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LOUSIANA REDFISH

Justin Willmer

July 2015 saw us venturing to the U.S. for ICAST, the annual American tackle industry show, to see what's new, catch up with the team from ZMan Fishing Products and introduce TT Lures HeadlockZ HD jigheads to the U.S. market. What a massive buzz to take a product from an Australian company and introduce it into a market with such a fishing heritage and passion for the sport.

It was the biggest ICAST show ever, loaded with cool products, visited by the world and attended by many of U.S. bass fishing's elite anglers, including our own Wallabeast, Carl Jocumsen, who kindly shared some of his experiences with us. The show also added a couple of dozen new colours in existing models to the ZMan Lures Australia range, along with new models - 4" Pop ShadZ, 4.5" Razor ShadZ. 8" Mag SwimZ and the 10" HeroZ, a jumbo jerkbait that has already proven effective on tuna, cobia, trevally and more.

Post show we were invited by the ZMan crew to put their plastics and our jigheads to use on some local species, test some of the new colours and work on the development of new products to suit both countries. This would see us venturing south to New Orleans and from here down into the Mississippi River Delta. Our base would be Cajun Fishing Adventures and our hosts would be Ray who oversees all things Cajun Fishing Adventures and the lodge, along with ZMan Fishing Products GM, Daniel. We were to fish inshore for a day chasing redfish, hit the gulf on day two to target the tuna that call the many oil rigs home and wrap up with a half day on day three, again exploring the marsh in search of redfish.

Before we could even get there though Daniel had planned one stop on the way to the lodge, dinner at a local seafood favourite. Walking through the doors was an experience in itself as we had arrived at the home of the all you can eat shrimp and crab boil up... I carefully scanned the room for Forrest Gump. The menu was amazing, including everything from shrimp to rabbit, but I couldn't go past a few gator bites to kick of proceedings, followed by clam, shrimp and catfish. I will be back.

Our guide for day one was Captain Cody and we arrived at the launch to find the river high and pumping. Kody had us board his comfortable flats boat and then proceeded to reverse the truck into the water up to its exhaust pipe (pretty deep when you're talking U.S. pick-up trucks) and to the ramp that was hidden by the waters of the river. Boat launched, car parked in shallow water and after Kody navigated his way on foot across some underwater terrain, including a submerged boat slip, we were across the mighty Mississippi River and into the marsh country.

The plan was to fish the edges with plastics, casting tight to the reeds and hopping the plastic back to the boat, all the while looking for the tell tail bow wave of a cruising redfish to make the most of a sight casting opportunity. We fished a mix of plastics, including ZMan 3" MinnowZ, ZMan 4" DieZel MinnowZ and ZMan 4" SwimmerZ, rigged on TT Lures HeadlockZ HD and SnakelockZ jigheads. Also in the mix were a few new products that were destined to be tested in terms of their effectiveness on Aussie species.

I opted for a lure combo that has served me well on flathead and many other species in Australia, the perfect bite size baitfish, a ZMan 3" MinnowZ in Chartreuse Glow, rigged on a 1/4oz 3/0 HeadlockZ HD jighead and Kody thought this would do the job. He was also impressed with the quality and design of the HeadlockZ HD jigheads, using the word 'legit' to describe them, so we were pretty pumped.

It wasn't long until I felt a rattle and set the hook on a small but spirited fighter that turned out to be my first spotted seatrout (speckled trout). Not a big fish but every first is a moment to be cherished and I admired the fish before a quick release. Spotted seatrout are a popular target species, with many anglers opting to target them when staying at the lodge for both their sport and eating qualities.

A few casts later and I was hooked up to something a little more serious, with a largemouth bass surfacing boat side after a short tussle. Such a cool fish, awesome markings and an incredible environment that we were fishing in. A massive marsh of channels, islands of reeds, bays, weed beds, lilies and so much fishy looking water, offering both fresh and saltwater species side by side at the time of our visit.

When I hooked my third fish there was uproar from the front of the boat and it was time to hand over my tube of Pro-Cure Mullet Super Gel for communal use ;). This fish was fast, strong and I soon realised I had hooked my first redfish. This is a species that has captured my imagination for many years with its mulloway-like appearance, solid build and that signature spot that is often photographed sticking out of the water as the redfish feeds from the bottom. I felt privileged to have the opportunity to hold this fish in my hand and took it all in before the release.

From this point on our day was filled with fish and Cody joined in on the action with Daniel, Gareth and myself. We spotted cruising fish and led them with casts, worked the edges and pockets, and switched to weedless rigged plastics, rigged on TT Lures SnakelockZ jigheads, when the weed became more dense and difficult to fish. The energy in the boat was infectious when a bow wave was spotted and we all took our turn to lead the fish with a cast, give the lure a few twitches and then watch the redfish speed up and smash the plastic. These fish hit hard, pull hard and it is incredible to watch them hit the afterburners and run a lure down. On multiple occasions schools were spotted, leading to double and triple hook ups as we landed our lures within striking distance. These fish were not shy and we even had them swim beside the boat, only to lower a lure in front of their direction of travel and watch them eat it!

Daniel chimed in with a couple of bigger reds, a nice speckled trout and a solid flounder, all caught on a ZMan ChatterBait, a lure that is so underutilised in Australia but which has great appeal to cod, bass, saratoga, sooty grunter in the freshwater and I think would be killer in the salt on a stack of species. Challenge set for myself on our return; throw the ChatterBait more and see how many different species eat it.

What a great day on the water, spent with fellow anglers from the other side of the world. New gear was tested with great success, product ideas were thrown about throughout the day and refined to a point that we should see them in production soon and we were lucky enough to add an iconic American species in the redfish to our catch list, along with largemouth bass, spotted seatrout, flounder, ladyfish (giant herring) and we spotted plenty of alligator gar and sheepshead.

The trip back was an experience in itself, cruising at speed through the navigation channels that dissect the marsh country, before punching out through a whirlpool of turbulent water and back into deep, flowing waters of the mighty Mississippi River. When I sat down at the lodge that night for a feed of local favourites, including spotted seatrout and jambalaya, I had to pinch myself to see if I was awake... largemouth bass, redfish, spotted seatrout, the marshland and the mighty Mississippi River would fill my dreams tonight.

See you on the water... Justin Willmer

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017