At the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show in July of 2014 at Orlando, Florida, Z-Man Fishing Products introduced their Finesse T.R.D. And we published a gear-guide column about it on Aug. 7, 2014.
It is a 2 3/4-inch stickbait made out of ElaZtech, which a unique soft-plastic material. ElaZtech makes the Finesse T.R.D. extraordinarily soft, buoyant, and durable. What's more, the folks at Z-Man note that is unlike most other soft-plastic baits because it does not contain PVC, Plastisol, or Phthalates, and therefore, it is not toxic.
The Finesse T.R.D. was designed to be an alternative to the customized 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZs or its sibling the 2 1/2-inch Strike King Lure Company's Zero, which Midwest finesse anglers in northeastern Kansas have been affixing to a Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig since Oct. 12, 2006. And they customized the the five-inch ZinkerZ and Zero by cutting it in half and making it 2 1/2-inches long.
On April 29 Steve Reideler of Lewisville Texas, and regular contributor on the Finesse News Network, posted a question on the Network, asking if any FNN member has devised any "any guidelines or general rules to follow in deciding whether to use a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ instead of a Finesse T.R.D., or does it matter? I have both baits, but I can't see any advantage in picking one over the other unless I need a particular color, such as Mud Minnow, which is available with the Finesse T.R.D. and not the ZinkerZ. I'm getting to the point where it looks like I'm buying a bunch of baits that look like they do the same thing." Shortly after Z-Man introduced the Finesse T.R.D. and we published the gear-guide about it, several FFN members occasionally asked why Z-Man decided to manufacture it. Some frugal-minded anglers also noted that a package of eight Finesse T.R.D.s cost $3.99 and package of 12 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZs cost $3.89, and Reideler also mentioned the cost factor.
We asked Daniel Nussbaum of Ladson, South Carolina, and Z-Man Fishing Products' General Manager, Dave Reeves of Lansing, Kansas, Don Baldridge of Springfield, Missouri, and Travis Myers of Paw Paw, West Virginia, to reply to the questions that Reideler and other FNN members have uttered and wondered about.
Nussbaum sent an email on May 7 to FNN, in which he wrote: "The ZinkerZ contains 45 percent salt by weight, while the Hula StickZ and Finesse T.R.D. contain 30 percent. By comparison, our FattyZ contains 25 percent salt, and most other salt-impregnated baits (e.g., Finesse WormZ) contain only 15 percent salt. Many of our ElaZtech baits do not contain any salt.
"The main reason why we include salt in our baits is to decrease the buoyancy of the baits or even make them sink, in the case of the ZinkerZ. ElaZtech will sink at around a 40-percent salt content, and at 45 percent salt, the ZinkerZ are designed to sink out of the package at a rate similar to other stickbaits on the market. Adding salt also increases the weight of bait. For instance, we manufacture the Fatty Z with a 25-percent salt content because it provides more casting weight than the 15-percent salt content of our Finesse WormZ, giving it a slightly faster sink rate with a 1/8 ounce jig, and allowing it to sit on the bottom at close to a 45-degree angle when it affixed to a Texas-style slip-sinker rig or fished on a shaky head jig; the Finesse WormZ ,on the other hand, will stand up straight.
"As a salt-impregnated ElaZtech bait is fished, the salt is gradually expelled from the bait as it is stretched and compressed repeatedly. Some salt is probably absorbed into the water, too. As many Midwest finesse anglers have noted, an unintended benefit of the heavy salt impregnation of the ZinkerZ is that after the salt is expelled, it leaves pores in the ElaZtech where the salt had been, and it takes on a spongy, slimy texture.
"We do not actually vary the density (or how much matter there is) of our material, but instead vary the hardness (or resistance to a force). When salt is added to our material, it makes it feel harder, or stiffer (salt obviously is not as flexible as ElaZtech). To compensate for this and make our ZinkerZ feel very soft like our other ElaZtech baits, we use a softer material for the ZinkerZ. Unlike other manufacturers, we can easily vary the hardness or softness of our material from one bait to another because we compound our own material. After a ZinkerZ has been used for a while and some of the salt is expelled from it, anglers are left with a very soft bait, and that is another quality that we have been told Midwest finesse anglers desire.
"When we started making the Hula StickZ and Finesse T.R.D., we sought to vary the salt content and hardness of the material to create the buoyancy, texture, and feel of a well-worn 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ right out of the package. All of our material hardness factors are proprietary, but with the 30-percent salt content and softer ElaZtech formulation used in the Hula StickZ and Finesse T.R.D., we have created a pretty good balance. Thus, right out of the pack, these baits should float off the bottom and sink at a slow rate, while offering the softness and texture that is ideal for Midwest finesse fishing. What's more, the Finesse T.R.D. also features a series of raised bumps on the tail end that helps give it the desired texture right out of the package.
"Because the ZinkerZ contain 50 percent more salt than the Finesse T.R.D. and Hula StickZ, it actually becomes more fragile over time because there is less ElaZtech and more pores. All things being equal, a Finesse T.R.D. will last longer than a 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ.
"To the comment about the ZinkerZ being the best buy, I suppose someone who is very, very frugal could reach that conclusion. Considering that the Finesse T.R.D. will hold up longer, I would argue that it is actually an equal or better value. Also, in order to get the most out of a ZinkerZ, it needs to be prepped to fish Midwest finesse style. Each bait must be cut in half, and salt must be removed by either soaking or stretching and rubbing the bait to achieve the desired softness and buoyancy. For serious anglers who go through a lot of baits, maybe this isn't a big deal. Our goal with the Finesse T.R.D. and Hula StickZ — as well as the Finesse ShroomZ — was to create a system of soft baits and terminal tackle that is ready to fish right out of the package and easy to rig, without any cutting, gluing, soaking, stretching, or rubbing. Considering the durability and value of ElaZtech, I doubt if anyone will break the bank buying the Finesse T.R.D. rather than the ZinkerZ or vice versa, but to each his own."
Dave Reeves is a longtime FNN member, regular contributor on Ozark Anglers.com, and spends many April days pursing largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass at Table Rock Lake, Missouri. And several years ago, he discovered the manifold merits of employing the Midwest finesse ZinkerZ rig. He has recently begun manufacturing a mushroom-style jig with a weed guard that is extreme popular in the Missouri Ozarks.
On May 7 Reeves sent an email on May 7 to FNN. He wrote: The Hula StickZ has just never caught on with the anglers at Table Rock. During this past April, I fished the Finesse T.R.D. and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ. Both caught fish with no appreciable difference in size or number. But the ZinkerZ might be a touch more efficient to fish. It seems like the little bit of extra body that sticks out around the jig helps keep it out of openings in the rocks, where the slimmer profile of the TRD drops down into the crevasses around the rocks easier. And because of the price difference between the Finesse T.R.D. and ZinkerZ, I have had a couple of friends tell me they will not be fishing the TRD unless it is the only option available."
Travis Myers recently became a FNN contributor and files reports and insights about smallmouth bass fishing with Midwest finesse tactics in West Virginia.
On May 6, Myers wrote: "Here is just a quick note concerning the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ and the Finesse T.R.D. I have been compiling notes and logs on both since I first got my hands on the Finesse T.R.D. after International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show in July. From that date, I fished it and the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ into mid-November. I fished them side by side, and both were affixed to identical spinning outfits. And to a smallmouth bass angler who has to deal with currents, they are extremely different baits. But depending on the season, each has its place for the river angler."
On May 7, Myers expanded his observations, and here is an edited and condensed version of his insights:
It is not news that the Finesse T.R.D. and ZinkerZ possess different salt content, and thus, they do not exhibit the same drop speed. And the drop rate is important to me, and the speed of the retrieve is equally important to me, which is hinged upon the buoyance of the bait and the size of the jig of the jig that it is affixed to. I use only two jig sizes: 1/32-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head jig and a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, and if I used jigs that are heavier and sport big hooks and weed guards, the buoyancy difference in these two offerings is not as readily seen.
I have noticed that the laminated Finesse T.R.D.s, such as Coppertreuse or Canada Craw, exhibit a rotating effect when current is involved. It almost spins 180 degrees when I shake it with the rod, and then when I deadstick it, it spins 180 degrees back to its original position; it is similar to rotating a pencil between the thumb and index finger. The solid colors Finesse T.R.D.s do not rotate like that, and I am guessing the density difference between the top and bottom colors are at play here. I have never in my years seen an offering that does this. (In regard to shaking a Finesse T.R.D. and Gopher jig in current situations, it is essential not to employ a lot of rod manipulations. Just a slight twitch of the rod makes it look alive. In short, it is good idea to follow the classical dictates of Charlie Brewer of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, by "not over acting nature."
One of Don Baldridge's Winkiedoodles YouTube videos featured an interesting examination of the buoyance of the Finesse T.R.D. In one of Baldridge's aquarium shots, the Finesse T.R.D. has it nose on the bottom and its tail at nearly a 90-degree angle above the bottom. But the way it performs while resting on the bottom is of little consequence to me, because on the granite-bottom rivers that I fish, none of the fish that I focus upon are bottom dwellers. What interested me was when his video showed how a Finesse T.R.D. affixed to a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig will float when it has been in the water for an hour and much of the salt has been leeched out of it. I have experienced this phenomenon several times, which is not a problem when I am plying lairs that are graced with current. In fact, when I am fishing very shallow lairs in the summer, this extreme buoyancy is a superb attribute, as it allows me fish it through riffles and in and around boulders that would snag many offerings with a heavier jig. (Reservoir anglers, however, will have to affix it to a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig.) And when I need to get ultra-stealthy, the Finesse TRD will shine when I nose-hook it like a nightcrawler or hellgrammite on a No. 4 Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap hook. The buoyant nature of the TRD is superb for such conditions. The buoyant nature of the Finesse T.R.D. can also be tinkered with on a light jig if one trims its length. (Trimming and customizing soft-plastic baits lies at the heart of many Midwest finesse applications.)
When I fish the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ for the same amount of time that I fish the Finesse T.R.D., the ZinkerZ seems in my hands to have a softer texture. In my experiences with the ZinkerZ, it exhibits more fluidity and undulations when I shake it than the Finesse T.R.D. does. We have been dealing with a very wet spring in West Virginia this year, which has meant a lot of high-water fishing. The ZinkerZ is less affected by the current than the Finesse T.R.D. Thus, the ZinkerZ can be kept more stationary on a light jig in heavy and deep current. In contrast, when I have made the same casts with the Finesse T.R.D., there is more of a quick-paced swept through the area, and to compensate for that, I have use a 1/16-ounce rather than a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig. What's more, the ZinkerZ seems to be a bit more customizable concerning length, and this, of course, affects drop speed, and it also can accommodate the moods of my quarry on a given day more easily.
I also prefer to use the ZinkerZ on a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig around extremely snaggy lairs. The reason this is because the body of the ZinkerZ in bigger than the body of the Finesse T.R.D. Thus, the gap between the point of the hook and the body of the ZinkerZ is small, which inhibits snags. But because of the soft-texture of the ZinkerZ, it does not inhibit the ability of the hook to readily penetrate the flesh of a smallmouth bass' mouth.
On a recent FNN report, I stated that I always had a dirt-colored ZinkerZ at the ready. Day in and day out the ZinkerZ is the best smallmouth bass and largemouth bass bait that I have used in my many years of floating these rivers.
On May 9, Don Baldridge emailed his observations about the Finesse T.R.D. and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ
He wrote: "From a strictly monetary point of view, the ZinkerZ is more economical. Yet, both lures are extremely economical because they usually last until you break them off. The few pennies difference is no big deal.
"There are 23 colors of the ZinkerZ, and only eight Finesse T.R.D. colors. In my opinion, the eight Finesse T.R.D. colors are all great and all that any anglers needs. But all the other colors of the ZinkerZ makes them a little more fun to play with.
"Personally I prefer the profile of the Finesse T.R.D. They fit perfectly on the David Reeves' jigs. The Finesse T.R.D. work better than the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ when it is affixed Texas-style to a ting slip-sinker rig, which I use a lot when I am probing aquatic vegetation or brush-laden lairs. BThe 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ and Finesse T.R.D. work well on Z-Man's 1/15- and 1/10-ounce Finesse ShroomZ jig."
It is interesting to note that when we asked Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, about the differences between the Finesse T.R.D. and the ZinkerZ, he strongly suggested that Midwest finesse anglers should spend most of their hours afloat wielding a Hula StickZ affixed to a Finesse ShroomZ jig, which is the bait and jig that he created for Z-Man. By using the Hula StickZ, Reese said Midwest finesse anglers will catch more and bigger largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass. Reese said that he occasionally uses the Finesse T.R.D, but he has stopped using the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ. Yet at the same time, Reese readily admitted all three baits will catch largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass galore, and across nearly five decades that he has employed various Midwest finesse tactics, they are the three best baits that he has ever used. He thinks the unusual effectiveness of these three baits revolves around the ElaZtech material from which they are made, and he calls it a magic potion.
For more information about the Hula StickZ and Drew Reese, please see the stories at these links:
https://www.in-fisherman.com/gear-accessories/lures-gear-accessories/midwest-finesse-z-man-saga-canada/. (Drew Reese is not named in this story, but it is about him.)
https://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/z-man-goes-canada/ . (Drew Reese is not named in this story, but he was the host for this adventure and one of Daniel Nussbaum's guides.)