Z-MAN: The Baits of Champions
Dec 2nd, 2020 by Keith Worrall
Modified Dec 2nd, 2020 at 10:06 AM
Z-Man pro Kristine Fischer lips Tennessee River bronze toward a 3rd place Championship finish.
Z-Man® Baits Crush It at National Kayak-Bass Championship
Kayak pros land 1st, 3rd and Angler of the Year titles
Ladson, SC (December 2, 2020) – For the past few seasons, something special, subtle, perhaps intangible about Z-Man baits has caught on with the kayak brigade—those aerobic aquatic explorers who prefer to cast anywhere trolling motors and glitter rockets can’t go. Whatever the it factor might be, Z-Man baits once again ruled the outcome of the Hobie Bass Open Series (BOS), this time, accounting for 1st place, 3rd place and Angler of the Year titles at the illustrious Hobie Tournament of Champions (TOC).
For two tumultuous days (Nov. 13 and 14) on the Tennessee River system near Knoxville, local stick and Z-Man pro Ryan Lambert tossed Z-Man SlingBladeZ™ spinnerbaits and Ned-rigged Big TRDs™ to seduce 186.25-inches of river bronze— easily enough smallmouth bass to earn a $30k Championship payday. Among a talented 50-angler qualifying field of ‘yak-driven anglers, Lambert out-caught 2nd place finisher Jordan Marshall by 11-inches and Z-Man pro and 3rd place finisher Kristine Fischer by 14.
Championship winner Ryan “Lunchmoney” Lambert leaned on a 1-2 punch of Z-Man baits.
“A month ago, I was lucky enough to win the Tennessee state kayak championship on these waters,” admits Lambert, a resident of nearby Chattanooga. “The fish were just crushing a ChatterBait® JackHammer™ at that time, like usual.” (Earlier in the year, Lambert lip-locked a goliath 22-inch smallmouth at Lake Guntersville, also a JackHammer-eater.)
“I returned for the Hobie national championship and thankfully found the smallmouth school in the same location. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t get them to eat a JackHammer, so I switched over to a one-two punch of a SlingBladeZ spinnerbait and a Ned Rig, and worked the same big school of smallmouths both days.”
On day-1, Lambert slung a tandem, Pearl Ghost-colored SlingBladeZ spinnerbait and Pearl Turbo CrawZ™ trailer upstream, working it methodically back down with the current, through 6-feet of water. “The SlingBladeZ is such a stable, balanced spinnerbait—ideal for strong flows,” believes Lambert. “The tandem willow-Colorado blade was key in the stained water, providing extra flash and thump at the same time. Giving off a second layer of vibration and action, the Turbo CrawZ ran perfectly on the back of the spinnerbait. The pinchers on this bait really help focus the bass’s attention on the hook, too.”
Lambert’s spot, which he described as “a non-descript stretch of a feeder river with flooded timber, rocks and a bit of grass” held a huge school of smallmouths along a 40-yard stretch. “My first bite didn’t come until about 11 a.m., but then during a hot 45-minute span, I boated my entire day-one limit, including a 20.5-inch hawg on the SlingBladeZ.”
Prior to day-2, Lambert heard through the grapevine that another angler might elbow in to his spot. Sure enough, an intruding angler helped turn Lambert’s smallmouth school even more difficult to catch. “It was already tricky holding on such a small river area, but I felt like if I stuck to my guns and worked the fish with the Ned Rig, I could scratch five keepers and finish in good shape.
“I’m a big fan of Z-Man’s Mag ShroomZ™ and a Big TRD. The Mag ShroomZ has a heavier duty hook, perfect for river Ned Rigging,” says Lambert. “Crazy thing was, I lost one of only two of these jigs I had to a rock right away. Somehow, I managed to snag it a few casts later, so I reclaimed my one back-up.
“In the current and for big bruiser smallmouths, the heavier 3/8-ounce weight and bigger hook are key. I just kept working that combo and keeping bottom contact with it, until I had my fish. That Z-Man Ned Rig is such a confidence deal for me that I just kept showing it to fish over and over until they bit it.
“After measuring my fifth keeper smallmouth, I looked at the sky, saw a big storm coming and paddled back to my truck. I called A.J. (tournament director A.J. McWhorter) and told him, ‘I’m done, man.’” Meanwhile, a heavy storm rolled through, including wind gusts to 60-mph. For many of the other anglers still on the water, including Fischer, the storm brought the bite to a halt.
The popular Fischer faced even longer odds, having spent scant hours of prefishing on a waterway she’d never seen before. “There’s so much water here, so much great looking stuff,” she notes. “Thankfully, I’m pretty comfortable on rivers. On day-1, I happened to notice a bit of commotion on the up-current side of an island and paddled over. I caught a bass that coughed up a 4-1/2-inch baitfish.”
Fischer tied on and slow-rolled a Z-Man MinnowZ™ (Opening Night pattern) swimbait on a 3/8-ounce underspin. “Right away, I started hammering good fish, including two 19.5-inchers—one of which was a super fat 5-pound smallmouth. A nearby logjam split the current into a slackwater flat and two current seams. Some bass were on the seams, others were in the logjam itself. At one point, I drilled fish on 8 casts in a row. That’s when you know you’re on to the right pattern.” Fischer finished the day in second place, measuring an impressive 94-inches—a mere inch behind Lambert.
With the approaching storm on day-2, Fischer knew she’d need to get to her spot early to cash in. “Caught a big largemouth right away, but when the bite slowed I switched to a Z-Man Shaky HeadZ® and Turbo CrawZ, flipping the weedless combo into timber. I had four fish by noon, and needed one more to make a run. This shaky head and craw combo has become a real go-to in super tough conditions.”
Hobie BOS Angler of the Year and Z-Man pro Drew Gregory.
While fifty exceptional anglers vied for the Championship, at least ten others had their eyes on Hobie’s Angler of the Year title. Among them was Z-Man pro Drew Gregory. “Coming in to the Tournament of Champions, I logged 4th, 1st and 4th place finishes at the last three BOS events,” noted Gregory, an elite kayak angler who won the Lake Dardanelle BOS with a ProjectZ™ ChatterBait®. “Coming in to the Championship, I trailed two great anglers, Jody Queen and Rus Synders, so I knew I’d have to be on my game here to have a chance.”
Gregory found success with a SlingBladeZ spinnerbait in open river stretches and his favorite ProjectZ ChatterBait skipped beneath limbs and into the bases of root balls. Both baits induced aggressive strikes from a mixture of largemouth and smallmouth bass.
“My biggest bass was a stout 18-inch smallmouth on a ProjectZ ChatterBait (Sexier Shad pattern) with a Pearl DieZel MinnowZ™. That bait has been money for me all year. In my opinion, it’s the best—and maybe the most underrated— of all Z-Man’s ChatterBaits.”
Back-to-back limits of 78.5- and 81-inches ultimately earned Gregory 7th place and the Angler of the Year title, including a $5,000 check and automatic invitation to the Hobie Worlds. “For me, power fishing fast-moving baits like the SlingBladeZ and ProjectZ ChatterBait continues to be a winning formula. What a crazy, crazy, cool year. Feels awesome to win Angler of the Year.
Summarized TOC winner Lambert: “What’s so great about these Hobie BOS tourneys is everyone knows everyone. It’s a family-like atmosphere. Everyone hangs out together. We go to dinners. The kayak brigade just seems to bring good people together, fosters friendships. That means when we discover a hot bite or new bait, we’ll probably spill the beans with our buds around a campfire.”
Z-Man pros (L-to-R)Kristine Fischer and Ryan Lambert took 3rd and 1st place at the Hobie Tournament of Champions, while Drew Gregory captured Angler of the Year honors.