Panfish Bait of the Future?

Ladson, SC – Even among the nation’s best bass anglers, whispers of words like big crappies attract a captive audience, every time. When tournament seasons end, plenty of bass fans go hot on the trail of their favorite panfish—silvery, palm-stretching wraiths known evocatively as “hubcaps.” Prospects of hundred fish days and flaky-white fillets—battered, seasoned and sizzling in a skillet—prompt even the most jaded anglers to drop what they’re doing and beeline for the nearest crappie hole.

It should come as no surprise then that while driving home from his last big bass derby of the year, Major League Fishing competitor David Walker found himself daydreaming about his local crappie lake and the makings of an epic fish fry. “After a long season of bass tourneys, I love coming home and catching a boatload of crappies with my daughters,” says Walker, a wizard with a small jig and softbait.

A lifelong panfish pursuer, Walker has discovered a something big in the arena of soft plastic baits for crappies, perch, and bluegills—an idea that occurred to him while fishing a bass tournament.

ElaZtech crappie baits (L to R) – Slim SwimZ with Finesse ShroomZ jig, ChatterBait Micro, trimmed Slim SwimZ with Finesse EyeZ jig, GrubZ with OG Mushroom jig.

“When I first started throwing ElaZtech soft baits for bass, I quickly learned an almost magical advantage of the material, which was that panfish and other nuisance fish couldn’t peck the tails off the back of your bass jigs. While bass fishing with traditional soft plastics, it’s always been a headache and major time waster when you’ve got perch, sunfish and other tail-pecking fish in the area. But using these new wave soft baits, I realized panfish could peck them all they wanted. I could stay in the game, non-stop, without constantly grabbing and re-rigging a new bait.”

All the while, Walker was thinking about crappies. He knew that ElaZtech’s advantages held tremendous panfish potential. “ElaZtech is wonderfully soft, making it easy to activate, so it moves and undulates fluidly in the water,” he notes.

“Like most anglers, I had spent years accepting that traditional panfish sized soft plastics made from PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, just don’t move that well in the water. Because they’re relatively rigid, traditional soft crappie baits tend to lose action the smaller you make them. So, you often had to resort to larger baits than you wanted, or had to retrieve them faster to achieve the desired tail movement or the right swimming action. Neither are ideal for a fish that often exhibits size and speed selectivity in their feeding habits.

“You’ll understand that when I started fishing ElaZtech, I was pretty excited about its advantages for bass—but secretly, I couldn’t wait to throw the baits for panfish. Combine a super soft, lively bait with near impossible durability and you quickly appreciate what I’m saying. This stuff had all the makings of the perfect panfish bait.”

Pro bassin’ legend David Walker selfies an ElaZtech-caught crappie.

A few days after the finish of a bass tourney season, Walker found himself on his favorite crappie lake. He spotted the aqua-blue packs of Z-Man baits lying on his boat deck and a light bulb ignited. “I picked up a pack of Slim SwimZ— a little 2-1/2-inch paddletail swimbait— and put it on an 1/8-ounce panfish jig. Almost immediately, it became my favorite crappie bait, and here’s why.

“From the first few casts, I noticed that the bait’s tail was so easy to activate—even at slow retrieve speeds. The Slim SwimZ is one of those rare crappie-sized swimbaits whose tail will wag and thump even as it’s falling. Crappies can be super speed sensitive, in terms of inducing bites. Too many traditional crappie baits require excessive speed to activate them—and often, that’s too fast for crappies, especially in colder water.”

Walker, a deep-thinking angler who’s constantly tinkering and doctoring baits to maximize their performance, began wielding a small pair of super-sharp scissors for a bit of minor ElaZtech surgery. “I’d cut a quarter inch off the Slim SwimZ’ head for a slightly shorter profile—or just enough so the bait maintained its original size after rigging it on a jig head. I also started thinking about ways of altering tail action with a snip here and a slice there.”

Walker’s customized crappie bait – a trimmed Slim SwimZ and Finesse EyeZ jighead.

Prompting this line of thinking was Walker’s recognition of another benefit of the bait’s material: natural buoyancy. “At rest, the buoyancy of the Slim SwimZ prompts the tail to hover nearly perfectly horizontal on a jig head. When I’m fishing the bait vertically for deeper crappies or fish suspended in brush, I can just dance the little jig in their faces. I know the tail will hover; won’t drop unnaturally below the jig head and turn fish off. It’s a real key to ‘talking’ lethargic crappies into biting.”

The softness, action and buoyancy factors further moved Walker to think about altering the tail side of the bait. “Once the water gets cold and I’m fishing more vertical, I like a bait whose tail quivers and quakes with the slightest movement of the rod tip or line. The 2” GrubZ is a classic twister tail that’s an exceptional fish catcher right out of the bag. That bait works for casting or vertical jigging without any alteration.

“But the more I looked at the Slim SwimZ, the more it struck me that I could snip off the boot-tail and create a sword-tail effect. Lay the bait on its side and follow the angle of bait’s underside, cutting at a slight upward angle. You want to taper down to a nice thin sliver of material, which helps get the most movement out of the tail.

“First time I did this and put it in the water, I couldn’t believe how little effort was required to achieve that super-subtle tail-kick. In fall and winter especially, the best way to trigger a big crappie is to hover a jig a few inches to a foot above them and barely quiver the soft plastic tail. The altered Slim SwimZ pulled this move off to perfection—the other reason it’s become my go-to crappie bait. And if you glue it to your jig head with something like Loctite Gel Control, you create a permanent “lure” that will catch dozens and dozens of big fish without replacing the tail.”

One other tip for triggering cool-water crappies, says Walker, involves the sniff test. “Crappies and scented baits are key. It’s the final factor for triggering bites, especially big fish in cool water. But not all scent attractants work the same.

“There’s a natural connection between oil-based attractants and ElaZtech baits. Pro-Cure Super Gel Crappie & Panfish formula, for example, sticks to ElaZtech like glue. I like to marinate baits by squeezing a decent amount of the goo into bags of GrubZ or Slim SwimZ. Let it sit overnight or much longer. Just gets better. After fishing a bait for an hour or so, when you no longer feel or smell the sticky stuff, simply drop it back into the bag, spread it around, and you’re back in business.”

About Z-Man Fishing Products

A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide.