Z-Man® Pro Joey Nania Wins Second Bassmaster Open

Refined ‘Ned-Miki Rig’ drives back swarms of small fish and tempts large bass on Lake Eufaula

For the second Bassmaster Opens champion, Joey Nania, it was a numbers game. Or more precisely, a never-ending contest of staying clear, working a few tough Z-Man StreakZ™ 3.75 baits out of hundreds, possibly thousands of “other fish” intent on strafing Nania’s bait into oblivion.

Given the durable ElaZtech® construction of the bait, good luck with that . . .

After a rough first day of fishing at the 2023 Bassmaster Open in Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma (June 15-17), the Alabama-based Z-Man pro found himself in 25he place. But on the second day, Nania’s plan came to fruition, as she worked a series of deep humps and brush piles with a subtle shad-mimicking presentation known as Ned-Miki. “It’s one of the best little tarpon imitations ever,” said Nania, who also won the 2021 Bassmaster Open in Pickwick Lake, Tennessee.

Nania tournament winner Ned-Miki Rig: Z-Man Finesse EyeZ jighead / StreakZ 3.75.

Fishing a 22-foot offshore hump, rising just above the lake’s 25-foot thermocline, Nania sailed a 6-1/2-pound monster, which, like most of the rest of her tournament-winning largemouth , to a 3/16-ounce, dollar pattern Z-Man Finesse EyeZ™ jighead dressed in a StreakZ 3.75 color gloss.

“There weren’t a lot of bass on these humps, but those few fish were big,” he observed. “The water was also very clear, which made these bass more difficult to fool.” Nania felt that a major clue lay in the unique properties of the soft bait.

“Because the StreakZ is made from ElaZtech®, it’s durable and super buoyant. When he paused and let the Ned-Miki soak, the bait would maintain a natural horizontal stance. Similar tail fin style baits are not buoyant, causing them to travel tail down, rather than floating horizontally like a live tarpon.

“The Finesse EyeZ is actually a really underrated jighead,” added Nania. “It has a super sharp lightweight wire hook and flat, slightly concave sides that reflect a nice clear signal on the Livescope. The insole also has these little wings or side tabs that help stabilize it, slow its rate of fall, and prevent it from tipping over. It’s a perfect match for Ned-Miki and live sonar fishing, whether you’re casting or working vertically.”

Nania pulled a good one out of some deep brush during tournament pre-fishing.

To complete her Day 2 limit of 22 pounds, 2 ounces, Nania stalked a series of twenty brush piles, much of them parked at the mouths of creek arms. Not only were bass numbers extremely limited, but the larger fish were also beleaguered and outnumbered by hordes of white bass and crappies, constantly competing for Nania’s Ned-Miki combination.

“He probably caught fifty white bass and crappie a day, and this while trying not to catch them,” Nania laughed. “I mean, these were massive schools of fish. Like, 10 or 15 bass to a thousand white bass. Just crazy numbers.

“If I had been fishing normal plastics, the pesky fish could have thrown me out of the game, cutting off my tails and forcing me to constantly change bait. But the toughness of the StreakZ allowed me to fish through crowds of these other fish, constantly strafing and tail-pecking baits. I think I only ate three or four baits a day, instead of dozens. Just an incredible advantage, just from a time management perspective.”

Similar to the baits and presentation employed by 2023 Bassmaster Classic winner and Z-Man pro Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson, Nania’s Ned-Miki team took another step toward finesse. “It’s a relatively light, well-balanced jig and slightly smaller ElaZtech bait, which sinks fast enough to tempt reaction bites.” But beyond the bait’s natural shad silhouette, realistic smoothness, which makes bass hold out longer, and buoyant, buoyant stature, Nania’s skipper focused on casting traditional downturns or vertical jigging.

“I call it ‘tickling’, just skimming the top of brush piles, trying to coax a largemouth out of cover,” Nania explained. “You would detect so many tap-tap-taps of smaller fish as the bait descended through the schools. He just had to let the jig keep going down, pummeling all those white bass and crappies to get to the largemouths, which were mostly buried in the brush. Every time I locked onto a solid bite, I would set the hook and pray for a largemouth. Fortunately, the Lord responded in a big way.”

By the end of day two, Nania had shipped two more four pounds and an impressive limit, jumping it to 1street place. Painting a strong and solid picture on her Garmin Livescope display, Nania’s Finesse EyeZ jig/StreakZ combo would appear and then be overtaken by the relatively huge image of a bass.

“I was just trying to tease and talk Bass out of the brush piles. The buoyancy of the StreakZ helped it float momentarily on pause, preventing it from getting snagged. And then it was all about slowly dragging the bait over the limbs, enticing the bass to swim in and bite. If I was followed by a bass, I would lead it away from the fish and play a subtle game of getting away.

“The bites were really great,” he added. “You would see the bass slowly float behind the bait and then gently inhale and swim through it.”

Nania, who travels to tournaments with her family, celebrated the Bassmaster victory with her sons Zeke and Eli.

On the third and final day, Nania cast a quick 2lb on a jerkbait before returning to a fresh weed run. “I ran through probably twenty new piles, most of them in 14 to 18 feet of water,” she noted. “It didn’t look like the bass were living in these brush piles. Instead, you would occasionally see one swim by, far below the smaller hordes of fish. She never caught more than one quality bass from the same weed, so it was all about covering the water, getting the bait through the crappies and white bass, all without worrying about whether or not the tail of the bait had been cut off. . Once again, the great advantage of ElaZtech”.

In fact, Nania maximized every key bite throughout the tournament. “Everything played to my strengths. I didn’t lose a fish all week and caught almost all the bass with a spinning rod and small jig. It’s great that it happens on a lake where you’re not supposed to fish like that.”

After methodically pulling 12 pounds of bass from their brush-mound route, Nania had a hunch that it finally paid off. “I rolled right off the ramp, hoping to work a platform pattern Ned had on the rocks. Unfortunately, Trevor McKinney (who finished 5he) was at the spot I had fished during practice, so I went to a secondary spot.”

Z-Man TRD BugZ, Canada Craw pattern.

Fishing near a rock wall not far from the start of the tournament, Nania landed two 3-1/2-pound largemouth. Throwing a Canada Craw Z-Man TRD BugZ™ pattern, which he rode without weeds on a 1/6-ounce NedlockZ™ HD jig, Nania’s three-pounder pair improved his final limit to 16-pounds, enough to edge out the second-place finisher. Trey McKinney for almost a pound.

Instead of slowly dragging the 2-1/2-inch TRD BugZ along the bottom, Nania imitated fleeing crayfish. “I try to make it snap and launch, explode, like a crayfish. In between those snaps, just let the bait sit on the slack line. You want to let those oversized, floating fin claws do the rest of the work. Even when the bait rests on the bottom, those fins rise and hover, giving the bass a good easy target.”

After weighing in a final total of 52 pounds, 8 ounces, Nania celebrated his special Father’s Day victory with his wife Jessica and sons Zeke, Eli and Noah. She paused to reflect on a healthy paycheck, a spot in the 2024 Bassmaster Classic, and what it all meant. “I felt so much peace from God all week. No matter what happened and when I least expected it, He blessed me with a victory. Just an amazing week that I will never forget.”

Get to know the Ned-Miki platform

The bait and rig that Nania says has produced 75 percent of her tournament catches this season, the Ned-Miki often doubles as a dropshot substitute. Designed to target individual bass using forward-facing sonar, Nania’s Ned-Miki shines for bass suspended, gliding with hooks and baits and acting like a pendulum on the descent. At rest, the StreakZ 3.75’s buoyancy maintains a realistic horizontal stance, just like a live shad.

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, among the most sought after baits in freshwater and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest growing lure brands in the world.