The cold is finally starting to wear off and the bass are active again. With the increase in vegetation and warming water temperatures, a chatterbait (or “bladed swim jig”) is the perfect bait to throw. The killer flash and vibration that chatterbaits emit will drive bass absolutely crazy, not to mention the fact that it can cut through grass with ease. Thus, we’ve dedicated this article to help you “mow the lawn” like a pro.
The Correct Setup is Key
Usually we’d start with a “where to fish” or “when to fish” a chatterbait, but the setup is vital to success. Most anglers will look at a chatterbait and think of a jig, therefore using a heavy rod with stiff tip action. This causes the bait to rip out of the fish’s mouth too often, lowering your hookup ratio.
Glass Rods for Chatterbaits
Chatterbait specialists like Brett Hite will treat a chatterbait more like a crankbait and it reflects in his personal setup. A heavy glass rod with parabolic bend will give you the absolute best action when sweeping into a fish, distributing the load evenly while putting enough pressure to drive the hook through the fish’s mouth. Usually a rod in the 7’3 – 7’6 range is ideal because the extra length helps you pick up slack line on the hookset.
Use Heavier Line
Heavy cover requires tougher line, so use 20lb fluorocarbon if possible. For the cheaper route, 20lb monofilament works perfectly fine as well. Some anglers use braid but we enjoy the straight mono/fluoro setup – braid seems to negate the action of the glass rod since there’s no stretch. If there is extremely heavy cover feel free to use straight braid or braid with fluoro leader. Every situation is different so it comes down to how you adapt.
Go Fast or Go Home
A high-speed casting reel is ideal for chatterbaits. The extra speed allows you to pick up slack quicker before a hookset, especially since bass will hit a chatterbait aggressively and most often knock a few feet of slack in your line. Try not to go into the 8:1 gear ratio range since it won’t provide enough torque and can strain your arm/wrist.
Where to Throw a Chatterbait
Chatterbaits are meant to be fished through all sorts of vegetation. The blade in front will vibrate erratically, helping to deflect grass, rocks and other obstacles during the retrieve. You will notice that your bait gets hung up in brush quite often but this isn’t a huge issue. Just make sure you don’t sweep hard into any snags and you should be able to rescue your bait with ease.
Aside from fishing through structure, try to find points and bends in creek channels where these bass will hold in the pre-spawn. Vary the depths you’re fishing and remember where you are catching fish. As a general rule of thumb you should be making bottom contact a majority of the time, but for instances such as submerged grass you be fishing anywhere from 3-5ft off the bottom or higher.
Choosing a Chatterbait
Not all chatterbaits are created the same way. With recent innovations in the fishing industry, we’ve seen a few interesting designs that change how the bait looks and acts in the water. Our personal favorite lineup is usually a Picasso Shock Blade or D&M Customs Piranha II Swim Jig but the Strike King Rage Blade recently caught our eye as well.
The unique design of the Rage Blade offers a weighted blade in the front as opposed to the weight and blade usually being separate. This allows the blade to deflect grass and hard structure more effectively, saving you from a bunch of frustration. Any chatterbait will prove itself weedless, however, so fish ‘em through cover and fish em’ hard! They all work.
If you find yourself constantly snagging on vegetation or timber, try a chatterbait that features a weedguard. This will deflect your bait off any hard structure and part vegetation to the side more effectively. An open-hook chatterbait should be used whenever possible to increase chances of hooking fish.
Chatterbait Color Selection
Don’t think too hard when choosing colors, standard color methods work great. Natural colors such as Green Pumpkin, Watermelon, etc. will work in clearer water and darker combos like Black/Blue and Black/Purple are better in muddy waters. You can also go on the brighter spectrum for murky water as well. Combos such as White/Chartreuse and Red/Orange will both stand out great in the filth.
The color of your blade matters too. For clear water usually a more natural colored blade works great, but when the bass are aggressive you can always use chrome, gold, etc. For muddy water you can use flashy or dark colored blades. A few anglers even paint their blades to reduce flash.
Modifying your Chatterbait
Similar to a jig, you can trim the skirt on a chatterbait to help it flutter more. Flip your bait over so the skirt dangles down from the blade, then cut straight across or at a slight angle for the perfect trim. A few centimeters shorter is more than plenty.
If you want your chatterbait to stay down in the water column, take needle nose pliers and slightly bend the front quarter of your blade at an upwards angle. This helps the blade push water downwards during the retrieve, keeping you deeper much longer.
Choosing a Trailer for your Chatterbait
There are many chatterbait-specific trailers out on the market, but you can use anything that kicks or flutters. When going for a craw imitation I’ll use a Strike King Rage Tail Craw for maximum flapping action, and a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper for a baitfish profile.
Yamamoto just came out with their new Zako chatterbait trailers, which look and act very similar to the popular Lake Fork Live Magic Shad. The Zako doesn’t actually kick by itself, instead it relies on the vibration of the blade to make it quiver. This gives a tight wobbling action and a thinner profile to weave through grass with ease.
Fishing a Chatterbait
Bump. Stuff. Simple as that! You’ll want to maintain contact with some sort of structure or vegetation during the retrieve. Chatterbaits are meant to rip through grass and bump hard structure, similar to a crankbait but with more vibration and flash. If you’re fishing through grass, burn the handle or sweep your rod every once in awhile to rip the bait out of cover erratically, drawing an aggressive reaction strike. This occasional rip also removes any junk hanging off the bait.
Don’t sweep into the fish like a jig bite. Instead, you’ll want to reel until you feel tension then sweep hard to the side. This sweep combined with the action of your glass rod will give you the perfect balance of power and bend. You’ll notice more hooked fish and less heartbreak.