Expert kayak anglers will tell you their sport is a state of mind—an attitude of chill and Zen and doing things just a little different. It’s a close-knit community of freethinkers and angling trailblazers who all share a special connection with wild places. They’ll regale you with stories of venturing where big boats can’t, paddling in with stealth and sneaking lures into previously unreachable sweet spots.

But as kayak fishing has advanced and matured, another natural connection has emerged: Time after time, the sport’s best sticks tie on Z-Man baits to catch their primo fish. It’s a connection born from high-performance bass baits—and a bond that’s helped Z-Man forge the finest roster of kayak fishing talent in North America.

Z-Man Pro-Staff and Promotions Manager Joey Prochazka recalls working with some of the sport’s most influential anglers, going back almost a decade. “Drew Gregory, Jameson Redding and Brooks Beatty remain close Z-Man confidants who’ve gone on to great things in the kayak world,” says Prochazka. “2021 national kayak champion Kristine Fischer is another Z-Man angler at the apex of her craft.

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New Z-Man pro Ryan Lambert, right in his element.

“These influential kayak anglers were some of the earliest adopters of ElaZtech, because they recognized the baits’ unique properties, such as their lifelike softness and buoyancy and their remarkable resilience, which allow anglers to pare down the number of bait bags carried in their kayaks.

“Today, having worked with two other topflight anglers— Ryan Lambert and Jody Queen— for several years, we’re happy to announce both anglers have been elevated to our official pro-staff.” Longtime fans of ChatterBait® Bladed Jigs and ElaZtech® softbaits, Lambert and Queen each bring intriguing backstories and plenty of trophies to the eminent Z-Team.

At home near the shores of the Tennessee River in the little town of Jasper, Ryan “Lunchmoney” Lambert recalls his earliest fishing memories, catching bream and catfish with his grandpa in the Sequatchie River, originally translated as hog trough by local Cherokee tribes (seriously.)

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The SlingBladeZ Power Finesse Spinnerbait remains an under-the-radar kayak tourney lure.

Some years later, when his daughter turned three, Lambert bought his first kayak to take her fishing on local creeks. “Immediately, I loved that I could access backwaters and small rivers where bigger boats couldn’t go,” Lambert recalls. “I joined the Tennessee Valley Kayak Anglers and started winning some events. Eventually, I entered national circuits like the Hobie BOS and this year I have all nine of their events on my schedule, plus six local derbies.” Most recently, Lambert won the 2021 Hobie BOS tourney at Watts Bar Lake, Tennessee as well as the 2020 Hobie Tournament of Champions—chiefly on Z-Man baits.

“The more I’ve fished with Z-Man ChatterBaits and ElaZtech softbaits, the more I’ve won,” notes Lambert. “As many of us in the kayak community know, Z-Man baits flat out catch fish. That’s number one. But the one-two punch of powerfishing with a ChatterBait and then slowing down with a Ned-rigged TRD BugZ™ or Hula StickZ™ is a money method, almost everywhere I go.”

Lambert divulges another favorite trick: “A sleeper summertime technique is to Texas rig a FattyZ™ with no peg on the weight. When you pause the bait, it rises up the line and hovers above bottom. Pull it and it swims back down and resembles a small baitfish almost to perfection.”

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Z-Man kayak pro Jody Queen routinely logs over 200 days on the water per year.

Outside lucrative tourney outcomes, Lambert has also faced plenty of ‘run ins’ with nature. “Fishing Lake Sam Rayburn one spring, I had a 14-foot gator sort of escort me out of his cove. That was something. I’ll also never forget a nighttime redfish trip to Pensacola, Florida,” he recalls. “It’s pitch black, and I’ve got this big redfish right up to the boat. Out of the dark, giant sets of jaws, fins and a huge tail rolled up beside me and chomped the redfish right off my line. You can’t fully appreciate the adrenaline of something like that until you’re right down close to the water with these creatures. Goes with the territory—and I love it.”

With his own set of stories and triumphs, West Virginia native Jody Queen has become an almost legendary figure on the kayak trail. Artist in residence in historic Bluefield, West Virginia, Queen taps into his creative, detail-oriented nature to dissect bodies of water and entice big bass with astonishing consistency. An amazing string of wins include the 2019 Hobie Tournament of Champions, two 2020 Hobie BOS wins, two 2020 KBF Trail wins and the prestigious 2021 KBF “The Ten” champ.

Queen also recalls his own unique gator story. “It happened during my first trip down to Okeechobee, my bucket list fishery. I was in a little 10-foot boat and as soon as I reached my spot and stopped for a cast, a 12-foot gator hit me broadside and tried to roll the kayak. But because he hit me at that angle, the gator couldn’t quite roll the whole boat. So, I reached down and popped him in the head with my paddle, which thankfully made him think twice and turn me loose. For a while after that, I had an old gator head in my kayak, sort of as a reminder and hopefully, a bit of a good luck charm.”

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The multi-talented Queen at work in his art gallery in Bluefield, West Virginia.

On the fishing front, Queen remains supremely confident in the ChatterBait JackHammer™ as well as the SlingBladeZ™ spinnerbait. “Both bladed baits pick apart the cover and consistently trigger bites from my biggest bass,” says Queen. “But what’s awesome about Z-Man is they also make ElaZtech baits like the Bang StickZ™ that play right into my game in those slow-down, finesse type situations.”

Echoing Lambert’s sentiments, Queen reflects on his favorite lure company. “Before I ever met the good folks at Z-Man, I was fishing their baits and catching a lot of nice fish. To connect with them and join their prestigious team of pro anglers has been the culmination of over 200 days on the water for a lot of years and a lot of great times. It’s a match made in heaven.”