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Buzz Baits For Bass

by Steve Quinn   |  October 23rd, 2012 0

Over the past 20 years, I’ve had some incredible bites on buzzbaits, fishing them over weedy or brush-­covered flats, or zipping them through emergent vegetation or stick-ups. And in those muggy, overcast afternoons of late summer, a noisy buzzbait can be the top choice for outsize largemouths. But what about right now? During fall?

“ Buzz baits for bass can work just fine from the Postspawn Period through summer,” In-Fisherman TV Director Jim Lindner offers, “but conditions have to be just right to make a buzzer the best option. It’s a bait I always have tied on but often don’t use for days at a time. When bass hold on deep structure or at the base of weedlines, worms, jigs, or crankbaits reach them more effectively to draw strikes. And when they’re deep beneath docks or buried in timber, a buzzer usually won’t lure them out. And during summer cold fronts, forget them.

“In fall, though, ­changing patterns of weedgrowth combined with changing position of the bass help make buzzbaits a top lure choices any day that’s not too windy. During summer, large flats in lakes and reservoirs may develop a thick canopy of weedgrowth. Some bass remain in this dense growth, but few anglers target them. The only way to tempt a bite is to drop a jig or worm in every pocket, a tedious proposition and usually a low-percentage presentation.

“But cooling water in fall thins the plants. Several species of weeds virtually disappear, leaving clumps of plants like coontail, cabbage, and milfoil that are tolerant of cold water.

“Bass that had been living on the flats are more exposed; they can get a better look at a bait moving overhead. Also, some bass move from shallow shoreline cover onto the flats where feeding opportunities become easier as weedgrowth declines. Some fish also move onto the flats from deep weedlines, as the bite along deep weedlines often declines during this period. The flats become the focus for bass activity, making spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and rattling baits excellent choices.”

This seasonal shift typically occurs as waters cool from the low 60°F range into the low 50s. We consider 50°F about the bottom end of the buzzbait window. But that gradual decrease in water temperature may occur over a month in most areas, opening a window of opportunity for the best buzzbait bite of the season.

Buzzbait Basics
The buzzbait design dates to the 1960s, though the first lure didn’t hit the national market until 1976. That bait was Harkins Lunker Lure, originally crafted by Hack Wilson of Marion, Illinois, and still made by Lunker Lure Products of Carterville, Illinois. According to Bob Mason, bass fishing pioneer and founder of the Bass Casters Association, Wilson made buzzbaits in his garage for 15 years before selling his patent to Jim Aron who with Bill Harkins began marketing the Lunker Lure.

It was an immediate hit with bass anglers fishing tournaments around Illinois, and with local anglers who scored big on Rend Lake. Then, according to Bob Mason, “It went south.” Its fame spread fast on the tournament-happy reservoirs of the central and southeastern states.

The “new lure” syndrome surely accounted for some successes. Bass had never experienced these miniature egg beaters pulsing through their domain. But the lure also struck a chord in the bass’s brain that had never been tweaked before. Pro anglers and novices made killer catches with buzzbaits.

Various imitations and innovations appeared. Many of the ­first-generation buzzbaits sported delta blades stamped with the patent number 3093923 of the original Lunker Lure, a configuration that turns in a clockwise direction (when observed from the rear). Others adopted a delta blade that rotates in the opposite direction (patent number 4201008). The direction in which the “ears” of the lure are bent determines its rotation and also the direction it tends to pull. A buzzer can be tuned, however, by bending the shaft to the right or left to balance the pull of the blade. But baits that run right or left are valuable tools, for they can be steered to bump into docks, stumps, lily pads, or other cover.

Many of the most recent buzzbait models use these same delta blades or slight modifications, since this action has been proven in every major North American bass fishery. “I’d say the original Lunker Lure is the best buzzbait I’ve ever used,” says In-Fisherman TV star and co-founder Al Lindner, “though admittedly, I haven’t sampled some of the newer styles.”
Rick Clunn brought early fame to the buzzing technique when he used it to gain victories in the 1976 and 1977 BASSMASTERS Classics, held on Lake Guntersville in Alabama and on Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida. At Guntersville, Clunn used a spinnerbait but added large blades and burned it just under the surface, similar to a buzzbait’s action. Since that time, Rick Clunn, heralded as the crankbait king, has used buzzbaits as a secret weapon in spring, summer, and fall.

Harkins Lunker Lure, with its long, straight shaft and slightly upturned hook remained the standard, though many deviations in blade shape and material, body shape, and wire configuration appeared in the ensuing 22 years. Other additions have included clackers that swing on the vertical portion of the buzzbait’s arm and contact the blade on every revolution, or positioning the blade to contact the head at every turn for extra sound. Alterations to the blade, such as perforating it and serrating its edges to produce a greater bubble trail, sometimes is a key to buzzbaiting success.

Many of the deadliest buzzbaits never have appeared on the national scene. Like the Lunker Lure, they were hand made in garages and basements in lots of a couple hundred and sold to friends or in local tackle shops. A favorite bait around Oklahoma that still has a cult following among avid buzzbaiters was the Dixon Buzzbait made by John Dixon of Bache, Oklahoma.

The hand tuning and wire twisting process can be the thing that triggers bass. A subtle bend to the wire frame, a turn in the blade, or an off-center hole in a blade creates special wobbles, squeaks, and other effects that cause bass to attack.
Buzzbaits attract strikes with a multi-sensory array of cues. The blade sputtering on the surface creates a loud sound that’s transmitted through the air and through the water. The lure’s churning and bubbling produce underwater vibrations that bass detect with their lateral line, even when they’re buried in wood or weedcover. Visually, a buzzbait’s appeal is in its trail of bubbles, flashing blade, and pulsing skirt.

The combination of sound and vibration seems critical for buzzbaits, just as it’s central to the attraction of crankbaits and spinnerbaits. A buzzbait blade turns as it’s pulled through the water, a motion that puts torque and vibration on the wire shaft. The wire transmits the various pitches of sound and vibration into the underwater world.

The original Lunker Lure was designed to run a little off-balance, so the bait shudders as it buzzes along. Hold a Lunker Lure and blow into the blade, and you feel it pulse in your fingers. Other models have used similar strategies to create an attractive cadence, though on many models, the blades spin smoothly on the shaft, an action that may also draw strikes.
Choice of blade shape, position, gauge of wire form, and shape all contribute to a buzzbait’s underwater vibrations and thus its effectiveness. Placing two blades, each tuned to turn in opposite directions, in sequence or on separate arms, creates two types of vibrations. The two blades hold the lure on the surface at a slow retrieve. Also, the two blades pulling in opposite directions make the lure run straight.

This metal-on-metal action also creates sound, the magical squeak that avid buzzbaiters look for in a favorite bait. “It’s the squeak that scored,” says In-Fisherman co-founder Ron Lindner. Zone Lures’ Mega Squeak has a built-in squeak, and the new Terminator Titanium Buzzbait uses a brass crimp to increase squeakiness.

Buzzbait specialists rarely use a buzzer right out of the package. “Tape a couple to your exterior mirrors when you head to the lake,” recommends Ron Lindner. “But don’t forget them out there. A half hour of moderate-speed driving is more than enough time. A buzzbait can be broken in by fishing it, but that may take awhile.

“As the blade spins, the metal wears and bends, giving the blade more wobble. This new action makes the lure squeak and also creates a different vibration pattern. But be careful, for a bait can be ruined by holding it at the wrong angle during the break-in period.

“The length of the break-in period depends on the design and quality of the blade and also its attachment to the wire arm. Cheaper buzzbaits can be broken in quickly, but they also break with use. But cheaper blades produce a different pitch, and that’s sometimes what the fish want. And don’t be afraid to bend the wire shaft.”

Strategies for Lakes
“There aren’t many tricks to buzzbait fishing in fall,” Jim Lindner observes. “It isn’t necessary to be a pro to catch huge fish with this lure. On shallower flats, I choose a small single-blade buzzbait and retrieve it as slowly as possible. Noise isn’t the key here, and a loud bait can turn off fish. I like a bait like the 1/4-ounce Norman’s Triple-Wing Buzzer in these conditions.

“Largemouths whack a buzzbait fished over flats that run 6 to 8 feet deep, but in deeper water, I like a larger, noisier bait.

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