UPCOMING EVENT: Walmart Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

ICAST Trends: High-Tech Soft Baits

The Z-Man Pop ShadZ was a crowd favorite at the ICAST show this week. It's a soft-plastic topwater popping lure that can be rigged weedless with a wide-gap hook for fishing around thick cover.

ICAST lasts just three days, but taken in relevance, I think it is interesting to ponder the backstories, motivations and thought processes that led to the array of new products released to the sport-fishing industry this week.

ICAST - Soft Baits - Z-Man Pop Shadz - A unique spin on topwater poppers, this soft-plastic bait features a broad concave face, ample body for single wide-gap hook placement and a narrowing tail for lots of action. It's a good bet for swimming and popping over grassy habitat that would foul traditional poppers. ZManFishing.com

The soft-plastics category that I covered revealed a handful of notables that caught my eye with their creativity and innovations. Tops would have to be the Z-Man Pop ShadZ – a soft-plastic popper with good detail and the ability to go where other poppers dare not go.

“Conventional topwaters have treble hooks, so you can only fish them in certain areas; you can’t fish them over grass or lily pads,” says Tour pro Casey Martin. “This bait is different. You can rig it with a 5/0 to 6/0 hook, and it actually has a walking style but also spits water. So it’s perfect for where you’d fish a frog.

“One thing I like about this bait is that you have a better hookup ratio than a traditional topwater frog,” he adds. “Also, it’s made with Z-Man’s ElaZtech material, so it’s very durable and won’t tear up.”

ICAST - Soft Plastics - Z-Man Finesse T.R.D. - Offering anglers a smaller version of the popular ZinkerZ stick bait, the T.R.D. (The Real Deal) adds a unique dimpled tail texture to Z-Man's durable ElaZtech construction. At 2 3/4 inches, a T.R.D. is a good fit for a Z-Man Finesse Shroomz jighead. ZManFishing.com

Z-Man also introduced a 2 3/4-inch Finesse T.R.D. (The Real Deal) – essentially a scaled-down version of its popular ZinkerZ stick worm, with some texture enhancements. For years, anglers have bitten off sections of ZinkerZ for small finesse presentations, but now the T.R.D. offers a tiny soft-plastic stick bait that’s ready to roll right out of the bag. Maybe Z-Man was concerned about the impacts of its ElaZtech material on tooth enamel, but it was a handy move anyway.

Also impressive was the Kahara KJ Crank, which combines the soft body and double hook common to a topwater frog with the bill of a square-bill crankbait. The result is a bait that can hunt along the bottom, but will also pull easily through light vegetation.

I watched this bait in action during pre-ICAST testing, and it slides through grass with ease. I like that the bait includes a rear attachment point that accommodates a treble hook for open-water applications

Some companies turned to unique shapes for their new releases. For example, Imakatsu debuted the Gill Bone – a soft-plastic flipping/pitching bait made to resemble a fish skeleton with a solid, narrow neck for hook placement.

Elsewhere, if a traditional lizard mated with a creature bait, their offspring would probably resemble the Jackall Scissor Comb. Long and slender, this motion-heavy bait features lanky antennae and four pairs of short legs that face forward. The legs grab water for a constant shimmy that’ll drive fish nuts on a Texas or Carolina rig.

"The way those little appendages are positioned, they'll cause the bait to wiggle more," said Repel pro Cody Meyer, who staffed the Jackall booth all week.

Sebile is always one to watch for innovations, and the company’s new Pivot Frog did not disappoint. Replacing the standard double hook with a single weighted hook that pivots upward on the strike instantly increases the potential for better hookups by creating that all-important gap between the plastic and the hook.

Lastly, I liked the SpoolTek swimbait (6- and 9-inch models), which features a soft, active tail that links to a solid ABS head. The head contains a spool wound with a heavy leader that’s connected to a single J-hook. On the strike, pressure from the fish releases the spool’s tension device and allows the foot-long leader to play out behind the bait. This eliminates the fish’s ability to leverage the mass of a large lure body to throw the hook.

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