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Breaking Down a Bassmaster Classic Winner

(Photo by B.A.S.S.)

Breaking Down a Bassmaster Classic Hero

Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson's game-wining Z-Man® Scented Jerk ShadZ™ in focus

Ladson, SC (April 5, 2023) – Throughout all three days of the 2023 Bassmaster Classic, Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson stuck to his confidence bait, catching every one of his tournament-winning smallmouth bass on one of two Z-Man baits—a 4-inch smelt-pattern Scented Jerk ShadZ and a similar, though slightly smaller StreakZ™ 3.75. It's a statement that not only begs questions, but also implies greatness.

"Z-Man's Scented Jerk ShadZ is one of those rare bass baits that look pretty unassuming tied to your line," observes Gustafson, who's won numerous major bass derbies with the same jig and softbait setup. "But put it in the water and it absolutely springs to life, does things few other baits can do; operates on those super subtle levels of body and tail movement, so critical to triggering sight-feeding bass."

Composed of ElaZtech® superplastics, Z-Man's Scented Jerk ShadZ harbors legit bass catching sorcery—a rare combination of softness, buoyancy, movement and improbable toughness. Specific to Gussy's Classic gameplan, the bait offers an almost supernatural talent for hovering horizontally in the water column, just barely pulsing its tail like a shad or shiner in full-on chill mode.

Yet years before Gussy's 2023 Classic or 2021 Elite Series win, even while perfecting his now-popular moping technique, other pros were tapping the Jerk ShadZ' talents in other bass applications. "The Jerk ShadZ is a longtime secret of guys on the Great Lakes and beyond," notes Z-Man pro Luke Clausen. "On lakes like Erie, St. Clair and all the way out to the Columbia River, we discovered the bait's success on a dropshot and won a lot of money.

"You can nose-hook the bait once and never worry about it pulling free. In the water, the bait sits naturally horizontal and stays in the strike zone; won't sink to the bottom and die like most other baits. It's easy to look at the Jerk ShadZ and discount it as just another soft jerkbait. But you'd be missing out on a some pretty crazy advantages."

"Three difference-making traits really breathe life into the Jerk ShadZ, relative to some of the other soft jerkbaits out there," notes Z-Man pro Gussy, speaking to the bait that helped him lock down a cool 300-grand. "Obviously, the Jerk Shad has a refined, natural preyfish silhouette that compels bass to eat it, often without hesitation.

Gussy's winning arsenal of Classic-rigged Jerk ShadZ.

Automatic Tail Movement

"But the Jerk ShadZ' legit advantages start with its remarkably soft ElaZtech structure, which frees the bait and its tail to move and quiver, almost automatically." (The Jerk ShadZ' ElaZtech composition enabled Z-Man to build the bait with an ultrathin slice of material separating torso from tail, resulting in free-flowing tail movement—a huge reason the bait shines for Gussy's deliberate presentation.)

"Sometimes, moping works best just by holding the rod still and letting the Jerk ShadZ hover in place. Even at rest, though, the bait's tail keeps waving and shivering. Bass eyes, which are keyed to movement, easily discern these restrained actions."

Gustafson's Bassmaster Classic winning bait, a Z-Man 4-inch Scented Jerk ShadZ, smelt pattern.

The Horizontal Hover

The bait's second standout talent, Gussy believes, lies in the buoyant nature of its ElaZtech composition. "Something we discovered many years ago, that's critical to a vertical jig and plastic presentation, is that the material makes the bait hover and sit nice and horizontal in the water." The jighead tips just slightly down, he notes, while the bait's forked tail lingers but rarely stops moving entirely—an almost precise facsimile of a living baitfish, just before taking flight.

"If you rig a similar, non ElaZtech bait on the same jighead, the bait sinks and rides tail down, which just doesn't look right to the bass," Gussy adds. "When the presentation largely hinges on a lack of exaggerated swimming motion, you've got to show fish something that appears natural and that moves on those subtle levels—especially when you're hanging a minnow (Gussy's term for the technique more commonly known as moping.)

QUICK TIP: To increase buoyancy of the Jerk ShadZ' head, torso or tail, Gussy stretches the bait in that specific section. Stretching sheds its built-in salt, allowing the buoyant properties of ElaZtech to shine.

Unmatched Bass-Per-Bait Ratio

The third and perhaps decisive advantage of Gussy's Jerk ShadZ is often overlooked, because it's simply so unexpected. "In tournaments or everyday fishing, you can't discount the efficiency factor—the power to hook and land dozens of bass on a single bait without re-rigging," he believes. "Imagine all the benefits above, plus the durability to land a hundred bass on one softbait?"

The night before each day at the Bassmaster Classic, Gussy rigged approximately half a dozen Jerk ShadZ on Smeltinator jigheads. To create permanent "lures," he locked each bait in place with a drop of superglue, applied to the jig collar. "In essence, I had six completed lures, color matched and rigged straight and perfectly aligned to swim without spinning. And I never had to worry about little bass or other nuisance fish pulling the bait down the jig collar or pecking the tail off. Never had to reel up to check on the bait—such a little detail, but such a difference maker, too.

"Lots of times, when you're working a hot school, you've got to get back down immediately after missing a bite or catching a bass. If you have to stop between bites to re-rig or push the bait back onto the collar, often, it's already too late and you've missed your window. During the Classic, I had half a dozen Loomis-Shimano combos rigged with different Jerk ShadZ, as well as a few of the smaller StreakZ 3.75. Only reason I switched baits to start each day was because I wanted to go in with a fresh bait loaded with scent. (Jerk ShadZ are packaged pre-marinated with Pro-Cure, which adheres to the ElaZtech material for hours of fishing.)

"If only my thumb were made of ElaZtech," Gussy laughs. "Seriously, you should see it right now. Absolutely torn up and raw with bass battle scars. Wouldn't have it any other way."

Available in 4-, 5-, and 7-inch sizes, Z-Man's Scented Jerk ShadZ is a naturalistic, scent- and salt-impregnated soft jerkbait with a lively, split-tail design that perfectly emulates erratic baitfish action. Made 100% in the USA, the Scented Jerk ShadZ shines in numerous applications: moping, dropshot and Carolina rigging, weedless jerkbait fishing—or just for winning bass tournaments. For more information, visit www.zmanfishing.com.

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