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Z-Man Pro Joey Nania Wins Second Bassmater Open

Ladson, SC – For two-time Bassmaster Opens winner Joey Nania, it was a game of numbers. Or more precisely, a never ending keep-away contest, working a few sturdy Z-Man StreakZ™ 3.75 baits among hundreds, possibly thousands of “other fish” intent on machine-gunning Nania’s bait into oblivion.

Given the bait’s enduring ElaZtech® construction, good luck with that . . .

Following a tricky first day of fishing at the 2023 Bassmaster Open at Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma (June 15-17), the Alabama based Z-Man pro found himself in 25th place. But on day-two, Nania’s plan came together, as he worked a series of deep humps and brushpiles with a subtle shad-mimicking presentation known as the Ned-Miki. “It’s one of the best small shad imitations ever,” noted Nania, who also won the 2021 Bassmaster Open at Pickwick Lake, Tennessee.

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Nania’s tourney-wining Ned-Miki Rig – Z-Man Finesse EyeZ jighead StreakZ 3.75.
(Photo by B.A.S.S. / Andy Crawford)

Fishing a 22-foot offshore hump, which rose just above the lake’s 25-foot thermocline, Nania boated a monster 6-1/2-pounder, which, like most of the rest of his tourney-winning largemouths, at a 3/16-ounce, greenback-pattern Z-Man Finesse EyeZ™ jighead dressed with a shiner colored StreakZ 3.75.

“There weren’t many bass out on these humps, but those few fish were big ones,” he observed. “The water was really clear, too, which made these bass extra tough to trick.” One primary key, Nania felt, resided in the softbait’s unique properties.

“Because the StreakZ is made from ElaZtech®, it’s durable as well as super buoyant. When I would pause and let the Ned-Miki soak, the bait would maintain a natural horizontal posture. Similar fluke-style baits aren’t buoyant, making them ride tail-down, rather than hovering horizontal like a live shad.

“The Finesse EyeZ is actually a really underrated jighead,” added Nania. “It’s got a super sharp, lightwire hook and flat, slightly concave sides that reflect a nice clear signal on Livescope. The jig has these little wings or side flanges, too, that help stabilize it, slow its rate-of-fall and keep it from tipping over. It’s a perfect match for Ned-Miki and live sonar fishing, whether you’re casting it or working vertical.”

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Nania plucked a good one from a deep brushpile during tournament prefishing.

To round out his day-2 limit of 22-pounds 2-ounces, Nania stalked a series of twenty brushpiles, many of them stationed at the mouths of creek arms. Not only were the brushpile bass extremely limited in number, but the bigger fish were also besieged and outnumbered by hordes of white bass and crappies, which constantly competed for Nania’s Ned-Miki combination.

“Probably caught fifty white bass and crappie a day, and this while trying not to catch them,” Nania laughed. “I mean, these were massive schools of fish. Like, 10 or 15 bass to a thousand white bass. Just crazy numbers.

“If I would’ve been fishing regular plastics, the nuisance fish could’ve taken me out of the game, nipping tails off, forcing me to constantly re-rig a new bait. But the StreakZ’ toughness let me fish through crowds of these other fish, baits constantly machine gunned and tail pecked. Think I only went through three or four baits per day, rather than dozens. Just an incredible advantage, from a time-management perspective alone.”

Similar to the baits and presentation employed by 2023 Bassmaster Classic winner and Z-Man pro Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson, Nania’s Ned-Miki rig took another step toward finesse. “It’s a relatively lightweight, well-balanced jig and a slightly smaller ElaZtech bait, which sinks just fast enough to tempt tough reaction bites.” But beyond the bait’s natural shad silhouette, lifelike softness—which prompts bass to hold on longer—and buoyant, hovering stature, Nania’s pattern focused on casting rather traditional moping or vertical jigging.

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(Photo by B.A.S.S. / Seigo Saito)

“I call it ‘tickle-winding,’ just grazing the tops of the brushpiles, trying to coax a largemouth up and out of the cover,” Nania explained. “You’d detect so many tap-tap-taps from smaller fish as the bait descended through the schools. Just had to let the jig continue coasting down, thumping through all those white bass and crappies to get to the largemouths, which were mostly buried in the brush. Anytime I’d lock up on a solid bite, I’d set the hook and pray for a largemouth. Thankfully, the Lord answered in a big way.”

By the end of day-two, Nania had boated two more four pounders and an impressive limit, vaulting him up into 1st place. Painting a strong, solid image on his Garmin Livescope screen, Nania’s Finesse EyeZ jig / StreakZ combo would appear and then be overtaken by the relatively enormous image of a bass.

“I was just trying to tease and coax bass out of the brushpiles. The buoyancy of the StreakZ helped make it hover momentarily on the pause, keeping it from snagging up. And then it was all about slowly creeping the bait over the limbs, tempting bass to swim up and bite. If a bass followed, I’d coast it away from the fish, and play a subtle game of keep-away.

“The bites were really cool,” he added. “You’d see the bass drift up slowly behind the bait and then gently inhale and swim right through it.”

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Nania, who travels to tournaments with his family, celebrated the Bassmaster win with sons Zeke and Eli. (Photo by B.A.S.S.)

The third and final day, Nania boated a quick 2-pounder on a jerkbait before returning to a milk-run of fresh brushpiles. “I cycled through probably twenty new piles, most of them in 14 to 18 feet of water,” he noted. “It didn’t feel like bass were living on these brushpiles. Instead, you’d occasionally watch one swim through, well below the smaller hordes of fish. Never caught more than one quality bass off the same brushpile, so it was about covering water, getting your bait through the crappies and white bass, all without worrying whether or not the bait’s tail had been snipped off. Again, bigtime ElaZtech advantage.”

Indeed, Nania maximized every key bite throughout the tournament. “Everything played to my strengths. I didn’t lose a fish all week and caught nearly every bass on a spinning rod and a little jig. Pretty cool to have it happen at a lake where you’re not supposed to fish that way.”

After methodically extracting 12 pounds of bass off his route of brushpiles, Nania played a hunch that ultimately paid off. “I rolled up right by the ramp, hoping to work a Ned rig pattern I had going on the rocks. Unfortunately, Trevor McKinney (who finished 5th) was on the point I’d fished during practice, so I went to a secondary point.”

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Z-Man TRD BugZ, Canada Craw pattern.

Fishing near a rock wall not far from the tournament take-off, Nania plucked two 3-1/2-pound largemouths. Tossing a Canada Craw pattern Z-Man TRD BugZ™, which he rigged weedless on a 1/6-ounce NedlockZ™ HD jig, Nania’s pair of three-pounders upgraded his final limit to 16-pounds—enough to outweigh second place finisher Trey McKinney by nearly a pound.

Rather than slowly crawling the 2-1/2-inch TRD BugZ along bottom, Nania mimicked fleeing crayfish. “I try to make it snap and dart, to pop it, like a scooting crawdad. Between those snaps, just let the bait settle on slack line. You want to let those oversized, buoyant flapper claws to do the rest of the work. Even when the bait rests on bottom, those flappers rise and hover, giving bass a nice easy target.”

After weighing a final total of 52-pounds 8-ounces, Nania celebrated his special Father’s Day win with his wife Jessica, and sons Zeke, Eli and Noah. He paused to reflect on a healthy paycheck, a 2024 Bassmaster Classic berth and what it all meant. “I felt so much peace from God all week. No matter what happened and when I least expected it, He blessed me with a win. Just an amazing week I’ll never forget.”

The bait and rig Nania says has produced 75-percent of his tournament catches this season, the Ned-Miki often works as a dropshot substitute. Designed for targeting individual bass using forward-facing sonar, Nania’s Ned-Miki shines for suspended bass, jig and bait gliding and acting like a pendulum on the descent. At rest, the buoyancy of the StreakZ 3.75 maintains a true-to-life horizontal posture, like a live shad.

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.

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