Edwin Evers' not-so-secret weapon

Three quarters of the way through the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series season, there's no denying that Edwin Evers has been the best angler on the water. He won on the Alabama River in May, has finished in the top 13 four out of six tournaments, and his worst finish so far is a very respectable 30th at West Point Lake. With performances like that, it's no wonder he's leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race by a healthy margin.

When an angler has a year like this, there are too many reasons to offer for it. First and foremost, Evers is an exceptional talent, and fishing fans have been predicting a year like this for some time. But when I asked him if he had a particular bait or technique that deserved a chunk of the credit, he didn't hesitate.

"It would have to be the Zoom Z-Hog Jr.," he said. "I've been casting it, pitching it, flipping it, even punching it, and it's caught fish for me at just about every tournament this year."

In fact, the Z-Hog Jr. caught every bass that Evers weighed in at the opener on the Sabine River (he finished 13th), several at Falcon (where he was sixth), some at West Point (30th), most of the bass he caught on the way to his win at the Alabama River and a lot of the bass he weighed at the Mississippi River (11th).

If there's an MVB (Most Valuable Bait) for Evers this year, it's definitely the Z-Hog Jr.

But what makes this Beaver-style bait special?

"I think there are a couple of things that really help the Z-Hog Jr. stand out and work for me," Evers says. "For one, it's extremely soft. I've have some issues with my hook-up percentages in recent years, but not with the Z-Hog Jr. It's soft enough that I'm getting great hook penetration and not losing fish. I've landed almost all my bites this year, and that's made a big difference in my performance."

Beaver-style baits aren't known for their action. Their streamlined profile simplifies things and makes them subtle, but Evers distinguishes the Z-Hog Jr. from other baits because it's so soft and the appendages are held on with relatively little plastic.

The Zoom Z-Hog Jr. in black sapphire.

"That makes the bait move more than most," he says. "And it makes the arms and legs flare out more."

Most of his Z-Hog Jr. bass this year have come on two colors: black sapphire and watermelon candy. When he fishes it, Evers Texas rigs the bait on a 4/0 TroKar straight-shank hook and fishes it behind a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce Bass Pro Shops tungsten worm sinker. Most of the time he fishes the rig on a Bass Pro Shops CarbonLite Trigger Rod — 7 feet long with a heavy action. He typically uses a Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier casting reel (7.1:1 gear ratio) spooled with 20-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Signature Series Fluorocarbon Line.

When he's flipping or punching heavy cover, Evers will go with a heavier rod, line and sinker.

"I love the Z-Hog Jr. anytime the bass are shallower than about eight feet," he says. "Most of my strikes come on the initial fall or after the first lift and drop — whether I'm casting or flipping and pitching."

As for the best retrieve, Evers keeps it simple. "I think the bait imitates a crawfish," he says, "so I don't usually swim it unless I'm using it as a swim jig trailer. Mostly I hop it or drag it and expect my strikes as it falls."

If Evers wins AOY this year, it's a good bet he'll have a Z-Hog Jr. on the business end of at least one rod when he clinches the title.