Revisiting The Magic - ZULU RIG
In the Spring of 2008, the BWJ published an article of mine entitled “Zulu Magic”. I may not believe in magic, but back then the Strike King Zulu was the closest I had ever seen to a magical lure. More than a decade has passed and this soft plastic jerk bait rig is still my top producing lure and presentation for smallmouth bass fishing. Not only does it work in the Quetico and the Boundary Waters, but it is also the most productive lure in my home waters of the Great Miami river. Over the past decade I have had more people inquire about this rig either via emails or website message boards than any other presentation I have ever fished. It’s time to review this presentation for anyone who has never heard of it and also pass along a few new tips and tricks to the people who already have experience with the “Zulu Rig”.
The first time I used this lure was on a small creek connecting two lakes in northern Quetico. My first four casts I caught 17 to 19-inch smallmouth without hardly even moving the lure. The current made this lure come alive and the smallmouth hit without any regard. Five years later, my fishing partner Mike Ray and myself set ourselves up on shore about 100 yards downstream from where I had first discovered the magic of this lure. We were at the end of the creek where it met the colder lake water on this late May trip. We both had ZMAN ShadZ tied onto the end of our lines and what was about to happen that morning is almost beyond belief. When we began casting towards the opposite shoreline it quickly became apparent this hole was stacked like cord wood with smallmouth bass. Every cast there was a fish. If we had to twitch the lure more than twice, we started to wonder why there wasn’t a smallmouth on the other end of the line. We tried to count doubles, but after 50 some doubles we started to lose count. We were somewhere in the 150 fish range at that period of the figurative slaughter. There were times when only one of us was hooked up with a fish during the outing, but it was a rare occasion. I had never encountered any fishing like this in my life. These weren’t little smallmouth either, they averaged in the 16 to 19-inch range for the most part with a handful of 20s thrown into the mix. All of these fish were caught in less than a 20-yard stretch of the lake. If I didn’t see this happen, I wouldn’t have believed it happened. I also witnessed my fishing partner reel in a smallmouth and when it was maybe 10 feet from him the lure pulled loose from the fish. The lure went about another 3 or 4 feet in the water towards him. In an instant the smallmouth bolted towards the lure and sucked it up again practically at his feet. This incredible fishing went on for hours until things began to slow. When I say “things”, I mean the fish biting and us being tired from all of the action. In the end, Mike speculated we must have caught 500 smallmouth. I told him to come back down to earth. I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 to 350 smallmouth bass during that outing would be a more realistic number. It was just unbelievable fishing.
There are only two brands of soft plastic jerk baits worth using when stringing together this rig. I use only Strike King or ZMAN. In fact, they are the same exact lure. ZMAN is the manufacturer of both brands. They sell their lures to Strike King and they in turn sell them under their own brand name. The reason these lures stand above the rest is due to the plastic being made of ElaZtech. ElaZtech is remarkably soft, pliable and ten times stronger than any other traditional soft plastic. With the help of a couple drops of super glue I have at times been able to catch upwards of 100 smallmouth on one lure. You would be hard pressed to catch 10 on a traditional soft plastic lure. After the nose and back of the lure start to tear apart, a simple drop of super glue on the nose and on the back of the lure where the hook penetrates will extend the life of the lure.
The ZMAN single tail version is a StreakZ and the dual tail is named ShadZ. Strike King resells these lures under the names Zulu for the single tail and Z Too for the dual tail version. There are variety of colors, but I prefer to use any of them with a variation of pearl for at least half the color of the lure. Blue\pearl, gray\pearl, and green\pearl all work well, but lately I have been partial to the “Redbone” color which is a gray\pearl with red flake.
Rigging the lure is uncomplicated. Use a thin wired 1/0 worm hook. I prefer to use Gamakatsu hooks. A quality, sharp, thin wire hook will work increasingly better than an average, thicker worm hook. The smaller hook runs flush with the lure which allows the lure to move more naturally and cannot be seen by the fish. Other fishermen use a 3 or 4/0 EWG worm hook and this causes a keel effect, thus reducing the natural flow of the lure. Take the point of the hook and come down on top of the nose and run the lure to the top elbow part of the hook. Twist the lure around so the hook is now under the belly of the lure and press the hook point through the body until it lies flat on the back of the lure. The lure is now snag-less. To avoid the line twist and add weight to the rig, use a size 3 or 4 quality two-way ball bearing swivel. I prefer to use SPRO swivels. The swivel also acts as a small bait attractant. Small bait fish are drawn to the small swivel and increases the lure’s presence. Tie the lure to about 8 inches of line leader and then to the swivel. Tie the other side of the swivel to the line on the reel.
This method of fishing is called subsurface finesse because the lure works in the same respects as other finesse styles of fishing. The presentation of the lure is just below the surface, unlike most finesse fishing which targets the bottom area of a lake or river.
A major plus with subsurface finesse fishing is the non-worry about being snagged. Another advantage is the ability to cast this set up all day long; it won’t wear you out like spinner or crank baits. Most importantly there is only a single hook. After having a treble hook go through my finger on a past Quetico trip; I’m a little gun shy about reaching down and “lipping” a smallmouth with a mouthful of treble hooks. A small net on board your canoe would be a good idea.
A very slow, methodical twitch and pause is all you need to make this lure productive. After rigging the lure, cast it out a few feet and make a few gentle twitches and make sure it generates the “walk the dog” and dying flutter action. Once you are confident the lure is working correctly make a cast. When a smallmouth hits this lure, you will usually feel a little “tick” much like a jig hit. Give the fish a second, reel down any slack and set the hook. I can’t stress this point enough, similar to a top-water hit; give the fish a second before setting the hook. I have seen way too many fish missed with the Zulu or ShadZ and on top-water baits due to trying to set the hook too soon.
If the fish are deeper, a weighted worm hook, a standard weighted jig head, a split shot 18 inches up the line or a Carolina rig will drop this soft plastic lure down to your preferred depth. Walleyes have been known to strike a Zulu or ShadZ. I have personally fished side by side with some former fishing guides from Ely, MN. and out-fished them for walleye using a Zulu while they used live bait.
The following year after the smallmouth bass bonanza we went back to the same spot hoping to repeat some of the previous year’s success. We had a hard time finding a smallmouth in the old honey hole, it was loaded with walleye! We didn’t catch a walleye on every cast, but we did manage to catch over 50 on the ZMAN ShadZ while we were there. That’s the incredible thing about fishing up in Quetico, sometimes you just don’t know what is going to happen.
If you are looking for a subtle top-water approach, the ZMAN RaZor is the answer. The RaZor has a segmented, soft plastic, fish-like body with a forked tail and a bait fish profile. It has a thicker girth than the ShadZ and floats. Rig the RaZor the same as the ShadZ sans the swivel. The only difference is the worm hook, use a larger 2/0 (Gamakatsu) worm hook. The presentation is just a few slight twitches on the surface, followed by an extended pause. This lure is also a diving lure, so when the lure is twitched it will do a little nose dive. There is no commotion, nothing but a slight ripple on the surface until a fish slurps the offering. Wait a second, like any top-water presentation before setting the hook. This lure has an astounding resemblance of a wounded cisco. It is the best presentation to a smallmouth bass looking for dying surface bait fish. I typically cast the RaZor in a cisco imitating color of “Bad Shad”.
Northern pike also have a large appetite for these soft plastic jerk baits. I have caught seven pike over 40 inches since I began using Zulu\ShadZ\RaZors. The amazing part is each of these fish were landed without the use a metal leader. I witnessed my fishing partner, Mike Ray, take his personal best 43” northern pike on a Zulu mere minutes after I had landed a 42” pike out of the same back cove on Basswood Lake.
My first ever Grand Slam on a ZMAN ShadZ happened last spring on Basswood lake. Fishermen I introduced to the “Zulu Rig” have told me via internet message boards they have caught lake trout with my presentation, but it took me until last June to produce my first laker on the rig. It made for a fine shore lunch.
Having so many inquiries about the “Zulu Rig” over the years I felt the need to bring back this high producing presentation to the readers of the BWJ. Not only does it produce fish, it produces quality fish of different species. It is a magnet for the smallmouth bass. I would have loved to have known about this lure, rig and presentation back in 1988. I spent my first 18 years fishing the Boundary Waters and not knowing the wonderment of the Zulu. On your next wilderness fishing excursion pack along some ZMAN soft plastic jerk baits and discover the magic.
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WHAT YOU NEED TO CREATE YOUR ZULU RIG