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Lure Review



Kickin' It with Yamamoto's Zako Variant


Date: 5/18/23
Tackle Type: Lures
Manufacturer: Yamamoto Baits
Reviewer: Cal

Total Score: 7.75 - GOOD

With over twenty five bait profiles in their catalog, all but the most ardent fan would have difficulty coming up with two, maybe three baits beyond any of the eight varieties of the most popular produced by the very well respected Yamamoto Baits. Other than the different sizes of the original, I didn't even know there were eight different Senko baits. One non-Senko that caught my attention recently during an online shopping spree was the Kickin Zako, so I purchased a couple packs for a closer look. Here's what I found.


Yamamoto Kickin Zako Swimbait Specifications

Type Paddletail Swimbait
Material Soft Plastic
Colors/Patterns 16
Sizes 4" only
Scent/Plastic Treatment None
# per package 5
Resealable Bag? Yes
MSRP $6.49


Impressions: The original Zako, featuring a y-shaped swim tail, is a popular choice as trailer on skirted baits like vibrating and swim jigs, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, etc.. The Kickin' Zako is variant made instead, with a paddletail.


Introducing Yamamoto Baits's Kickin' Zako


Both baits feature a thick, fish shaped torso with Yamamoto's signature ribbed body but at roughly the half-body mark, the bait transitions to a series of segments giving the back half of the bait more flexibility for life-like swimming motion.


The Kickin' Zako is a small, four inch bait with a relatively shallow hook slit on the bottom and a kind of very subtle concave top to help conceal a hook point. Most anglers probably fish this bait like the original - as a trailer, but I wanted to see how it would behave as a standalone bait.

The Kickin' Zako is a paddletail variant of the original (top)

Real World Tests: Seeking some middle ground between throwing big baits and other, more conventional techniques, I fished the Kickin' Zako on a variety of medium heavy to heavy powered rods through the early part of this year. It was a good alternative to throwing jigs and TX soft plastics. One of my combos on which it was particularly successful was my self wrapped Point Blank PB731HXF paired with an Abu Garcia Revo5 STX. The STX was spooled with 50lb Sunline FX braid topped with a leader of 10lb Sunline Shooter FC.

It arrives in a re-sealable plastic bag housing a plastic tray that helps keep the baits' tails from getting messed up during storage


Not all hook sizes are created equal. These are all 3/0 hooks from left to right, VMC, Mustad, Gamakatsu


Ease of Rigging : The biggest issue with small swimbaits like the Kickin' Zako is rigging. It's relatively easy to find a jighead on which to fish them, but that usually entails an exposed hook. If you want to go weedless, finding a weighted swimbait hook small enough to accommodate can be tricky. I tried three alternatives.


Shown here next to the 3/0 Gamakatsu Weighted Superline Spring Lock Hook


Gamakatsu Weighted Superline Spring Lock Hook - The Kickin' Zako is a tiny bait by swimbait standards. The biggest challenge with fishing it is finding a weighted hook small enough to accommodate its size. The weighted superline spring lock hook by Gamakatsu is one of the few available in 3/0 but even that is just small enough with which to properly rig the Kickin' Zako.


Shown here next to the 3/0 Mustad Power Lock Plus Spring Keeper Weighted Hook


Mustad Power Lock Plus Spring Keeper Weighted Hook - Another small, weighted swimbait hook option is this Power Lock Plus Sprig Keeper Weighted hook by Mustad. What I like most about this hook is the adjustability of the lead weight. With a little twist and pull, you can slide it up and down the shaft of the hook. I just wish it would slide down further towards the bend. This option is slightl longer than the one above, but still fits the Kickin' Zako - barely.


Shown here next to the 3/0 VMC Drop Dead Weighted Hook

VMC Drop Dead Weighted Hook - This hook from VMC is very promising with smaller swimbait bodies. Not only is it available in 3/0, but the weight placement is perfect. It's right down towards the bend enabling the weight to pull double duty as a rudder and providing better balance for the bait towards the middle of its body rather than at the head. Unfortunately the length of the 3/0 hook is considerably longer than the previous two options and the centering pin doesn't even reach the bait.


Rigged with the Mustad hook option and ready to go


Once you decide on the hook, it's time to sling and fish this bait. In the water the Kickin' Zako's tail swims well at all speeds, but what makes this bait interesting is the way in which it shimmies. The body has a very tight wiggle that looks very realistic and just screams of getting bit. Kill your retrieve and the bait will do a spiraling nose dive to the bottom, so it's best to keep this bait moving. You can count it down to a desired depth, but I fished it in skinny water where I could watch it shimmy. Ambush hits where movement comes out of no where only to inhale your bait are addictive.


The back section is very flexible

It only took a few fish to convince me of this bait's worth, and the first bait I rigged up and fished lasted through them all. The Kickin' Zako is certainly more durable than I've come to expect from a Yamamoto soft plastic bait. Of course, results will vary with each day and hit, but considering the bait's size and composition, I'd say durability is pretty good.

There's a very subtle channel on top to help conceal the hook

Design & Ergonomics: One area of disappointment I have with the Zako is that it does not seem to be made of the same soft plastic formula as the Senko. That bait is so ingrained in my fishing soul, I take it for granted that every soft plastic from Yamamoto is going to feel the same.

A look at the square-ish paddletail

The Kickin' Zako has that signature Yamamoto look, but the soft plastic is more oily and lacks the soft, salty texture of the company's more traditional soft plastics. It makes sense really, because if this bait were as soft as the Senko, it wouldn't hold up to very many fish. The small, feisty ones would rip the tail section right off.

Texture of the bait is reminiscent of the Senko

The bait also does not seem to be infused with any scent or flavoring. All I can sense on my fingers after handling the bait is a kind of soft plastic smell. Same goes with opening the re-sealable package. I wasn't overwhelmed by any strange scents. Speaking of that package, there is a clear, molded, hard plastic tray to help keep the Kickin' Zako from getting kinked while in storage. Paddletails in general are pretty susceptible to this, so it's always nice when they are packaged in a way to preserve their shape.

The Kickin' Zako retails for $6.49 per package of five baits

Price & Applications: The Kickin' Zako retails for $6.49 per package of five baits. It's available in sixteen different colors/patterns. Interestingly enough, it's sibling, the original Zako is available in twenty two colors and two different sizes (3' & 4"). The Kickin' Zako is only available in four inch. It's a great little bait to swim in the skinniest of water you can find and over the top of visible structure, and will certainly work as a trailer like the original Zako. Personally, I think it's wasted fished as a trailer.


Yamamoto Kickin Zako Swimbait Ratings (?/10)

Construction/Quality Solid little bait with cool, intricate colors 8
Performance Really good swimming motion and excellent hook up ratio 7.5
Price Close to $1.30 per bait - about average for baits of similar size and profile 7.5
Features Slit in the belly to aid with rigging, segmented body, signature Yamamoto texture 7.5
Design (Ergonomics) More durable than traditional baits from this company, good range of vibrant colors, nice compact size 8
Application No brainer as a trailer, but don't discount its effectiveness fished like a mini-subsurface buzzbait 8

Total Score

Ratings Key: 1 = terrible : 2 = poor : 3 = lacking : 4 = sub par : 5 = mediocre : 6 = fair : 7 = good : 8 = great : 9 = excellent : 10 = unbelievable!
For More Details of the updated rating system visit our explanation here


Pluses and Minuses:


+ Nice compact size - Available in just the one size
+ Enticing swimming action - Difficult to find the right sized hook if you want to rig it weedless
+ Vibrant colors - Lacking attractant such as scent or salt in plastic
+ Effective as both a trailer and standalone swimbait  


Conclusion: It's been a bit since I've taken a dive into a product from Yamamoto Baits. I have it ingrained in my mind that it's all about the Senko with them, but in truth, they have more than a dozen non-Senko bait profiles. The Kickin' Zako is one of them and it's a fun little bait. I just wish it were available in larger sizes so I could present a bigger profile for potentially bigger bites.


Many probably just slap it on as a trailer bait, but I feel the Kickin' Zako is wasted if you don't try it solo


That shimmy is very enticing and could be deadly in a larger profile. In the meantime, the four inch size makes for an excellent bait in skinny water situations or over visible structure fished like a spinnerbait or buzzbait on a constant retrieve. Many probably just slap it on as a trailer bait, but I feel the Kickin' Zako is wasted if you don't try it solo.


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