Supertanker Smallmouths

ElaZtech® finesse baits scoring mega brown bass out West

Luke Clausen has always known about the record-class smallmouth bass swimming within a few hours of his Spokane, Washington home. Not that the greater fishing community has for the past several decades paid much attention. Which is just fine with the longtime Z-Man® pro, among the only anglers to win both a Bassmaster Classic and Forrest Wood Cup Championship. But when you post a picture of a jaw-dropping 7-pound 3-ounce beast, anglers become detectives. Everyone wants to know where, when and most especially, with what lure

Roughly six months before Clausen’s giant November smalljaw ate a Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ, guide Travis Wendt boated a gargantuan bass of his own—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 Finesse TRD and sported an enormous 18-inch girth, overtook Idaho’s catch-and-release state record. Regularly guiding clients to smallmouth bass of a lifetime, Wendt scores nearly all his trophy fish on his two favorite finesse baits, a Finesse TRD and a TRD BugZ. 

“In a lot of these Idaho impoundments, the staggering bass growth we see is almost entirely fueled by populations of kokanee salmon,” notes Wendt, who makes frequent expeditions to these secluded smallmouth waters. 

Easy to see why a Scented Jerk ShadZ (Smelt pattern) remains Clausen’s go-to kokanee salmon imitation.

First introduced to western reservoirs in the early 1900s, kokanee, a landlocked version of the sockeye salmon, now reside in countless reservoirs from California to Colorado. Plankton feeders by nature, kokanee salmon regularly grow to about 5 pounds. For bass and other predators, the smaller, younger salmon provide an oily, nutritous forage fish. 

Known for boom-or-bust year-class cycles, young kokanee salmon abundance immediately bolsters smallmouth growth rates. Incredibly, fisheries growth data has shown that bass feeding on a healthy kokanee population can reach 18-inches at age 7; while an age 7 smallmouth in the same lake will only grow to 14-inches on a sparse kokanee diet.

Clausen’s Pendulum Pattern

“In summer, immense schools of kokanee salmon assemble in the middle of these lakes—sometimes suspending over hundreds of feet of water—where they’re exceedingly difficult to pinpoint,” explains Clausen. “You might have a handful of smallmouths, suspended 40 feet down over 300 feet of water. But even with live sonar, on a fifty-mile-long lake that’s close to a thousand feet deep, it can still feel like a needle in a haystack.”

Remote Western reservoirs continue kicking out world-class bass, like this 7-8, under the radar.

When tournament seasons end in autumn, Clausen has a blast targeting monster brown bass haunting shore-connected structure. When water temps drop into the 50s in mid-September and later (Halloween is prime), smallmouths on these mountainous impoundments shadow kokanee schools up onto 20- foot flats, points or right up tight to rocky- and stump-laden banks. He says overcast days drive more salmon to shallow water and more bass, in turn.  

In coldwater, while many anglers fling umbrella rigs and outsized swimbaits, Clausen induces many more big bites by matching his bait to the size and silhouette of juvenile salmon. “We see bass spit up a ton of yearling kokanee in the 3- to 5-inch range—that’s the size comprising most of the bass’ diet,” he says. “Though we occasionally catch 2-pounders that regurgitate 10-inch salmon, too.” 

Several years ago, to more closely approximate the smallmouths’ bite sized salmon snacks, Clausen started throwing a 4-inch Jerk ShadZ or StreakZ 3.75 rigged on a dropshot. Results were immediate and dramatic. “Put a Smelt, Beer Run or Bad Shad pattern (which produced his 7-3) Jerk ShadZ next to a yearling kokanee and you instantly see why bass find this bait so appetizing.” 

Clausen also learned that the bass liked to chase baby salmon up or down in the water column. “So rather than pinning the rig to bottom in traditional dropshot fashion, I started doing a lot of pendulum fishing with it,” he added. “I’m usually fishing a ¼-ounce dropshot weight, casting and letting it plummet on a tight line. I like to put my bait right above a bass to get its attention, and then drop the rig fast to bottom. Or I might reel it fast, from the bottom up, to make a fish hunt you toward the surface. 

“That rapid plummeting or fleeing action usually flips the trigger that gets a big bass to chase. And once they chase, you got ‘em.” (Clausen notes that most fall-to-winter outings produce one or two 5-pound plus bass, plus loads of 2 pounders. Recently, he caught 35 smallmouths along a single 100-yard stretch of shoreline.)

Wendt’s favorite western smallmouth bass baits, TRD BugZ and Finesse TRD on Finesse ShroomZ jigheads.

Record Breaker Ned Rigs

Earlier in spring, while Clausen is still fishing bass tourneys down south, guide Travis Wendt of Reel Time Fishing is working some of these same Idaho and Washington waterways, finessing smallmouths of astonishing proportions. On May 10, 2022, Wendt spent a rare day off hunting hulks. Casting a Canada Craw-pattern Finesse TRD on a 3/8-ounce, green pumpkin Finesse ShroomZ jighead, Wendt pulled several monster smallmouths off a single spot—one of his favorite rocky points in the lower end of the reservoir. 

Recalls Wendt: “The day I caught the 23.5-incher (which remains the Idaho state record C&R smallmouth), another giant (6-pound 12-pound) bass gobbled my green pumpkin TRD BugZ off the same spot. 

“Most every day around that April to late May period, all we’re doing is slow-dragging the Ned rig along bottom,” he explains. “We don’t swim or jig the bait. Just a simple drag presentation works best, with occasional pauses to let the buoyant ElaZtech® body pivot and elevate tail-up. We fish the TRD BugZ even slower than the TRD. Simply letting the bait work its magic— little appendages flapping and levitating— proves pretty tempting for big bass. These baits never stop working, moving around down there, which makes ‘em perfect for guiding novice anglers. 

Guide Travis Wendt’s 23.5″ Idaho state record C&R smallmouth ate a Z-Man Finesse TRD.

“I’d hate to guess how many big smallmouths we’ve caught on these baits—unquestionably my two best big bass producers. When you hit it just right in that spring prespawn to postspawn period, 50 bass can happen any day—sometimes all on one bait. And you always get a crack a few fish over 4 pounds. Sometimes, they’re way, way bigger. Among our group of guides, we’ve just never found another bait type that moves and triggers bass like ElaZtech, not to mention the resiliency to catch so many fish per bait. 

Adds Clausen: “A lot of the local tourney anglers don’t like to talk about it. But some of the better sticks out here never tell a soul how many 7- and 8-pound smallmouths they catch every year. Even anglers who’ve experienced Lake Erie are blown away when they come and see the dimensions of the salmon-eating smallmouths we have.

About Z-Man Fishing Products: A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among 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 innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide. 

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