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When Less is Best

Tough conditions call for Finesse techniques.

This smallmouth was enticed with a 1/5 oz. Ned rigged 4" Hula StickZ

My recent trip to western Pennsylvania's Conneaut Lake started out completely opposite than we expected! Meeting up with my good friend Bryan Stuyvesant a retired Air Force Master Sergeant is always an educational angling experience. When it comes to understanding bass behavior few anglers have experienced as many vast and different fisheries as Bryan. During Bryan's Air Force career in the United States alone, he competed on America's best bass waters from Texas to the California Delta!

After just about begging me to spend the day on Lake Erie, out of Prescott Isle Bay where he had patterned exceptional smallmouth action for over a week. I had to decline as my time schedule was too short to make the Erie trip. Instead we spent our time together on Conneaut Lake. Although Conneaut is only 3-miles long and 1-mile wide, this natural lake has produced outstanding Muskie, Northern Pike, Walleye and Smallmouth/Largemouth Bass including Crappie! And, on this trip it was Conneaut's Crappie we decided to target.

Not having been on Conneaut Lake at all this year, Bryan's research with fellow anglers revealed the Crappie spawn was in progress. However the most recent reports revealed the Crappie bite was extremely slow. Our game plan called for covering shallow flats at varying depths within the water column, weed beds, docks and underwater humps.

Bryan Stuyvesant with the only Drop-Shot Crappie we would catch on this trip to Conneaut Lake

Techniques & Baits:

Bryan's Arsenal:
1. Drop-Shot Rig;
Shimano Baitcast Reel/Rod, 15 lb. braided line 8 lb. Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon six-foot leader, 5/16 oz. cylinder weight, Gamakatsu #2 G-Lock Drop-Shot hook, watermelon 4.5" straight worm. (www.Seaguar.com)
2. Crankbait:
Bryan's homemade square-bill crankbait, 8 lb. Seaguar fluorocarbon, Shimano Baitcast Reel on Bryan's homemade crankbait rod.

My Arsenal:
1. Z-Man 4" Hula StickZ Ned Rig;
Shimano Stradic C14 Spinning Reel, St. Croix 6'4" L/F Panfish Series Rod, Seaguar 5.2 lb. Finesse Fluorocarbon, 1/10 oz. Power Finesse ShroomZ, Z-Man 'Drew's Craw', Canada Craw Hula StickZ

2. Z-Man 2 & 2.5" GrubZ:
Shimano Stradic C14 Spinning Reel, St. Croix 7'1" M/F MOJO Rod, Seaguar 7.3 lb. Finesse Fluorocarbon, 1/8 oz. Fish Head Spin, Z-Man 2 & 2.5" Shimmer Pearl GrubZ (www.stcroix.com)

Idling away from the ramp Bryan immediately adjusted his Lowrance HDS-12 sonar unit. Informing me there were several large weed beds running adjacent to a long tapering gravel point. Searching and scanning into the water with our WileyX sunglasses, (www.WileyX.com) we spotted several empty beds on the gravel point. Once, we located the weedline we continued our search utilizing Bryan's trolling motor for a stealth approach.

Lowrance HDS Sonar reveals isolated weeds with fish in 5.3 feet with water temperature of 64 degrees


After locating the weed bed, we re-positioned our boat to make accurate casts. Bryan pitched his Drop-Shot rig into the isolated clump of weeds, keeping his bait suspended.
I made longer casts with my Z-Man Ned Rigged Hula StickZ, allowing my bait to fall vertical into the grass. Hopping or stroking my Ned Rig off the bottom and letting it fall vertically back to the bottom, then dead sticking allowed the Hula StickZ to stand up Shakey Head style.

Bryan's small shallow running square bill crankbait covered the tapering point quickly, allowing for short pauses when contacted with the vegetation. Yes, treble hooks would catch weeds. However, sudden burst out of the vegetation assisted in dislodging the weeds, often enticing a bite.
Horizontal presentations with a single hook, Fish Head Spin blade and the swimming tail on the Z-Man GrubZ allowed for a more weedless application. By pointing your rod tip directly at your bait during your retrieve, you will actually be able to steer or run the Z-Man GrubZ through cuts and channels within the vegetation.

Note: A combination horizontal and vertical presentation can be achieved by swimming the Z-Man GrubZ Fish Head Spin on a steady retrieve and then stopping it above a hole or pocket in the vegetation and letting it fall vertically. (www.FishHeadSpin.com)

Our horizontal reaction baits never enticed a single bite, indicating our need to continue working our baits slow and methodical along the bottom. Bryan's drop-shot rig however fell victim to a northern pike's sharp teeth. With that Bryan stowed his rods and pulled a pre-rigged rod from his locker boasting a homemade finesse brown/orange jig. "Take a look at this trailer it's been one of my best baits on Erie for smallmouth bass. But, it's my last one and I don't know the color!" Smiling I replied, "It's a Z-Man TRD HogZ and the color is Mud Bug."

Surprisingly Bryan didn't realize I had been throwing Z-Man Baits, nor did I have any knowledge on Z-Man ElaZtech plastic baits? After a few casts we moved to an off shore hump. All of which quickly changed to talking Z-Man ElaZtech plastics, when Bryan landed a largemouth on his first cast to the deeper side of the rock and gravel hump!

Bryan's homemade jig with Z-Man 3" Mud Bug TRD HogZ a perfect combination!

Note: Bryan's largemouth bass was a female, which had not spawned yet. This in turn indicated to us another wave of spawning bass were either moving in or staging just outside their spawning areas. A closer look shallow indicated Bluegills were setting up spawning areas and running the banks.

Techniques & Baits:
Z-Man TRD HogZ;
Homemade Finesse 3/16 oz. round ball jig with Z-Man 3" Mud Bug TRD HogZ
Trailer, 8-10 lb. Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon, Shimano Curado baitcaster,
Falcon jig rod. The excellent abrasion resistance of Seaguar's AbrazX
fluorocarbon line was Bryan's choice due to the rocks, metal areas of docks and
dragging along gravel bottoms.

My Arsenal:
1. Z-Man 4" Hula Stick Ned Rig;
Shimano Stradic C14 Spinning Reel, St. Croix 7'1" M/F MOJO Rod, Seaguar 7.3 lb. Finesse Fluorocarbon, 1/5 oz. Power Finesse ShroomZ, Z-Man 'Drew's Craw', Canada Craw Hula Stick (www.Seaguar.com)

Note: The heavier Ned rig weight allowed for much better feel of the bottom and
quicker falls when targeting deeper water.

2. Z-Man 5" FattyZ Neko Rigged:
Shimano Stradic C14 Spinning Reel, St. Croix 5'10" M/XF Tournament Bass
Series Skipping Rod (New for 2018), Seaguar 8 lb. Tatsu Fluorocarbon,
Damiki Neko Sinker, VMC #1 Neko Hook, 5" FattyZ colors Black/Blue,
Green Pumpkin

Neko Rigging Tip:
The Damiki Neko sinker will enter the Z-Man ElaZtech plastic much easier by first starting a pilot hole with your hook. Then compress the Neko sinker into your Z-Man bait until it is seated. Due to the whipping action of skipping, setting the hook and popping out of vegetation, I highly recommend adding one-two drops of glue where the sinker and bait meet. To mask the scent of the glue apply BioEdge Fish Attractant to this area. NOTE: The picture above has the Neko hook impelled through the FattyZ. A small rubber O-ring may be utilized, and then the hook point runs under the O-ring. The Neko hook point will run in the same direction as the bait.

Switching up to a Neko rigged 5" Z-Man FattyZ, allowed for a different action and profile verse that of Z-Man ZinkerZ style baits. The slow wobbling fall and light weight of the Damiki Neko sinker skipped under docks, while long cast ahead of cruising bass was non-threatening. One advantage of the Neko rig often overlooked is the ability to pitch to isolated rocks, vegetation, etc., allowing your Neko rig to free-fall vertical onto your target. At times Bryan and I would do the same vertical presentations using Bryan's Jig/TRD HogZ and my Ned rigged Hula StickZ. Especially when targeting deeper dock pilings, deeper weedlines or boat mooring buoys for Pre to Post spawn bass.

Bryan crawled his round ball jig and TRD HogZ on the bottom, stopping and shaking whenever it came in contact with bottom cover. Many times when reeling in our baits quickly to make another cast we would have fish follow but not take our baits. On one occasion I had a Walleye follow my Ned Rigged Z-Man Hula StickZ up from a deep weed pile. When I stopped my bait he turned away. By releasing my bait and letting my Ned rig free-fall vertical the Walleye engulfed the Ned Rig!

Walleye engulfed Z-Man Ned Rigged Hula StickZ on vertical fall along deep weedline of underwater point

Results: Bryan and I continued our search for Crappie throughout the day as we explored the shallow area spawning flats, docks and weed areas, all to no avail! What we did find within these shallow areas were some very small largemouth bass 2 lbs. or less, schools of blue gills both on and off beds, plus some very aggressive Rock Bass.

These docks were loaded with fat chunky and aggressive Rock Bass

We eliminated shallow water concentrating the rest of our time on the first drop off areas into water depths ranging eight to fifteen feet, as well as mid-lake humps. Utilizing his Lowrance sonars Bryan idled along the deeper contours. Whenever baitfish, vegetation or steeper contours appeared we worked these areas thoroughly. As long as we kept our baits in contact with the bottom, tolerated the extremely hot weather and lethargic bass activity our finesse techniques prevailed.

Evaulating our six-hour angling results we came to this conclusion; There certainly was not a reaction bite, nor a feeding frenzy. Topwater tactics, crankbaits and swimming Z-Man GrubZ's didn't score for suspended bass. It was imperative that we simply allowed the inherent buoyant properties of Z-Man's ElaZtech plastic move our baits for us mimicing the natural action of forage.

Our day was not a block buster, but neither was it a total lost! By adjusting to the prevailing conditions, eliminating techniques that didn't produce, keeping our baits in contact with the bottom and finally allowing our Z-Man baits to work themselves. We were able to salvage our time on the water by allowing..."Less to Work Best"

Remember 'Just Have Fun'
Billy 'Hawkeye' Decoteau

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