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The (Fish) Eyes Have It

Slip beneath the dark watery surface and you're likely to lock eyes with aquatic life well before you discern the first fin, scale or tail. Baitfish eyes, in particular, reflect a perpetual, primal alertness. Some call it a look of fear; the same wild, desperate expression observed in the optics of the horror-flick victims.

"I learned many, many years ago while fishing offshore that the most productive lures, by far, were those sporting large accentuated eyes," observes Ralph Phillips, a pioneering angler and co-inventor of the new Z-Man Eye Strike Fishing Weedless Eye Jighead.

"Predator fish key on the eyes of their prey like no other anatomical feature," notes Phillips, one of the early inshore guides in the Charleston, South Carolina area dating back to the 1970s. "This undeniable fact inspired us to create the original Eye Strike Jig."

Seven years ago, Phillips met and befriended Dave Fladd, a fellow angler who happened to be an optical engineer by trade. Together, Phillips and Fladd began to concept a jig whose head was as Phillips says, "primarily just a set of oversized eyeballs." Phillips provided the big ideas. Fladd made it happen; he composed exacting CAD drawings and fleshed out critical details, such as the precise angle and placement of eyelets. The duo even deep-thought jighead shape, aimed at performing specific tasks like grass deflection and exaggerating the body movements of different softbaits.

"At first, we just made the jig for ourselves," says Phillips, "sort of the ultimate trout and redfish jig that married perfectly with our favorite Z-Man softbaits. We started by pouring the jigheads six at a time on my back porch."

Then at a recent ICAST tradeshow, Phillips and Fladd crossed paths with professional redfish tournament anglers Mark and Michael Cowart. "These guys had some exceptional insights into weedless jighead design," recalls Fladd. "So, we went to work together to build what was to be the perfect tournament jig. We believe we have it."

"Tournament redfishing demands a totally weedless presentation," notes IFA Redfish Tour pro, Mark Cowart. "The Weedless Eye Jighead triggers aggressive strikes with its large, lifelike eyes. The jig also utilizes a highly efficient weedguard system that slides through grass and timber with ease. We've fished the new design in Florida oyster beds, and through dense marsh grass in Louisiana. The Eye Strike Weedless Eye Jighead head has performed flawlessly every time."

To achieve total weed resistance, Fladd evaluated numerous weedguard designs, including wire gauges of various sizes. "Weedguard design often becomes a tradeoff between hooking fish and sliding through snags. Eventually, we formulated what we believe to be a superior design that both fishes cleanly through cover and hooks every fish that bites."

Phillips and Fladd also constructed the jighead with a streamlined shape terminating with a precisely placed eyelet to eliminate any v-shaped feature or sharp angle that might otherwise grab plant pieces or obstructions. Molded into the base of the jighead, a conical dual trailer-keeper locks ElaZtech® and traditional softbaits securely in place. The team also selected a heavy duty, 3/0 black nickel Mustad® UltraPoint® hook, which they refer to as the ultimate jig hook for fresh- and saltwater.

"We don't paint our jigheads," says Fladd. "Instead, we let the eyes do the talking, distinguishing each lure with one of five different prominent optical colors. Gold and red are super effective in clear water. And some anglers also prefer a glow eye or chartreuse in darker conditions."

When asked to call out their favorite jig-softbait combinations, the duo broke it down by species. "For speckled trout," says Phillips, "a 3.75-inch Z-Man StreakZ™ has been really good to me." Fladd opts for a pearl-white Z-Man MinnowZ™. When hunting big bull redfish, both anglers wield a Scented PaddlerZ™ or DieZel MinnowZ™.

"The slightly flattened shape of the jighead and the placement of the eyelet actually activates Z-Man paddletail baits," Fladd observes. "In the water, you get a subtle wobbling action that almost resembles a spoon. The combination is honestly pretty hard to beat."

Matching a wide variety of ElaZtech and other traditional softbaits, the new Z-Man Eye Strike Weedless Eye Jigheads are available in 1/8-, 3/16- and ¼-ounce weights and five eye-catching colors.

Weedless Eye Jighead inventors Dave Fladd and Ralph Phillips.

See something you like? Need to re-stock? Find the dealer nearest you to get all our latest products.

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