook, Reeves applies a touch of Loctite Super Glue Gel, which keeps the ZinkerZ firmly affixes to the head of the jig.
He also noted that he has caught oodles of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass without stretching and roughing up a ZinkerZ. He has found that a new ZinkerZ that has not been stretched and roughed up will quickly become softer and more flexible than the T.R.D., and from Reeves' perspective, that softness and flexibility makes the ZinkerZ rig more alluring than a T.R.D. rig.
Reeves does not always use a scent on his ZinkerZ rigs. But when he does use it, he primarily uses Fish Sticks' crawdad KVD Lure Enhancer. He said, "I have experimented with it when I had other anglers in the boat: one with scent and one without it. I do not have any scientific-based conclusions, but it seems as if the scent is a benefit. Typically, the angler in the back seat used the scent, while I fished with an unscented ZinkerZ rig in the front of the boat. We used to put the scent on the torso of the ZinkerZ. Now we put it on the braided-wire hook guard of the Ozark Finesse Head jig, and to do that, we simply stick the braided-wire hook guard into the tube of scent."
Here is an edited and condensed version of Myers' lengthy discourse about the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ and Finesse T.R.D.:
After Z-Man unveiled the T.R.D. at the July 2014 ICAST Show, I purchased about 40 bags of them. Then I fished the T.R.D. and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ in the same water, and they were rigged on two identical rods with the same line on each rod, and with the same retrieves. I did this from the late summer to mid-November of 2014. And as I used them, I switched from one to the other every 15 casts and in the same water or area.
I discovered that they act differently in current. The ZinkerZ is noticeably better in any water I deal with where the current is elevated. The first report I submitted to FNN was this past March, and it focused on what many anglers would consider flood-water conditions. And it is no easy proposition to get riverine smallmouth bass to eat a finesse application in brown-water situations. But the ZinkerZ shined.
When the current is fast, the T.R.D. has a swept-through-the-area feel to it. I am guessing that the reason for that is because it has a different composition than the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ has. It doesn't feel as anchored as the ZinkerZ, and therefore, it is more at the mercy of the current. In other words, it moves without me wanting it to move. It passes by fish faster than I would like, and it overacts. In essence, it doesn't emulate the natural movements of the forage that riverine smallmouth prey upon.
This spring, I began taking three-quarters of an inch off of the T.R.D., which created a two-inch bait, and this prevented it from floating after I used it for an hour when it was rigged on a 1/32-ounce Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head jig. Before I did that, I had to affix it to a 1/16-ounce Gopher mushroom-style jig when it began to float. But there is only a few times a year when the water is flowing at 150 cubic feet per second or more that I can get away with using a 1/16-ounce jig.
Once I discovered the virtues of using the two-inch T.R.D. on a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig, I intended to use it exclusively this summer, when the water flow dropped to 100 cubic feet per second and slower. And when that occurred, I had planned on cutting only a quarter of an inch off of it rather than three-quarters of an inch, which would make it a 2 1/2-inch T.R.D., and I thought it would be a stellar bait. But I began tinkering with a customized Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ, shortened Finesse WormZ, Scented LeechZ , and the heavily customized EZ TubeZ, as well as my old standard the ZinkerZ rig. These baits paid such grand dividends that I never gave the T.R.D. a whirl. I have nearly 40 packages of them hanging on the pegboard in the garage, which is enough to last me for years on end. But this winter, I am planning to tinker with them and make some of them into hard-body tubes.
I don't use the ZinkerZ straight out of the package. To make it work properly, takes some tinkering.
I used to stretch them before I used them, but I have stopped that routine. Instead, I place them in a bucket of water for 24 hours. Then I cut them in half, coat them with my customized concoction of Pro-Cure Super Gel, and put them back into the original bags. I stopped stretching them because it changes the color of the ZinkerZ too much for my liking. What's more, the soaking leaches out the salt perfectly, and the Pro-Cure adds a scent element and helps control some of the buoyancy factors.
A well-soaked ZinkerZ is lifelike. It is like picking up a nightcrawler under flashlight. It exhibits a lot of fluidity with the slightest of rod tip manipulations. In the current, when I am deadsticking a T.R.D. and a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ , the T.R.D. looks like an anchored leaf on the bottom, and the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ looks like it is alive. In my eyes, there is not much discernable difference in the lifelike movement between the T.R.D and many other offerings on the market that I fished with before I discovered Z-Man's ZinkerZ and some of their other baits. In short, the Finesse ShadZ, Finesse WormZ , and Scented LeechZ have the T.R.D. beat in the lifelike arena, and a properly soaked ZinkerZ that is lathered with my Pro-Cure Super Gel concoction has no equal on the market in that regard. For whatever reason, I think the addition of the Pro-Cure Super Gel adds even more lifelike feel to the ZinkerZ, and I don't have a clue what it does or why it does it, and if fact, I have stopped trying to make sense of it. I just keep applying it.
Moreover, the slick surface created by the Pro-Cure seems to prolong the life of a ZinkerZ. Pro-Cure seems to prevent the teeth of the smallmouth bass from cutting, nicking, and tearing the ZinkerZ. And when I am on the water, I liberally coat the ZinkerZ with my Pro-Cure concoction every half hour at a minimum.
Because I am a river angler, I not only have to be extremely mindful of the drop speed of my baits, but I have to focus on what I call the wedging or snagging factor, which usually occurs during the lower-water conditions in the late summer and late fall. And the pre-soaked ZinkerZ is more snag-free than the T.R.D. The reason for this is the head of the ZinkerZ has a larger diameter than the T.R.D., and that bigger head helps to prevent the head of the 1/32-ounce Gopher jig from becoming wedged or snagged in a crevice between two boulders.
I have never had a pre-soaked and well-used 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ affixed to a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig float of the surface. But I have had some of them that become too buoyant, which slowed down the drop rate significantly. To rectify that, I simply take it off the jig, and I use my Fiskars scissors to remove an eighth of an inch from the head of the ZinkerZ, which reduces the buoyancy. It is important to note that I have not found any difference in the ability of a 2 1/4-inch, 2 1/2-inch, 2 3/4-inch, and three-inch ZinkerZ to allure riverine smallmouth bass. All four sizes will catch impressive numbers of smallmouth bass, as well as lunkers. Again, what's important is the drop rate.
It is interesting to note that different colors of the ZinkerZ exhibit different drop rates. For instance, the 2 1/2-inch Canada Craw ZinkerZ isn't as buoyant as a green-pumpkin one.
In regard to affixing a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ to a 1/32-ounce mushroom-style jig, I have noticed it will suspend and drop differently when the skinny or pointed end is affixed to the collar of the jig than when the bigger or bulbous end is affixed to the collar of the jig. When the bigger or bulbous end of the ZinkerZ is the tail, it seems to act the way a balloon acts, and it slows the drop rate -- especially when the ZinkerZ is well-worn.
During the cool- and cold-water times, when I an executing a retrieve I call polishing the rocks at deep-water locales, I need a ZinkerZ that has a different drop rate than the one I use in shallow riffles during the warm-water times. And it takes some more tinkering to customize the ZinkerZ so that it will polish the rocks without becoming snagged in the deep-water confines. During the cold-water times, when a ZinkerZ becomes too buoyant to use in the deep-water application, I put it in a package and save it to use in our shallow-water presentations during the summer.
Throughout a calendar year, the ZinkerZ is the best all-around riverine smallmouth bass bait that I have used in the four states where I fish for smallmouth bass.
A properly soaked and customized ZinkerZ that is lathered with my Pro-Cure's Super Gel concoction has no peers in my eyes. But because most recreational anglers don't have the time to spend or want to spend the time fiddling with a ZinkerZ to make it perform correctly, these anglers should opt for the T.R.D., which they will find that it will catch more bass than they ever imagined catching, and they will relish its durability.
In regard to rigging the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ on a Gopher Tackle 1/32-ounce Mushroom Head jig that is made with a No. 6 hook, I think that it has a definite advantage compared to big jigs and bigger hooks -- especially during the cold-water times when I am plying trees and laydowns that lie in the deep-water locales of the river.
In my eyes, the smaller hook also provides a more enticing wiggle than can be achieved with a longer hook. It is comparable to the way drop-shot anglers nose hook a Z-Man's Scented LeechZ , and when they nose hook it, the entire body quivers and undulates with the slightest manipulation of a spinning rod. For those of us who don't employ a drop-shot rig, the 1/32-ounce Gopher jig with a No. 6 hook allows the ZinkerZ freedom to do its thing. This freedom is greatly diminished as the size of the hook increases.
The 2 1/2-inch Zero and ZinkerZ affixed to a mushroom-style jig have been the standard-bearers in the lure repertoire of Midwest finesse anglers since Oct. 12, 2006. But there have been scores of outings since 2006 when a T.R.D., Z-Man's Rain MinnowZ, Z-Man's Hula StickZ, Z-Man's customized FattyZ, Z-Man's 3 1/2 GrubZ, Z-Man's shortened four-inch Finesse WormZ, Z-Man's Split-Tail TrailerZ, Z-Man's Scented LeechZ, Z-Man's Slim SwimZ, Z-Man's MinnowZ, Z-Man's StreakZ, Gene Larew Lures' slightly shortened Baby Hoodaddy, and Strike King's Bitsy Tube have been more effective than our 2 1/2-inch Zero and ZinkerZ rigs.
Before Z-Man stopped manufacturing the Rain MinnowZ, it and the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ were our two most effective stickbait rigs. And there were many outings back then when the Rain MinnowZ was more effective than the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ. In our eyes, the T.R.D. exhibits many of the attributes of our once much heralded Rain MinnowZ, and some of us think of it as our new Rain MinnowZ.
In essence, the cornerstone of Midwest finesse fishing hinges upon lure versatility and employing a variety of clever styles of lure presentations rather than relying on just the T.R.D. or 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ. For instance, Bob Gum of Kansas City, Kansas, and I fished together for 5 1/2-hours on Oct. 2, and we caught 108 largemouth bass. The vast majority of those largemouth bass were caught on a Z-Man's pumpkin-green-flake Finesse ShadZ affixed to a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, a Z-Man's green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ affixed to a chartreuse 1/32-ounce Gopher jig, and a Z-Man's green-pumpkin Scented LeechZ affixed to a chartreuse 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. Only three largemouth bass caught on a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ and none were caught on a T.R.D.
(1) Here are two links to previous Midwest finesse columns about Z-Man's Finesse T.R.D.
(2) Here are three links to previous Midwest finesse columns about Dave Reeves:
(3) For more information how, when, and where Travis Myers fishes, please examine these columns at https://www.in-fisherman.com/bass/midwest-finesse-fishing-august-2015/; https://www.in-fisherman.com/bass/midwest-finesse-fishing-july-2015/; and the other monthly guides to Midwest finesse fishing. Here is a link to a gear guide about the way Myers customizes Z-Man's EZTubeZ: https://www.in-fisherman.com/bass/z-man-fishing-products-ez-tubez/.
(4) In addition to Jeff Lugar's tournament endeavors with a T.R.D., Mike Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, New Jersey, recently revealed that he employed his version of a Midwest finesse stickbait rig at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship at Sturgeon Bay. Here are two links to his insights on his rig: http://www.bassmaster.com/blogs/2015-aoy-championship-live-blog/ikes-classic-thoughts; http://www.bassmaster.com/blog/ike-neutral-motion-got-me-classic.