Ladson, SC – Beyond signs of potential greatness, back-to-back championship trophies often imply an exemplary culture: creativity, camaraderie and other exciting things brewing behind the scenes. Competitive repeats are typically consigned to the crème de la crème, the leading-edge athletes and hall of fame teams who, across multiple seasons, continue clicking on all cylinders. More concisely, teams simply don’t achieve top dog status two years in a row unless something special is afoot.
At this year’s sportfishing big dance—aka ICAST—a season’s worth of brainstorming, sweat equity and on-water lure testing delivered two Z-Man wins in the prestigious New Product Showcase.. Further cementing its prominence as bladed jig architects, Z-Man’s new ChatterBait Elite EVO™ won Best New Freshwater Hard Lure.
For the second year in a row, the cutting-edge tackle crew also won Best New Saltwater Soft Lure with its innovative Mulletron™ LT (Line-Through) swimbait. (Last July, Z-Man won the same award category with its innovative Kicker CrabZ™— a first of its kind, sideways-swimming crab swimbait, garnering winning votes from credentialed angling media and fishing tackle buyers alike.)
At the 2023 ICAST show, among a highly competitive field of 29 other new soft lures slated for saltwater, Z-Man once again attracted the winning votes, this time for its mullet-imitating, technical saltwater swimbait—a not-so-subtle statement for the coastal South Carolina company, whose headquarters suffuse with salty wafts of the adjacent Atlantic.
Z-Man’s ICAST-winning Mulletron LT swimbait delivers several suprising angler-centric advantages.
For Z-Man Director of Product Development Jose Chavez, the win signaled satisfaction in the name of amped-up angler success. But the award also opened a conversation about the lure’s conservation-focused design—an under-the-radar offshoot of the Mulletron LT’s purpose-driven anatomy.
“We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months educating anglers about the value of a line-through swimbait for saltwater,” notes Chavez, a longtime lure designer and accomplished angler. “What we haven’t broadly divulged to this point is that the Mulletron LT’s internal line-through harness and hook system is also conservation-driven, in part, focused on fish health and safe releases.
“Of course, the lure’s single, sickle-style dorsal hook and sliding system pins fish solidly and assures they stay buttoned throughout the battle,” notes Chavez. “Typically, the hook lodges perfectly into the corner of a fish’s jaw or snugly in the soft flesh inside the mouth. The bait itself then slides up the line and away from jaws, where big, powerful often airborne fish can’t use its weight as leverage.
Coupled with a specialized single hook, the Mulletron LT’s line-through construction aids clean, healthy releases.
“Often to the detriment of fish health, many line-through swimbaits employ a treble hook, which can create all sorts of issues and potential danger while handling big powerful fish, boatside. Obviously, a single hook helps avert some of these issues. But with the Mulletron, we went further by optimizing hook placement and by engineering a single, sickle-style hook for max penetration, holding power and quick, harmless removal.”
“Boatside, one quick pop of the pliers safely frees the hook and ensures a safe healthy release, protecting both angler and fish from potential harm. Apex predators like tarpon and snook are a precious resource, and we want to do everything possible to sustain these incredible fisheries.”
Speaking directly to lure form and function, Chavez calls attention to the Mulletron LT’s hidden engineering. “As a prey species, mullet are everywhere—certainly among the most important forage fish for saltwater predators around the North American coastline. As prime targets among selective tarpon, snook, stripers and other super powerful gamefish, we knew any mullet bait we built had to be both physically true-to-life and supremely tough. The bait’s ElaZtech material is itself the toughest soft plastic in the industry.
“But at ICAST, we wanted to give folks a behind-the-scenes look at the interior skeleton—or harness—of the Mulletron LT,” he said. “To lock the harness permanently in place, we used special ABS studs, which cling to the ElaZtech material like a vice grip. Providing additional security, a large corkscrew (spring) assures bait and harness will work as one. Beneath the ABS are special studs that lock the bait’s ballast weights into place. We even implemented a hidden rattle chamber to emit maximum sound attraction.”
Chavez calls out additional accoutrements, further establishing the Mulletron as a worthy winner. “The bait’s wedge-shaped tail yields high-level thump and kicking action at any retrieve speed, including as the bait freefalls. Within the tail is a hollow scent chamber. You’ll notice a little port, topside, which allows anglers to inject Pro-Cure or other attractants for a slow-release scent trail.”
Finally, to allow anglers to reach fish in otherwise inaccessible, secret holding zones—beneath docks, mangroves, bridges, etc.—the Mulletron features flat sides that promote smooth, unobtrusive skip-casts.
“Obviously, we poured our heart and soul into this design,” admits Chavez. “Selfishly, we did it at least in part because everyone at Z-Man is passionate about catching and releasing the biggest saltwater animals.
“Seriously, though, we couldn’t be happier that anglers everywhere will now enjoy the same success and excitement as we’ve had testing it. To be recognized by our friends in the sportfishing community and to go home with an ICAST trophy is an incredible honor. Gives us motivation to take lure design even further in the future. Stay tuned!”
Matching the realism and precise sink rates of technical swimbaits from the freshwater arena, the Mulletron LT offers a moderate rate of fall (ROF-8), sinking eight feet every ten seconds. Two size versions— a 4.5-incher weighing 3/4-ounce (3/0 hook) and a 6-incher weighing 1-3/4-ounces (5/0 hook)—allow for matching local forage classes. Six fine-tuned color patterns correspond to various light and water conditions and mimic local mullet runs. The Mulletron LT’s ultra-realistic mullet profile is perfectly complemented by its highly detailed, hand-painted / photo-printed body finishes. Available in October, the Z-Man Mulletron LT will be sold for $9.99 and $12.99, respectively.
Chavez (right) and Z-Man president Daniel Nussbaum grip-n-grin their 2023 ICAST New Product trophies.