ElaZtech® finesse baits target mega brown bass in the west
Luke Clausen has always known about the record-breaking smallmouth bass swimming just a few hours from his home in Spokane, Washington. Not that the large fishing community has paid much attention over the past few decades. Which is fine with the Z-Man of a lifetime.® pro, among the only anglers to win a Bassmaster Classic and a Forrest Wood Cup Championship. But when you post a photo of a jaw-dropping 7-pound, 3-ounce beast, anglers become detectives. Everyone wants to know where, when and above all, with what lure?
About six months before November Clausen’s giant little jaw ate a Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ™, guide Travis Wendt rode his own gigantic bass, a 23.5-inch (7-pound 11-ounce) smallmouth from the same water, a remote Idaho reservoir that’s anything but easy to access. The colossal fish, which ate a Z-Man delicacy TRD™ and sporting a whopping 18 inches in girth, he surpassed the Idaho state catch-and-release record. Regularly guiding clients through the smallmouth bass of his life, Wendt lands nearly all of his trophy fish with his two favorite finesse baits, a Finesse TRD and a TRD BugZ™.
“In many of these Idaho reservoirs, the amazing growth of bass that we see is almost entirely fueled by kokanee salmon populations,” says Wendt, who makes frequent expeditions to these remote smallmouth waters.
First introduced to western reservoirs in the early 20th century, the kokanee, a landlocked version of sockeye salmon, now resides in countless reservoirs from California to Colorado. Plankton feeders by nature, kokanee salmon regularly grow to around 5 pounds. For bass and other predators, smaller, younger salmon provide an oily and nutritious forage fish.
Known for annual boom or bust cycles, the abundance of young kokanee salmon immediately increases smallmouth growth rates. Incredibly, growth data from fisheries have shown that bass fed on a healthy kokanee population can reach 18 inches by 7 years; while a 7-year-old smallmouth in the same lake will only grow to 14 inches on a sparse kokanee diet.
Clausen pendulum pattern
“In summer, huge schools of kokanee salmon gather in the middle of these lakes, sometimes suspended over hundreds of feet of water, where they are extremely difficult to identify,” Clausen explains. “You might have a bunch of little mouths, suspended 40 feet down in 300 feet of water. But even with live sonar, in a fifty-mile-long lake that’s close to a thousand feet deep, it can still feel like a needle in a haystack.”
When tournament seasons end in the fall, Clausen has a lot of fun targeting the monster brown bass that frequent the structure attached to the shoreline. When water temperatures drop to the 50s in mid-September and later (Halloween is the best time), largemouth in these mountainous reservoirs follow schools of kokanee to 20-foot flats, headlands, or rocky shoals. and full of stumps. He says that cloudy days bring more salmon to the shallows, and in turn, more bass.
In cold water, while many anglers cast umbrellas and oversized swim lures, Clausen induces many more big bites by matching his bait to the size and silhouette of juvenile salmon. “We see bass spit out a ton of yearling kokanee in the 3- to 5-inch range, that’s the size that comprises most of the bass diet,” she says. “Though we do occasionally catch 2lbs that also regurgitate 10-inch salmon.”
Several years ago, to more closely approximate the bite-sized salmon snacks of largemouths, Clausen began releasing a 4-inch Jerk ShadZ™ or StreakZ™ 3.75 mounted on a dropshot. The results were immediate and dramatic. “Put a Smelt, Beer Run, or Bad Shad (which produced his 7-3) Jerk ShadZ pattern next to a yearling kokanee and you’ll instantly see why bass find this bait so palatable.”
Clausen also learned that sea bass liked to chase small salmon up or down the water column. “So instead of bottom-tying the rig the traditional way, I started pendulum fishing with it,” he added. “Usually I’m fishing a ¼ ounce dropshot weight, casting and letting it swoop down on a tight line. I like to set my bait right on top of a bass to get its attention, then quickly drop the rig to the bottom. Or you could reel it fast, from the bottom up, so that a fish would chase it to the surface.
“That quick dive or run away action usually activates the trigger that makes a great bass chase. And once they’re after you, you’ve got them.” (Clausen notes that most fall-to-winter outings produce one or two largemouth bass over 5 pounds, plus 2-pound loads. He recently caught 35 largemouth along a single 100-yard stretch of shoreline.)
Record breaker Ned Rigs
In early spring, while Clausen is still tournament fishing for bass in the South, guide Travis Wendt of fishing reel time is working on some of these same Idaho and Washington waterways, refining small mouths of staggering proportions. On May 10, 2022, Wendt spent a rare day off helmet hunting. Casting of a Finesse TRD with Canada Craw pattern in a 3/8 ounce green pumpkin Delicacy ShroomZ™, Wendt pulled several monster largemouths from one spot, one of his favorite rocky spots at the lower end of the reservoir.
Wendt recalls, “The day I caught the 23.5-inch (still the Idaho C&R smallmouth state record), another giant bass (6lbs 12lbs) gobbled up my TRD BugZ green squash in the same spot.
“Most days around that period from April to the end of May, all we do is slowly drag the Ned rig down,” he explains. “We do not swim or cast the hook. A simple drag presentation works best, with occasional pauses to allow the floating ElaZtech® body to pivot and lift the tail. we fish the TRD BugZ even slower than the TRD. Just letting the bait work its magic (little appendages flapping and levitating) is quite tempting for large bass. These baits never stop working, moving around down there, making them perfect for guiding novice anglers.
“I would hate to guess how many largemouths we have caught with these baits, hands down my top two big bass producers. When you do it right in that spring prespawn to postspawn period, 50 bass can happen any day, sometimes all on one bait. And you always get some fish over 4 pounds. Sometimes they are much, much bigger. Among our group of guides, we have never found another type of bait that moves and activates bass like ElaZtech, not to mention the strength to catch so many fish per bait.
Adds Clausen: “A lot of the local tournament anglers don’t like to talk about it. But some of the best stand out here never tell anyone how many 7 and 8 pound largemouth they catch each year. Even anglers who have experienced Lake Erie are impressed when they come and see the dimensions of small mouths eating salmon that we have.
About Z-Man Fishing Products: A dynamic company based in Charleston, South Carolina, Z-Man Fishing Products has been fusing cutting-edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been one of 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 innovator of 10X Tough ElaZtech soft baits, quickly becoming the most sought after baits in freshwater and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest growing lure brands in the world.