Florida bass to start the tourney season with Z-Man

“Z” Baits Leap Up the Leaderboard

Z-Man® pros Miles Burghoff and Seth Feider weigh big Florida bass to start the tourney season

Ladson, SC – It’s become more than a trend, or as millennials like to call it, a thing. On Florida bass water, two themes shine a perpetual spotlight on the winner’s circle: ChatterBait® JackHammer™ bladed jigs and ElaZtech® soft plastics. For each of the past three seasons, nearly every tournament at revered fisheries like Okeechobee, the St. Johns, the Harris Lake Chain and Kississimmee has heralded bags of mongo bass that regret ever biting a Z-Man bladed jig or softbait. Tossing the trending baits, as it turns out, doesn’t even mean the angler in question is flaunting the big Z on his boat or jersey. Count that as ‘a thing’ all its own.

Take the recent Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit derby on Lake Okeechobee, where 1st place angler Skeet Reese slung a green-pumpkin ChatterBait JackHammer toward 82-pounds 14-ounces and a $100k payday. Particularly on the final two days of the tourney, as winds on the big lake amped up, Reese wielded a JackHammer to pick off big active females set up in slightly deeper areas just off stands of grass. It was far from the first time a JackHammer won big for a non-sponsored angler.

Z-Man pro Miles “Sonar” Burghoff has become one of the most consistent anglers on tour. (Photo by Cobi Pellerito)

While plenty of other pros cast ChatterBaits to the big prespawn and spawning largemouths—including 8th place finisher Ryan Salzman—a secondary pattern was tapped by Miles “Sonar” Burghoff, who led the tournament after day-two. For the first few days, the rising Z-Man star from Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee punched reed clumps with a hot new Z-Man bait called the GOAT™. When his bass turned tough on day-three, Burghoff made a key switch to a Z-Man Bang StickZ™ and hung tight for a healthy 6th place check.

During those same four days, it was no accident that Z-Man’s newest pro, Seth Feider, found himself pitching an almost identical Bang StickZ combo, eventually weighing an almost identical final weight toward a 3rd place finish and $30k at the Bassmaster Elite Series event at the St. Johns River. 

Back on Okeechobee, Burghoff caught everything he weighed early on with the GOAT—a super versatile twin paddletail grub. “Initially, the big prespawn females were eating the bait aggressively. But with all the boat traffic in the area, it quickly turned into a tougher bite with most of the bass setting up on beds. Water conditions weren’t right for sight fishing, so I was simply targeting the best looking stuff—flat reeds and arrowheads were key spots.”

Burghoff’s punching tackle included a ¾-ounce tungsten weight, 3/0 hook and 65-pound test braid. He alternated between two twin-tail baits—a 4-1/4-inch Billy GOAT and a slightly smaller 3-3/4-inch GOAT, both in black and blue. Engineered and developed as an ultra-versatile solution for targeting any segment of the water column, the buoyant, twin-paddletail grub pumps out plenty of vibration, its slightly flattened torso yielding a gliding, hovering action on the drop.

Burghoff’s tournament tools of choice, a Bang StickZ and GOAT (top to bottom).

“The GOAT just has an awesome profile that’s proving to be a big bite getter,” noted Burghoff. “The Billy GOAT, especially, has a little thicker body that keeps the hook from pushing through and snagging super heavy cover. The bait’s buoyancy also helps with that. And its legs give off a big bold kicking action that’s magnetic to big bass, especially the aggressive ones. I have a feeling these GOAT baits are going to play big in my upcoming tourneys—and the cool thing is you can fish it in so many different ways and places.”

During the final two days, as boat traffic and fishing pressure intensified, Burghoff dug into his bag of tricks and tied on a Z-Man Bang StickZ, an increasingly popular stickbait among pros facing tough tourney conditions. He downsized to a 3/8-ounce weight and a 5-3/4-inch Junebug pattern Bang StickZ.

“I had to slow down and work my way further back into the heavier grass to reach any bass remaining in the area,” recalled Burghoff, who focused on the West Wall region not far from the Clewiston launch site. 

Z-Man’s newest pro, Seth Feider cashed a third place check at the first Bassmaster Elite event of the year. (Photo by Andy Crawford)

“These Florida bass really like the straight tail profile of a stickworm, but the Bang StickZ offers more buoyancy and four little tentacles that add just a bit of visual inducement. I’d pitch it into those little isolated reeds. Let it soak and float up off the bottom a bit, and then follow up with a few subtle shakes.” Burghoff’s one-two punch of ElaZtech baits produced nearly 71-pounds of Florida bass, including five hawgs between 6 and 7 pounds.

Meanwhile, two-hundred-some miles to the north, Feider was putting the smackdown on St. Johns River largemouths. “I actually found my fish in practice by throwing a JackHammer,” noted Feider, the Minnesota ‘mane-man’ with a cult-like following. “Once I found the fish, the key for me was going real slow, fishing extra thorough with a Texas-rigged Bang StickZ. That bait’s got the right length and profile—a shape that really appeals to those big Florida tanks. But I think the buoyancy gives the bait a little something extra, and gets right up in their face. The bait stands up off the bottom just enough, while the little tentacles quiver for extra enticement.”

Z-Man’s ChatterBait JackHammer might be the most productive big bass bait on the tourney circuit today.

Feider, one of the most precise tacticians on tour, pitched the black-blue Bang StickZ on a 3/0 VMC straight shank hook and a 3/16-ounce tungsten weight. He meticulously dragged and shook the weedless stickworm across minute patches near lily pad clumps, other plant irregularities and even along sea walls.

“The water on the St. Johns is that standard Florida black tannic color where we fished. You had to go slow and often make repeated casts into those high-percentage spots to get a bite,” added Feider, who boated 7-pound bass on days two and three toward an eventual 69-pound 6-ounce total.  

“The resiliency and efficiency of these baits is pretty unbelievable. I mean, I used no more than two to three Bang StickZ, per day, and probably could have gotten away with one. Can’t imagine even trying to do that with other soft plastic baits.”