Front Probe Q&A with Z-Man® by Dylan Nussbaum
A self-confessed “bass fisherman for walleye”, the young Z-Man professional walleye dylan nussbaum has helped popularize an exciting and interactive approach to their favorite species. “For me, it’s about solving the mysteries of finding and catching walleye,” says the Pennsylvania-based tournament champion. “Every day is a different challenge and that, for me, is a lot of fun.”
Fresh off another tournament season on the National Walleye Tour, and another 35,000 miles driving to the Dakotas, the Great Lakes and back home, Nussbaum recently pondered forward-firing sonar (FFS) fishing strategy. Recognized for his talent for actively casting artificial and soft plastic lures from the bow of his boat, Nussbaum offers compelling perspectives on what has become the biggest trend in freshwater fishing today. . . sound “fishing in sight”.
man z: When did you start using forward looking sonar (FFS) to fish for walleye?
Dylan: I got my first unit, a Lowrance Active Target, about two years ago. If I’m pitching from the front deck of my boat, I’m using FFS one hundred percent of the time. The more I use it, the more I learn about fish and their real-world response to my lure. It is quite addictive. (laughs).
man z: Tell us about your learning curve on the water with FFS.
Dylan: For me, it didn’t take long, maybe two or three outings, before I started figuring things out related to fish species identification and seeing my lure on the screen. These units are quite intuitive and easy to use, especially once you see what a walleye looks like on screen and then confirm its size once the fish is in the boat. A walleye or bass tends to paint a pretty solid picture. But a carp or musk, for example, can look a bit grainy on screen. Walleye usually (but not always) move within a foot or two of the bottom. They usually move and react to their lure a bit slower than a bass for example.
man z: What settings do you prefer for FFS fishing?
Dylan: If I’m hunting fish on open flats, I’ll set the unit to scan 100 feet from the boat. Increase the sensitivity or gain (Lowrance calls it contrast) up to +10, especially for places like Lake Erie, or anywhere fish are easily spooked. If I’m near rocks, stumps, or vegetation, I dial back to 4 or 5, and if I’m working on smaller structures, I reduce the range to about 60 feet. If I’m on giant rocks, trees, or brush, I might use 40 feet to zoom in and get a more accurate picture, especially to separate fish from objects or the background.
I find that a good high contrast color palette, like Lowrance’s number 6, a deep amber hue, really helps the fish and lure pop on screen.
Another thing I started doing this year is using a dedicated battery just to power my Active Target. A 12-volt, 23-amp Dakota Lithium is plugged directly into the unit, so I can run all day without draining other batteries.
man z: What are some of the ideal scenarios you’ve discovered for targeting walleye with FFS?
Dylan: This summer in Mille Lacs, Minnesota, I used it to hunt walleye along the edges of weed lines. Cruising at ½ to 1 mph on the trolling motor, I was able to constantly scan and see small groups of fish stationed in specific areas. I would stop, lock in place with the trolling motor, and cast a slider and leech. Or a template and Jerk ShadZ Scented™, especially to work a little faster. I think I caught about fifty walleye one day fishing like this. Even in dense vegetation, walleyes look great.
man z: Any other memorable recent outings with FFS?
Dylan: Spotted a super cool pattern on Lake Oahe last year. Scattered small pods of large walleye were found suspended 15 feet deep over 40 feet of water. I cast a 3/8 ounce jig and Jerk ShadZ and watched the fish come up ten to fifteen feet and just crush the lure.
What’s interesting is that I’ve found this same pattern in every lake I’ve been to since. You may see smaller walleye near the bottom, but hovering fish are always larger, like 5, 6, and 7 pounds.
I caught a similar scenario at the NWT Championships on Lake Erie this year. Cruising at half a mile per hour, it would make extensive sonar scans and eventually reveal these mega schools of 20 to 30 fish, all suspended 60 feet down in 80 feet of water. You’d get one or two casts on them, and usually catch a fish on both casts, before the whole school freaked out and disappeared.
man z: Where No do you use ffs?
Dylan: I don’t use it in rivers very often, mainly because walleye tend to hug the bottom very tightly in the current and are more difficult to mark on the screen. In rivers, I tend to read the water and current a lot more.
man z: Any tips for finding your lure and keeping it on display?
Dylan: This requires some practice. Because the FFS beam is very narrow, you should position the lure just in front of the transducer’s line of sight. I’m usually moving the trolling motor head from left to right until I see it. Lures with a nice flat profile and wide sides, like the Jerk ShadZ and the 3in. MinnowZ™ both emit a strong and pleasant signal. Solid metal lures, such as the Jigging Rap, also work well. And the Z-Man blade WillowVibe™ also reflects a good signal when the blade crosses the water.
For one thing, you want a fast sinking lure to catch a fish before it disappears. But a bait that sinks more slowly and floats a bit may be easier to follow on screen. I am usually more interested in seeing how the fish react to the lure than in seeing the lure itself. So you may see the initial descent of the lure before bottoming out. But a fish’s reaction can tell you a lot about its level of interest and what you want to do with your recovery. Sometimes I can tell that a walleye has eaten the lure just by watching its movements. However, the ideal is to watch the lure and the fish, since especially when the lure comes within 40 or 50 feet of the boat, you can see the whole picture. . .
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 ElaZtech 10X Tough soft baits, quickly becoming the most coveted baits in fresh and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest growing lure brands in the world.