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A Simple Fish Catching Plan

Sometimes, the most alluring baits for bass and other species, by far, are the simplest in stature. The best minimalist baits don't mimic anything specifically; they're suggestive of aquatic life, approximating the size, silhouette and movements of a bite-sized critter.

The anatomical opposite of exacting, match-the-hatch profiles, bare-bones Ned Rig baits do one thing extraordinarily well: catch fish in assembly-line numbers. That's the idea behind Z-Man's fresh-from-the-molds TRD TicklerZ™. Put one in the water and there's no denying its simple, elegant appeal to underwater predators.

Is this the best Ned Rig bait ever?

Ned Kehde and friends have devised some interesting rigging methods.

"What makes Ned Rig fishing so good is, well, nothing," deadpans Brian (aka "B. Lat") Latimer, winner of the 2019 FLW Tour event at Lake Seminole.

Lest you misinterpret B. Lat's take, first realize the Z-Man pro is actually a major Ned Rig fan. But he feels the key to sleek baits like the TicklerZ is its minimalist physique, as well as its buoyancy, which essentially breathes life into the presentation, sans angler intervention.

"The TRD TicklerZ is my new favorite Ned bait—super unassuming, but with just enough subtle, bite-inducing appendages. It's similar to the Hula StickZ™— my other favorite finesse bait— only in a shorter, stubbier package and with a smooth-skin texture.

"I can't tell you how to fish it, because you can't fish it wrong," B. Lat shrugs. "The more complicated you make the baits and the retrieves, the less it resembles the technique that catches bass even when they don't want to eat."

The culmination of nearly a decade of testing various Ned Rig profiles, bait designer Drew Reese says the TRD TicklerZ may be the perfect finesse bait. Reese, exceptional angler and co-architect of modern finesse methods, calls the TicklerZ perhaps the best Ned Rig bait ever made.

Master lure designer Drew Reese caught 57 species of salt- and freshwater fish on a single TRD TicklerZ.

"Last year, I brought a few of the prototypes on my travels to Lake of the Woods, Ontario and the Florida Keys and caught fifty-seven different species on one bait," Reese declared.

Beyond the bait's incredible durability, Reese says designing the bait with fewer, sparser legs allow them to spread out and produce much greater action and freedom to quiver. "Put the TicklerZ on a Finesse ShroomZ™ jighead and let it go to the bottom. Watch how the tentacles never entirely stop moving," Reese observes.

"I spend ninety-percent of the time imitating what a crayfish does: pump the bait up and stop to let it sit. The variables are length and intensity of the pull and the duration of the pause. When in doubt, simply letting it hit bottom and sit always triggers a ton of bites."

Reese also brings to attention the TicklerZ' smooth epidermis, interrupted only by a set of tiny pimples. "They approximate the bumps on a crayfish carapace and produce little air bubbles as the bait moves.

"We made this bait to be supremely appealing to bass and a ton of other species, freshwater and salt," adds Reese. "It uses an extra soft ElaZtech® formula and light salt impregnation that compels bass to eat the bait and hold it. It's also super buoyant, particularly in the tentacles, which keeps them up and moving around."

Meanwhile, another migrating angler who splits time between bass- and walleye-rich Lake of the Woods, Ontario and southern U.S. Bassmaster Elite Series events, Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson says the TRD TicklerZ has been a revelation for both smallmouth and spotted bass. "Earlier this spring, we crushed the spotted bass with a Ned rigged TicklerZ at Lake Lanier. Came home and cleaned up on big smallmouths with the same combo on Lake of the Woods. For guiding kids and first-time anglers, it's like fishing livebait, because there's no wrong way to work it. That's a sign you've got a sweet bait tied on."

Gussy, who likens minimalist offerings such as a marabou jig or TRD TicklerZ to "an after-dinner mint" for bass, rigs the latter on a Z-Man Finesse ShroomZ jighead. Around heavy cover, docks and vegetation, he bulks up to the new Pro ShroomZ™ jighead, which sports a heavier duty jig-hook.

"For me, 90-percent of bites occur within the first 10-seconds of the bait hitting bottom," he notes. "In clearer water, bass swim over to see the bait falling through the water column. When I click the bail and first move my rod is when bass often wolf it up. After I've bounced it ten feet or so, I'll reel right in and pitch it out again."

The drop is key, Gussy says. But so is the on-bottom pause, allowing the bait's buoyancy to make it sit upright, tentacles gently flaring. He adds that the TicklerZ' buoyancy also keeps anglers out of rocky snags and annoying re-ties.

"Red or yellow braided line, which floats and acts like a strike indicator, keys the presentation," Gussy believes. "The line stops and collapses when the bait hits bottom, and it twitches or pops when a bass bites.

"What I also like about the TicklerZ is I can pitch it to a target on bottom and know it'll fall perfectly straight and hit the bullseye, every time. Rig the bait perfectly straight on the jighead and it'll produce some crazy results."

Sculpted, poured and packaged at Z-Man headquarters in Ladson, South Carolina, USA, the lightly-salted, 2.75-inch TRD TicklerZ comes in 18 radical color patterns, including exclusive Sprayed Grass, Twilight and Mood Ring. MSRP is $4.49 for an 8-pack of baits. Available in July. For more information visit www.zmanfishing.com or Z-Man at the upcoming ICAST Show, booth #5118.

To read Ned Kehde's full analysis of the Z-Man TRD TicklerZ, click here.

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