Tales of two extraordinary bass tournaments
Situated strategically on the front decks of nearly every boat in a 120-team field of anglers, the same aqua-blue bag of softbaits sat poised for action. That scant few of the anglers waved sponsor logos matching their bait-bags suggested a rather interesting puzzle: Perhaps it’s not always the signage on the shirt, but rather, what’s rigged on rods that proves providential.
Indeed, something remarkable occurred at the recent Bassin for Bucks tourney, a Lake of the Woods based derby that’s become one of the most esteemed and competitive smallmouth bass events in Canada. “I’d estimate that pretty much every boat in this tourney had a pack or two of Jerk ShadZ on board,” observed Jamie Bruce, an exceptional bass stick who won the September 2021 event alongside his partner and wife, Ashley.
A few weeks earlier and a hundred-fifty miles to the south, touring pro and fishing guide Adam Rasmussen had just subjected himself to an extreme case of bass thumb, boating an astonishing number of fish—and crushing the field at a Classic Bass Champions Tour contest by 142-pounds of bass. In a single 8-hour day of fishing, Rasmussen lipped and logged 98 bass for 247-pounds total—every one of which engulfed a Z-Man bait.
But before divulging the full details, consider an authentic “this happened to me” tale—events that would set the stage for some of the most mind-blowing bass bites in recent memory.
“For several years, a handful of us, including my buddy Jeff Gustafson (aka “Gussy” on the Bassmaster Elite Series) kept the baits and the technique under our hats—and we whaled on thousands of smallmouths with it. We still do pretty well, but now, everyone has discovered the benefits ElaZtech and the Jerk ShadZ bring to the table. I mean, it’s pretty hard to discount a bait that catches over a hundred fish without having to re-rig.
“Honestly, if not for the presence of northern pike here, which snip your line about once an hour, we could easily fish an entire tournament day with one jig and ElaZtech bait. Let that sink in a minute.”
Outlandish assertions aside, Bruce recalls the origins of the game-winning baits and a technique known as “moping” or Damiki rigging, which Canadian anglers refer to as hanging a minnow.
“Probably close to a decade ago now,” recounts Bruce, among the most talented bass anglers in Ontario. “There was one veteran angler up here named Drew Reese, who was using these baits made of this strange material. ElaZtech. Originally, I think Z-Man made ElaZtech baits for Strike King—even before they started building baits under their own brand. Turns out Reese was a good buddy of Ned Kehde— mister Ned Rig— as well as a longtime tourney angler who fished the first-ever Bassmaster Classic.
“The stuff Reese was fishing was both super soft and tough as nails. Buoyant, too. That was the deal, and still is. On a jighead, in the water, the bait sits flat. Holds the jig nice and horizontal, so the tail and hook don’t sink and tilt down in an unnatural manner. With other baits, we were constantly having to reposition or tie complex knots just to achieve this perfect angle. The Jerk ShadZ did this on its own—and it’s an enormous bite trigger, especially when you pause the bait between jig strokes.
“But the crazy thing was, you didn’t have to change baits, like ever,” Bruce continued. “At the Bassin for Bucks tournament, I could sit right on top of smallmouth schools with the same Jerk ShadZ and just whack fish, one after the other. Most of the schools had lots of 1- and 2-pound fish. You had to fleece through a bunch of these dinks in order to catch a good one.
“On day-two, we had to catch over 100 bass to achieve our weight. Without the durable ElaZtech bait glued to the jighead (Bruce adds a dab of Loctite Super Glue Gel Control), you’d spend half your day changing baits. Once the school got fired up, you had limited time to catch them before they went negative. So, the ability to drop back immediately on biting bass was key to eventually scoring those 3 and 4 pounders.”
To match the prevailing forage of rainbow smelt, Bruce and his wife wielded 4-inch Smoky Shad pattern Scented Jerk ShadZ—a fluke-style baitfish pre-infused with Pro Cure attractant—melded with a 3/8-ounce jighead. Bruce notes that he’d shuffle through his packs to find the “greasiest baits.” After twenty fish or so, he’d dip the bait back into the bag for an attractant recharge.
Gussy Goes Horizontal
While Bruce and many other anglers primarily hovered over bass on deep rock ledges, Bruce’s friends and third place finishers Gustafson and Mike Reid worked shallower with both a Z-Man Hula StickZ and Scented Jerk ShadZ. Gussy calls the Hula StickZ “probably the best smallmouth bait ever, given its versatility and effectiveness on nearly every fishery I’ve been to.”
Recall that in February, Gustafson won the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on the Tennessee River, using the same vertical presentation Bruce employed to win at Lake of the Woods. At this most recent Canadian derby, Gussy devised a horizontal cast-and-retrieve system with the same jig and Jerk ShadZ combo.
“Some of these big smallmouths are getting smarter, so if you can get the bait in front of bass before they detect your boat, your odds of hooking up increase. It’s a different look than the vertical approach, but we’re still swimming the bait 5 or 6 feet above bottom, always keeping it above the fish, which makes them react.”
All-Time Tourney Record
It was another one-two punch of Z-Man lures that again produced nearly 100 bass, this time for Adam Rasmussen, during the one-day Classic Bass Champions Tour event at Pelican Lake, near Orr Minnesota. An instant catch-weigh-release format allowed Rasmussen to register 98 bass for a total of 247 pounds 10 ounces. The incredible fishing day obliterated the previous all-time Champions Tour record by 116-pounds. Runner-up Matt Thompson, who caught 32 bass for 105-pounds, simply couldn’t contend with Rasmussen’s astonishing one-day masterpiece.
“In practice, I found some isolated rocks within main lake weedbeds and worked just two key spots all day,” noted Rasmussen. “In the morning, I covered water and caught all my fish on a ChatterBait JackHammer (Bruised Green Pumpkin) with an Okeechobee Craw pattern GOAT trailer.” Rasmussen worked the ChatterBait-GOAT combo with a stop and go retrieve, pausing periodically to trigger reluctant bass. He boated dozens of 2- to 4-pound bass before switching a second presentation in the afternoon.
“Early that afternoon, I broke off my first Ned rig pretty quick, but then threw a second identical bait—a black-blue Z-Man Big TRD on a 3/16-oz prototype VMC jighead for the entire rest of the day—and dozens and dozens more bass,” added Rasmussen, who is not sponsored by Z-Man.
“I believe, the more these ElaZtech baits get chewed on, the better they get—the more bass like to eat and hold them. They can take a ton of abuse and eventually develop tiny tears in the material. But the baits hold together forever. Constant bites just make them better—softer, a little slimier and even more likely to get chomped.”
About Z-Man Fishing Products: A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide.