Z-MAN: Stealth, Subtlety and Success
Aug 11th, 2020 by Keith Worrall
Modified Aug 11th, 2020 at 11:23 AM
‘Yaks & ElaZtech—A Story of Stealth, Subtlety and Success
Ladson, SC (August 11, 2020) – Etching a silent, tranquil path across the watery surface, the kayak slides covertly into position. Seated and ever-alert, the angler briefly surveys the tangle of overhead cover, knows she’s now nearly close enough to nudge the bass with her rodtip. Hunkered beneath a shroud of leaves and limbs, several dark shapes appear unfazed, seemingly regarding the kayak as a mere log. A moment later, a gentle plop places a lively little morsel within easy striking distance, interacting with its underwater surroundings like it belongs there. Sculpted from an extraordinary substance known as ElaZtech, the bite-sized mimic hovers for an instant, quivers, undulates and provokes a sudden compulsion to attack.
Setting the hook for the umpteenth time, Kristine Fischer looks over her shoulder as she pinches the lip of another impressive largemouth. A clear benefit of her low-key fishing ride, nearby anglers in high-powered bass barges scarcely know she’s there. Out on the open water, sitting in a ‘yak can occasionally be a hazard, but here in these inaccessible places where the biggest bass reside, Fischer wouldn’t have it any other way. A week ago, the elite Nebraska-based angler employed stealth, intuition and ElaZtech baits to win the Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) tournament at Lake Hartwell, South Carolina. The victory marked her second KBF title in as many years, in addition to a 2019 Hobie Bass Open Series win and the KBF National Championship in 2017. In other words, Fischer is on a roll.
“One thing you learn while fishing from a kayak is the stealth advantage it gives you, especially on heavily pressured water,” notes Fischer, a talented multispecies angler. “I really believe a lot of the big bass in these lakes have adapted to fishing pressure by moving further and further back in to places big boats can’t access.”
Having never fished Lake Hartwell before, Fischer confronted several dilemmas, not the least of which was choosing between known local patterns and trusting her own strengths and instincts. “Let’s just say I faced some challenges leading up this event,” she recalls, having battled a four-alarm migraine that eliminated most of her only pre-fish day. Fischer’s lodging arrangements also forced her to sleep within earshot of a drive-in-theatre loudspeaker, keeping her up most of the night before the event.
On tournament day, rather than tapping a subtle offshore pattern she found during pre-fishing, Fischer opted instead to follow her inner voice. “I’ve long believed you can almost always find some good largemouth bass in shallow water, no matter where you are. Researching the lake on Google Earth, I had located some flooded willows way back in these shallow sloughs and decided to take a chance.”
To win a recent kayak tournament, Fischer flipped a Tokyo-rigged Mag FattyZ—a buoyant, durable and super lively ElaZtech worm.
Leveraging the silence and maneuverability of her Hobie Pro Angler kayak, Fischer pedaled right up to the edge of the willows where bass hid. Occasionally, she’d nudge beneath the limbs, where she could deliver the bait to the farthest recessed sweet spots. “Sometimes, I’ll stand up and flip right off the front of the Hobie,” she explains. “But in some of these spots, I’d sidle right up close to the cover and flick the bait into a tiny little opening between a tangle of branches. My 7’11” St. Croix Legend X rod gets the assist for this, helping steer my bait into tiny, precise spots and giving me the power and leverage to extract big bass out of the jungle.”
Initially, Fischer skipped a spinnerbait back into shady spots with some success. But when she lost the only such lure in her boat, she opted for a pattern that had previously produced big at Lake Chickamauga, Tennessee. “One of my favorite flipping baits is a Z-Man Mag FattyZ on a Tokyo rig,” she notes. “The buoyancy of the ElaZtech FattyZ makes it hover naturally off bottom when paused. Its subtle, constantly-quaking character assures it’s always down there working for you, calling bass.”
An intriguing, super vigorous ElaZtech worm, the 7.25-inch Mag FattyZ features a brawny upper body that easily conceals a 5/0 hookpoint. The FattyZ necks down to a thinner posterior and then balloons back up to a bulbous tail that swings and undulates on the shake. Impregnated with salt, Fischer gives the bait one quick stretch prior to deployment, which sheds granules and elevates its buoyancy.
Fischer believes the Tokyo rig—essentially a heavy flipping hook attached to a wire shaft and added weights—might be the perfect vehicle for buoyant ElaZtech baits, like the Mag FattyZ. “I rig two tungsten bullet weights back to back on the wire shaft, for a fish-attracting clacking noise,” she explains. “If you rig the Tokyo with most baits, which sink, the whole thing just sort of sags down and collapses on the bottom. Conversely, the Mag FattyZ, which I rig weedless, levitates several inches off bottom and hovers like a living thing. It’s easy for bass to see and bite. Also keeps the hook aloft and out of trouble.
“When you flip the rig, the shaft and hook fold back and allow the bait to slip through the tiniest openings between brush. In the water, the rig butterflies out and activates the worm. It’s really an overlooked way to flip heavy cover. And because the FattyZ is so durable, you can often flip one bait all day without stopping to re-rig. Huge time-saver.”
By the end of the tournament, Fischer’s switch from spinnerbait to ElaZtech had yielded an impressive 91 inches of Lake Hartwell largemouths—just enough to secure a big win and a berth at the 2020 KBF National Championship.
A wacky-rigged Big TRD shows big smallmouth bass everything they’re looking for.
Less than a week earlier, Fischer had been afloat 1300 miles to the north, mining Minnesota’s Mille Lacs for big, robust smallmouth bass. The setting couldn’t have been more different from mountainous Lake Hartwell. But for Fischer, the parallel advantages of kayak-and-ElaZtech still rang true.
“Even after a lot of years in a Hobie, it still amazes me how it puts you in successful situations that wouldn’t be possible with a big boat. On Mille Lacs, I’d drop an Aqua-Vu camera and spot a big bass or two lingering near a boulder. The kayak let me get right over the top of the fish in just 7 or 8 feet of water, drop a Ned-rigged TRD CrawZ or wacky-rigged Big TRD and hook up, time after time. At that depth in a bass boat, the fish would have been oughta there.
“Other times, I’d spot a fish on screen ten feet off to the side, make one short flip and feel the telltale pop of a bite. Everyone knows about the stealth and durability benefits of a Z-Man Ned rig. It’s an even greater advantage in a kayak, because I can get away with just a few bags of baits, rather than stowing dozens of backups. And because you’re getting the bait in front of the bass without alerting them to your presence.
Fischer describes her secret go-to smallmouth rig: “Put that 4-inch Big TRD on a wacky rig and you get so much subtle action out of such a simple bait; so long as you’re moving the bait slow, it’s almost a foolproof way to catch bass.” Rigged with a 1/16-ounce wacky jig, the Big TRD stickbait, which is nearly neutrally buoyant, virtually hovers in the water column, just slowly falling between rodtip moves and quivering when twitched.
Analogous to her mode of transportation and the ElaZtech baits she wields, Fischer ascribes a similar philosophy to her favorite stealth smallmouth approach: “In the art of fishing a wacky-rigged stickbait for big smallmouth bass, less is always more.”