When North Carolina pro Bryan Thrift won a Stren Series event on Lake Okeechobee in 2006 with a lure few anglers had seen, rumors quickly spread about the merits of ChatterBaits. "I cast it out and swim it like a spinnerbait," Thrift said at the time about his ChatterBait, originally a product of Rad Lures and now owned by Z-Man.
Other pros had been experimenting with ChatterBaits, available for a few years but largely unnoticed. Moreover, a few were catching fish and winning tournaments, but keeping their lure of choice secret.
When "secret lures" produce fish on tournament trails, they usually don't remain secrets for long. In the case of the ChatterBait, word spread fast after Thrift's victory, and suddenly everyone had to have one. Other lure manufacturers immediately began production of their own versions of this bladed jig, and with those introductions a new category of lure was born. Blade shapes, head styles, hooks, skirts, and trailer types varied from bait to bait, but all featured a vibrating blade in front of a jighead. Like a Rat-L-Trap or Fluke, many anglers still refer to all lures in this category generically as "chatterbaits."
As popular as ChatterBaits became, many anglers weren't sure what to do with their new toys, and as fishing trends sometimes do, the craze subsided. "It's the best bait that everyone owns and nobody throws," says Tom Redington, a Lake Fork guide and FLW Tour pro.
Redington observed that after the initial frenzy, when nearly everyone purchased ChatterBaits, many anglers didn't give them much of a chance before labeling them gimmicky, never discovering the lures' potential. To write them off is a huge mistake, according to Redington, who uses bladed jigs extensively to catch big bass, both on Lake Fork and on tour across the country. He admits, though, that he nearly made the same mistake. Redington initially caught a few fish on ChatterBaits but didn't investigate their potential. A couple years ago, he dug them out, altered the rigging, and used them in more situations. Bladed jigs now rank way up his list of go-to lures when bass are shallow.
Alton Jones is another big fan. The 2008 Bassmaster Classic Champion has been throwing Booyah Boogee Baits since the first prototypes were produced, and he uses them in a variety of situations. "To me, a Boogee Bait is like a spinnerbait with an attitude," he says. "There's something about the radical vibration that triggers strikes from big bass." Indeed, anglers who regularly use bladed jigs typically turn to them as big-fish producers.
Redington fishes original ChatterBaits and has tried virtually every lure of its sort. His lure of choice in this category is the Phenix Vibrator Jig, the lure Brett Hite used to win an FLW Tour tournament on Florida's Lake Toho and an FLW Series event on the California Delta in early 2008. Redington appreciates the Vibrator Jig's long-shank and ultra-sharp Mustad hook. His mainstay is a 3/8-ounce model, but he also uses the 1/2-ounce version.
Brett Hite's wins, which were back to back and at opposite ends of the country, drew tremendous attention to ChatterBait-style lures and their diversity. Hite pointed out that the bait's profile and action, plus its vibration can be altered dramatically by changing trailers. In California, he used a Swimming Senko, which gave it a baitfish profile, and extra vibration in the tail.
Redington typically removes the trailer that comes with a bait, replacing it with a Lake Fork Trophy Lures Live Magic Shad, a segmented soft-plastic swimbait. "It creates a bulky bait with tremendous action that produces big bass," he says. He typically leaves the skirt on the lure to maximize bulk.
In many situations, Jones use a Boogee Bait out of the package, including the skirt and split-tailed Boogee Tail. But he sometimes removes the skirt and trailer and rigs a Yum Money Minnow on the hook.
Early Season Success
ChatterBaits and their kin have proved most effective during the Prespawn Period. "When everyone else is throwing a Rat-L-Trap, you can catch fish behind them on these baits because they're very different from what the fish have been seeing," Redington says. He admits having lost some of that advantage at Lake Fork because his bladed jig-Magic Shad combo has become so popular for targeting early-season giants there. But it has other advantages. He likes a Vibrator Jig better than a lipless crankbait for fishing over grass because it ticks the grass nicely and he can easily pull it free with the braided line he always uses with it.
Jones favors a Boogee Bait for prespawn fishing when a hard cold front passes and the water temperature drops. "The big females that have moved up and are almost ready to spawn strike Boogee Baits when almost nothing else is working," he says.
Jones and Redington generally rig with swimbaits for prespawn fishing, favoring the large profile of this big trailer and its natural swimming motion. They employ slow steady retrieves, often over vegetation, regularly hitting the tops of the grass with blade and jighead.
One of Jones' favorite applications has nothing to do with tournament fishing. Because of its intense vibration, he's found a Boogee Bait one of the most effective night-fishing lures. "At night, I let it sink to the bottom and work it by lifting it up and letting it fall," he says. "They hit it on the fall."
On summer days, Redington and Jones use these lures to catch big fish on offshore structure as well. Fishing ledges and humps they might otherwise work with deep-diving crankbaits or Carolina rigs, they either slow-roll the baits just off bottom or use a lift-and-drop presentation.
Jones notes, however, that the structure must be mostly free of brush or other woody cover because they hang-up readily. "They're dynamite for reservoirs like Kentucky Lake and Alabama's Lake Wheeler, where key ledges often have mussel beds on them. These baits tend to produce the biggest fish in the school."
Redington often chooses a Vibrator Jig wherever one might select a spinnerbait, but in some spots it offers particular advantages. He strongly prefers it around grass, for example, because the stalks can't wrap the blade and impede it. He holds his rod down and plows it through the vegetation, slicing weed stalks, all the while expecting a bite. He also fishes Vibrator Jigs year-round around docks. "Especially when rigged with the flat-sided Magic Shad, I can skip it way up under a dock," he says.
While his typical retrieve is steady, he often pauses and lets it drop a bit as it passes dock supports and corners. As he does so, he keeps the line tight, pulling just slightly to keep the blade vibrating.
Jones adds that it's good for schooling bass. "I keep a Boogee Bait rigged with a Money Minnow handy. This rig casts far to reach schools that suddenly crash the surface. This combination screams 'fleeing baitfish,' and its hard thump helps fish zero in on it." He's found that he sometimes must experiment with retrieve cadence, though he catches most schooling bass by reeling slowly and steadily, holding the rod tip high to keep the lure just beneath the surface.
Jones also reaches for a Boogee Bait when heavy rain or wind murk the water. "People often think fish won't bite at all, but I've found they perceive and strike a Boogee Bait under those difficult conditions." In murky water, he retrieves it as slowly as possible while keeping it off bottom and with the blade vibrating. "In muddy waters, bass hold close to wood, rocks, or other cover, and they won't move far to hit a lure," he adds.
Redington fishes a Vibrator Jig on 30- to 50-pound-test braid, using a 7-foot 3-inch, medium-heavy Dobyns Champion 743C casting rod, and high-speed reel. The long rod helps make long casts sometimes needed for big, spooky bass, while its backbone delivers solid hook-sets in thick vegetation.
He favors translucent colors for the Magic Shad, including blue glimmer and shad colors for clear water. In stained water, he picks a chartreuse-white or orange-green Magic Shad for his trailer.
He puts a drop of Superglue on the nose of the swimbait and on the base of the jighead, since the pulsing action of the tail and surrounding grass otherwise pull the tail down. Jones fishes Boogee Baits on 17- to 20-pound-test Silverthread Fluorocarbon, spooled on an Ardent XS 1000 reel and Kistler 6-foot 10-inch medium-heavy Z-Bone rod. "Fluoro line, combined with the micro guides on that Z-Bone Rod, enhances casting distance dramatically," he adds.
If you have bladed jigs tucked away in the garage, best to dust them off this spring. While no bait's guaranteed, they can up the odds for big bass this season.
Jeff Samsel, Clarkesville, Georgia, is a freelance writer and photographer.