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Z-Man Lures Crush it at Bassmaster Kayak Contest

With the soul of an explorer, Drew Gregory embarks on kayak treks free from the limitations that tie most anglers to used water. To go beyond big public boat ramps. To sidestep fossil fuels altogether. Unbound by the intrusions of 1-ton bass rigs, Gregory designs and fishes from ‘sneak boats,’ stealthy kayaks light enough to slide silently through the woods toward otherwise impossible-to-reach bass zones.

Matching his minimalist approach at the recent Bassmaster Kayak Series tourney at Grand Lake, Oklahoma, the cutting-edge kayak angler toted just a small bag of tackle and a few Ziplocs of his favorite ElaZtech® softbaits. By the end of Saturday, April 16, the renowned Kent, Ohio pro was clutching a fat check and a 1st place trophy—the fruits of 91.5-inches of portly, prespawn largemouth bass; 8-inches more than 2nd place angler Daniel Maffei.

It was Gregory’s first win on the Bassmaster Kayak Series. Yet the victory merely punctuated what has already been a prosperous kayak fishing career, highlighted by an Angler of the Year title and national tournament win the Hobie BOS circuit, plus a gold medal in the Pan American Kayak Championships.

Employing a stealth-like approach with a pair of Z-Man lures, Gregory paddled his silent 10-foot Crescent Ultralite kayak way up into a sneaky, remote spawning pocket just off the main lake—a spot he found via meticulous map study. “Though I’d never fished the lake before, my intention was absolutely to come in here, figure it out and win,” said Gregory, whose current goals include a Bassmaster Kayak Angler of the Year title.

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Gregory’s tourney-winning baits: SlingBladeZ Spinnerbait & CrossEyeZ Flipping Jig with ProCrawZ trailer (foreground.)

Stealth Scouting

“One of my best scouting tools is Google Earth Pro, which lets me click back and look at historic images of lakes at different water levels,” Gregory explained. “You can learn a ton about a reservoir by studying the terrain in low water. A creek, for example, is only as good as its water level during the driest portions of summer. Is the water deep enough to sustain a resident population of fish? Can bigger bass travel freely in and out of the creek? Does it have deep holes? And finally, are there any access points nearby? Even a little public chunk of land off the road, through the forest can be enough to squeeze in with my UltraLite.”

Even while many kayaks now mirror mini bass boats with sonar, trolling motors and electric anchors, Gregory frequently prefers a lowkey approach. “Other than my handy little thermometer, I fished this tournament without a single piece of technology on my boat. The stealth of this kayak gave me maneuverability though the skinniest, gnarliest water—and allowed me to tap my instincts and concentrate on the bass. When you harbor as much confidence as I do in a handful of Z-Man lures, it frees you up to reach wild places and untouched bass.”

For Gregory, the fish-zone featured a small backwater bank with southern exposure and wind protection. “It was one of those juicy areas that can be super appealing to bass in that prespawn to spawning mode,” he noted. “I focused on a high, northern bank blocked from the cold winds of the fronts we experienced on tournament day. The water here measured 5-degrees warmer than the surrounding territory. And although it lacked big laydowns, the sloping bank had nice root structures and undercuts that provided cover for bass. I had tons of bait and fish-eating birds around me, too. So, when the water rose just prior to tournament day, it flooded these roots and provided a sanctuary.”

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Z-Man kayak pro Drew Gregory lips a 20-inch Grand Lake largemouth.

Two-Lure Tango

During prefishing and the first part of tournament Saturday, Gregory slung his trustworthy SlingBladeZ™ spinnerbait, an super-stable design that’s made to run true and upright at all times. He customized the lure with a larger chartreuse Colorado blade and a second chartreuse skirt for bulk and extra visibility in the stained water. A 3″ ElaZtech MinnowZ™ paddletail trailed Gregory’s spinnerbait for extra vibration, action and color.

“In practice, the bass were crushing the SlingBladeZ. But with the coldfront on tourney day, even after catching several bass on the spinnerbait, I eventually scaled back and slowed things down.

“My whole day changed when I tied on a CrossEyeZ™ Flipping Jig and a buoyant, natural-profile Pro CrawZ™ trailer,” asserted Gregory. “Before abandoning the area altogether, I flipped one particular bush, the line jumped, and I connected on a solid 18-incher—my first big, prespawn female. That bass encouraged me to quietly cycle back through the pocket one more time. Good call because bass started jumping all over my jig and craw combo.”

Silently paddling and lobbing his jig down the bank, one piece of turf at a time—to avoid spooking other bass in the neighborhood— Gregory began stacking up impressive numbers. He caught a second 18-1/4-incher before a mega 20-1/4-inch largemouth wolfed his green-pumpkin Z-Man jig. Gregory also caught numerous smaller largemouths up to 17-inches, including one fired up bass that quickly came unhooked in his kayak, flopped back into the water and clear up onto the near bank before finally waving goodbye.

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(Photo by Bassmaster)

After the final weigh-in, Gregory divulged a few pattern details: “The CrossEyeZ Flipping Jig enabled me to enter the water quietly, sliding cleanly over the terrain. Normally, I might swim it faster with a high-action craw-trailer like the Turbo CrawZ™. But because the fish wanted a slower retrieve, I went to a Pro CrawZ™—a highly realistic crayfish imitation with big buoyant claws that rise up and flap on the pause. I also rigged it slightly curved on the hook, so when I stopped the retrieve, the bait stood up in that natural crayfish defensive position. Bass were really smokin’ this thing.”

Gregory noted another bonus of his specialized jig-trailer: “In the skinny, cool water, the Pro CrawZ‘ buoyancy pushed rate-of-fall in my favor, making the 3/8-ounce jig drop slower than a ¼-ouncer with a standard non-buoyant trailer. Meanwhile, the heavier 3/8-ounce jig still allowed me to effortlessly (and quietly) flip and maintain perfect contact with it. I benefitted from more of a subtle glide on the drop, which really triggered these neutral bass. These are huge benefits—and it doesn’t even speak to the durability factor; that I could rig up one jig-trailer and stay with it all day long.”

While pausing to consider the otherwise high-profile, high-speed world of big boat bassin’, Gregory reflected on the low-key nature of his pursuit. “I’ve always been into exploring those wild places,” he confesses. “That I can find a little tiny backwater area or a creek that can’t be accessed without effort, study and stealth. Even on public water. Still plenty of magical, remote places out there where few bass have ever seen a lure.”

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