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Hockey Star Turns Bass Head

You have to admit, Grae Buck is a pretty cool name for a man who makes his living in the outdoors. It might have just as easily been an interesting autograph for an NHL hockey player, had the 30-year-old Buck gone pro. Actually, he did, albeit in a game of casting baits for bass rather than slapping pucks at nets.

Fresh off a prodigious win at the 2019 Bassmaster Eastern Open on Oneida Lake, New York, Buck inked a new sponsorship deal with all-star tackle company, Z-Man Fishing. "The opportunity to work with the people at Z-Man is really exciting because I've been throwing their ElaZtech® baits and ChatterBaits®—and have actually won lots of money on them—for years," said Buck, a native of Harleysville, Pennsylvania.

Grae Buck and his wife Jess have fished tournaments together since their college days at Penn State University.

In 2012, Buck graduated from Penn State University, where he played left wing for the Nittany Lions hockey team. "Hockey is my first passion," affirms the multitalented angler. "I've been skating since I was about 4 years old.

"But the other reason I chose Penn State was because they had a college fishing team. I got my start in fishing early on, when my grandpa took me out on the local creeks and rivers. When I was 16, a friend took me out on Chesapeake Bay in his boat. The scope of that fishery really opened my eyes. From then on, I knew fishing was going to be big in my life."

"We're thrilled to be working with Grae," says Joey Prochazka, Pro Staff and Promotions Manager for Z-Man Fishing. "He's a really likeable guy and an awesome fit for our Z-Man crew. Like our other pros, Grae is a talented, super tenacious angler with a tremendous work ethic. His knowledge of Northeastern fisheries will be invaluable as we expand the popularity of Z-Man baits in this region."

While fishing for Penn State, Buck met his wife, Jessica. Not only did the couple fish together on the collegiate competitive bass team, they also graduated with matching degrees in environmental resource management. After graduation, Buck went to work for a pond and lake management company—a vocation that proved a perfect fit for the up-and-coming bass angler.

A Z-Man Finesse TRD earned the assist for Buck's win at the 2019 Bassmaster Eastern Open.

"It was a great opportunity to take what I learned in college and apply it to fishing, doing fisheries assessments and working to enhance fish populations in different lakes and ponds," he says. All the while, Buck continued stacking up tournament cash, winning multiple regional contests and FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) events. Many of the victories occurred on Buck's home waters, such as Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River. In 2017, he qualified for the FLW Pro Circuit; this past year he finished 2nd at Cherokee Lake, Tennessee, thanks largely to a Ned Rigged Z-Man Finesse TRD™. This past fall, Buck also qualified for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic by winning the Bassmaster Eastern Open.

"I'd actually just won a BFL event on Oneida a month before the Bassmaster Open," Buck recounts. "I grew up fishing this lake; it's where I fell in love with smallmouth fishing. Actually, I fished the same shallow pattern in 6 to 9 feet of water with a Finesse TRD in both tournaments. That tells you everything you need to know about the fish-catching appeal of these baits."

While Buck remains a big fan of finesse tactics such as Ned and dropshot rigging, a totally different Z-Man lure has accounted for the biggest bass of his career. "The ChatterBait JackHammer™ is absolutely my favorite lure for big largemouths and smallmouths," he notes. "Seven of the ten biggest bass I've ever caught ate a JackHammer."

Buck says the ChatterBait JackHammer is an underrated bait for big smallmouth bass.

Interestingly, while the renowned Z-Man bladed jig has become known as a hero bait for whopper largemouths, the lure's attraction for big smallmouths has remained something of a secret. "On a lot of famous lakes, such as Champlain, anglers tend to throw a spinnerbait when they're chasing smallmouths. Those are my favorite places to cast a JackHammer. Rig it with a RaZor ShadZ™, which has a nice thin profile and swims with mad action. Particularly white-patterned combos often out-fish a spinnerbait, and almost always score my biggest bites."

Buck, who's working toward a strong showing at his first Bassmaster Classic, believes the ChatterBait could play a major role for prespawn bass at Lake Guntersville, Alabama, March 6 to 8, 2020. "Qualifying for a Classic via Bassmaster Opens is a big statement," says Prochazka. "It's something even a lot of the Elite anglers aren't able to do. Just proves Grae's abilities as an angler and a tenacious competitor. He's got an exciting career ahead of him, no doubt."

"Z-Man is one of the great fishing companies," asserts Buck. "I'm honored to work with them and help spread the legend of ElaZtech and all their exceptional fish-catching lures for years to come."

The man with the cool fishing name, Grae Buck, has long relied on Z-Man Ned rigs and ChatterBait bladed jigs.

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