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Z-Man® Baits Conquer Bassmaster Kayak Championship

Drew Gregory hoists the hallowed blue trophy at Tenkiller Lake, Oklahoma 

Ninety some miles and perhaps worlds apart from the shiny, screaming bass boats and the buzz and bustle of the “other” Bassmaster Classic, Drew Gregory’s kayak cut a silent wake across Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller. Even though the Classic and the 2024 Kayak Series Championship both aligned with the iconic Bassmaster insignia, Gregory’s low-key, seek wild places approach to the game offered a refreshing departure from the high-tech tournament norm—and some epic big bass theater. 

But even after catch-measure-releasing ten impressive largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass for 180.5-inches over two days of fishing (March 20 and 21), the longtime Z-Man® kayak pro wouldn’t officially learn of his Championship win or receive the big blue trophy until the following day—right around the time 56 high powered bass boats launched the Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake of the Cherokees.

“This one was pretty special,” notes Gregory, whose impressive career in competitive kayak angling has encompassed Angler of the Year titles and numerous national tournament wins. “But I’d never won a championship. This is the trophy I’ve always wanted,” he admitted. “Right now, I feel a little bit complete having added this one to the resume.” 

For Gregory, what perhaps made the Championship win even richer was the way the lake and the tourney set up to let him fish, Drew-style. “I’m always seeking those wild places,” says Gregory, a resident of Kent, Ohio. “When I first learned we’d be fishing Tenkiller lake, I got excited about exploring way up the rivers, creeks and sloughs; to go into super skinny water where maybe not all the competitors could go.” (Gregory relied on a Crescent Kayaks Shoalie of his own design.)

Gregory’s go-to finesse jig – a CrossEyeZ Power Finesse jig with trimmed Pro CrawZ trailer.

“During prefishing, we had a lot of kayaks up there, trying to figure things out,” recalled Gregory, who slung several different Z-Man baits each day. “The fish were there, too, but the water was so clear, which made the bass even tougher to trick. Maybe because of this, most of the anglers vacated the area on day-one, leaving just two of us to fish the whole stretch.

“I was traveling probably 8 or 9 miles up that river, each day, all the way into 6 and 7 inches of water, shallower than other anglers. As you moved further and further up the creek, the water really cleared. The big smallmouths, especially, became super hard to catch.”

On day-1, pitching a 3/8-ounce, chartreuse Z-Man SlingBladeZ™ spinnerbait hitched to a 3”, pearl and chartreuse MinnowZ™, Gregory plied the shallow cover and plucked numerous largemouth and spotted bass. “Gotta throw a spinnerbait in Oklahoma, right?” Gregory chuckled. “Anytime I found dirty water, I threw the SlingBladeZ and MinnowZ combo; it and one other bait caught a lot of my most important fish, those key 15 to 18 inchers through both days of fishing.”

First bite of the final day, a 22″ tournament-best bass, crushed Gregory’s Project Z ChatterBait. (CLICK to see the video)

Gregory’s other workhorse lure, a green pumpkin CrossEyeZ™ Power Finesse Jig dressed with a Pro CrawZ™ trailer, accounted for several bass up to 19-1/4-inches. “I like to trim about 3/4 of an inch off the head section off the Pro CrawZ, which makes for a perfect, compact match on the jig,” he explains. “Fills out the bait nicely, yet the soft ElaZtech material easily compresses and allows for solid hooksets, every time. Gotta love the CrawZs’ floating nature, which slows the jig’s rate of fall. Lets you benefit from the casting weight of a 3/8-ounce jig, yet with a reduced sink speed, closer to a 1/4 (ounce). At rest, the bait’s buoyancy also makes the craw stand up, claws flared, just like a real meal.”

With just thirty minutes left on the clock—and five quality bass already in the boat— Gregory unveiled his secret smallmouth elixir, a ½-ounce Z-Man Gobius™. An all new 3-inch structure swimbait with livebait-like action and a remarkable resemblance to the creek’s resident minnow species, the Gobius provoked a momentous bite.

“Anglers might not realize that this little swimbait imitates way more species than just a round goby. Every body of water harbors little bottom-hugging critters like sculpins and darters. The natural goby pattern I chose looked and swam exactly like a native river darter—bass eat ‘em like gluttons— and when I swam it through that super clear water, the bait fooled what turned out to be a beautiful—and critical— smallmouth bass.”

Mere casts before heading back to the dock, Gregory enticed the vibrant 19-1/2-inch bronze bass to eat the Gobius swimbait. The fish upgraded a smaller 16-incher, culminating in five bass equaling 90-inches for day-one and a respectable 4th place standing. 

If ever a good omen offered a glimpse of imminent victory, Gregory’s first bass of day-two was it. Casting a ChatterBait® model that frequently flies under the radar, Gregory immediately hooked a monster 22-inch largemouth, a magnificent specimen (and eventual tournament-best big bass) that wolfed his 3/8-ounce, Breaking Bream pattern Project Z™ ChatterBait®, trailed by a green pumpkin colored ChatterSpike™.

Anchored by the enormous ChatterBait-eating bigmouth, Gregory punctuated his tournament performance with four other spotted and smallmouth bass for a grand total of 180.5 inches. Although it appeared that Gregory was leading an hour before day-two ended, final results wouldn’t be posted for another 24 hours.

“The wait can be agonizing in some of these tournaments,” he confessed. Like all Bassmaster Kayak Series events, the Championship features a total catch-measure-release format. Powered by TourneyX, the special app accepts bass length submissions via cell phone. If anglers lack phone service on the water, submissions often load post-tournament. Thankfully for Gregory, when the results finally went live, he had outdueled fellow competitor Guillermo Gonzalez to the tune of 180.5” to 178.25”.

“By now, most folks know that at least 90-percent of the bass I catch eat Z-Man baits,” Gregory divulged, championship trophy in hand. “I’ve been with these folks for a long time. They’re one of the real trusted fishing brands today and as y’all know, their stuff just catches fish. It’s why I can go from a SlingBladeZ spinnerbait to a CrossEyeZ Power Finesse Jig to various ElaZtech baits without sacrificing an ounce of confidence.”

“This win meant so much to me because although I’d won AOYs and other tournaments, it was my first national kayak championship. Even though I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in this sport—and this one might be my proudest win yet—I’ll be back and just as hungry to catch ‘em all over again, next time.”

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, among the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide.

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