May 23, 2016
Vibration is a key component of lure action, along with shape, size, color, and other aspects of movement. It's the unseen ingredient in tempting bass to bite. But it can be easily felt, through the pulsing rod tip of the angler and via a bass' lateral line.
When it comes to producing vibration, few lures can match the wild gyrations of the ChatterBait, a patented lure owned by Z-Man Fishing, or bladed jig, a term for this lure category. And often enough, no lure can match its catch of big bass. The thin blade set ahead of a jighead imparts wild, shaking action to the head, hook, and any trailing softbaits. Moreover, this chopping action at the nose help it slice and dice its way through vegetation, invading the space of big bass.
The dynamic of the thin curved blade predates the ChatterBait. I have squirrelled away somewhere in the cellar a bag of Eagle Claw Eaker Shakers, shield-shaped blades with a cut-out center, meant for placing in front of a jig, spinnerbait, crankbait, or whatever. Sure enough, this simple device made the whole bait quake. But like many neat and novel fishing devices, it never caught on.
But around 2003, the father-and-son lure design team of Ron Davis Sr. and Ron Davis Jr. began tinkering with a new lure that looked promising. "We sold the first ChatterBaits in March, 2004," reports Davis Jr., "at the Sportsman's Friend in Greenwood, South Carolina. We took it as a great compliment that they gave us 12 pegs with six lures on each one. My father named it during a fishing trip to the Saluda River. While reeling it in, he said that thing was enough to make your teeth chatter."
Its beginnings were humble enough. "In 2004, we sold about 5,000 lures," Davis says. "But the next year, we demonstrated it at outdoor shows, including the Bassmaster Classic show, and sales jumped to 25,000."
They were poised for greater expansion in what had become RAD (Ronald Anthony Davis) Lures when FLW pro Bryan Thrift used a ChatterBait to win a Stren Series tournament at Lake Okeechobee in early January 2006. "Four of the top-10 finishers used the bait. Suddenly we had orders for 500,000 lures." Ron Davis Jr. recalls, "but at 10 cents apiece, we couldn't even afford to buy that many hooks." Anglers were spending $100 for one on eBay.
The financial crunch subsided when Z-Man Fishing Products, with a large factory and supply of lure components in Charleston, South Carolina, agreed to build and distribute ChatterBaits, beginning in spring of 2006. Over the next two years they sold almost 4 million. Finally, in May 2008, Z-Man announced that they had purchased the ChatterBait brand from RAD Lures with all associated patents.
When Arizona pro Brett Hite won consecutive FLW Tour events at Lake Toho in Florida and the California Delta in 2008 with a Phoenix Lures Vibrator, another bladed jig, the lid again blew off the ChatterBait market and everyone had to have some of these magic baits.
But like a Rat-L-Trap, Zara Spook, and other deadly lures, fishing success isn't guaranteed. Many anglers bought ChatterBaits but didn't understand the technique. They gradually slipped from the headlines.
But this lure is so effective in the hands of anglers who have honed their techniques, that it was soon back at the top of the leaderboard as Hite won another FLW event at Lake Okeechobee and a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Lake Seminole in 2014 on a ChatterBait.
Over the years the lure industry has often become a me-too business. Just scan catalogs for Senko look-a-likes or "Beaver-style" baits. Lure designers have used the patent process to protect their creations from imitation, with greater or lesser success. Ron Davis applied for a utility patent on their lure, registered the ChatterBait brand name, and registered the ChatterBlade trade dress (a type of trademark) and these were transferred to Z-Man in 2008.
"As of February, we have three utility patents on the ChatterBait family of lures," says Daniel Nussbaum of Z-Man. "Utility patents cover how products work, while design patents cover the way products look, so utility patents offer considerably more protection. Z-Man's utility patents cover bladed jigs with blades connected directly to the hook, as well as those with blades connected to the head. That's why others on the market incorporate a split ring between the hook eye and blade.
"We also have trade dress protection on our hex-shaped ChatterBlade. This protects a distinguishing but non-functional attribute of a product that helps the public identify that brand. Regardless of how the blade is attached to the lure, other companies should not be using a hexagonal blade. Filing a lawsuit or even having an attorney send a cease-and-desist letter is a last resort, something we've only had to resort to twice since our first patent was issued."
Bladed Jig Array
Like the Rat-L-Trap, Kleenex, and Windex, the trademarked name ChatterBait has to some anglers become synonymous with the whole lure category, which includes an array of players.
After acquisition from RAD Lures, Z-Man went through several updates. Nussbaum explains, "Over the last eight years, we've improved the original several times with upgraded hooks, stronger snaps, and better skirts," he says. "A few years back, we introduced the ChatterBait Elite, with a similar head shape as the original, but with a Gamakatsu hook and some other upgrades.
"Two years ago, we began plans for a ProjectZ ChatterBait during filming of our ProjectZ webisode on Lake Guntersville with pros Luke Clausen, David Walker, and Stephen Browning. One evening, we came up with an idea for a more streamlined head that would shed vegetation and come through other cover more easily, built around a long-shank, heavy-duty Mustad UltraPoint hook for maximum strength and a good fit with larger swimbait trailers.
"We added other features like a pair of sharp keeper barbs that grip trailers more securely, an oversized collar to keep skirts from sliding down, lifelike 3D eyes, a double-layer EZ Skirt that fishes like a hand-tied skirt, and matching multi-step paint schemes. Due to its elongated head and the position of the eyelet on the jighead being out in front, the blade begins to vibrate more easily on the fall or on slow retrieves. The line-tie has always been the ChatterBait's weak spot, so we used a new clip that's remarkably strong for its size. To date we haven't heard of a single failure of this clip." It's available in four sizes from 3/8 to 1 ounce.
When Brett Hite reignited the bladed jig craze in 2008 with back-to-back FLW Tour victories at Lake Toho in Florida and the California Delta, his bait of choice was a 3/8-ounce Phenix Baits' Vibrator. His final day catch of 27 pounds 9 ounces vaulted him into the "century club" with a total of 106 pounds 11 ounces for 4 days. Robert Schneider now owns the company, still based in Temecula, California. In accordance with Z-Man's patent, he changed his original design, which had a hexagonal blade attached directly to the jig eye, with a wire snap to tie onto. "I'm now on the third version of the lure," he says. "Our Phenix Wobble Jig uses two split rings, which prevent it from spinning out, and also provide more freedom of movement for soft plastic trailers. It's deadly for fishing slowly along the bottom. The V3 Vibrator Jig's blade is attached with a special clip, and it's best in shallow cover. It's available in 32 colors, from 1/4 to 3/4 ounce. He also offers the ProLine Wobble Jig, with one split ring and a weedguard for thick cover, in a multitude of colors and sizes from 1/4 to 3/4 ounce.
Dale and Mark Meddock operate D&M Custom Baits and designer Dale has gone through 3 versions of the Piranha Swim Jig, the latest called the Piranha 2 Swim Jig. "We've upgraded several features on this design," he says. "First it now has a 5/0 Gamakatsu hook and custom stainless-steel 75-pound-test Worth split ring, an oversized snap, a keeper to hold a second skirt and a barbed keeper to hold a trailer. A custom attachment eyelet gives the blade even better action.
"Our detailed head with 3D eyes and color schemes remain the same. Some of our hues require a five-step painting process, plus a clear coat. The result is a bait with different action. Anglers are fishing it with chubby 5-inch grubs, which allow it to work superbly at a super-slow retrieve."
Strike King released the Pure Poison about six years ago, with a unique oval blade and rounded head. Available in 3/8- and 1/2-ounce versions, it's equipped with a Perfect Skirt with Magic Tails that act as a trailer, gyrating wildly as the lure's retrieved. Last year, they added the Tour Grade Rage Blade and Naked Rage Blade. Both have a unique blade that incorporates a leadhead at the bottom and a special wire clip to tie onto. In a curious twist, Ron Davis was part of the design team for this lure. The Naked Rage Blade (6 colors) has a clear plastic blade and comes prerigged with a Strike King Blade Minnow, while the Rage Blade (8 colors) has a metal blade and Perfect Skirt with a double-tail trailer.
Another recent introduction has been Picasso's Shock Blade series of bladed jigs. The original resembles a ChatterBait, but has basic differences in construction and application. "The Shock Blade has a wire harness to tie to," says Terry Monteleone, president of Picasso Lures. "This feature doesn't violate the patent, but does give this lure unique action as well as a strong connection to the line. One aspect of the Shock Blade is that it runs deeper than related lures, for its weight. Our 3/8-ounce model can be easily fished down to 8 feet, while the 1/2-ouncer runs 12 to 14 feet."
The original Shock Blade comes in weights from 1/4 ounce to 2 ounces and he says the hefty models have been popular with anglers fishing deep reservoir ledges in summer. "Our blade attachment system means the blade shimmies on the fall with models of 3/4-ounce and heavier," he adds. "We also offer an Undressed Shock Blade in weights to 3/4-ounce, ideal for attaching a swimbait."
Aaron Martens, 2015 Bassmaster Elite Angler of the Year used a Z-Man ChatterBait to seal his victory at Chesapeake Bay last season, and has signed onto Picasso's team and is excited to work on this class of lures. "The new Special FX uses bucktail and feathers to create a whole new spectrum of tail action," he says. Monteleone reports that his initial production runs of Special FX baits have already sold out.
The Viberator from Revenge Baits has several features to set it apart. Owner and designer Ray Moughalian notes that he added a corkscrew-type Hitchhiker to a loop on top of the lure's head. "This keeper allows you to secure a softbait trailer, hooking it Texposed," he says. "But it's really worked well in creating a weedguard for working around brush or viny vegetation. Take a section of a thin plastic worm such as the Reaction Innovations Flirt and thread it onto the Hitchhiker, then onto the hook to cover the barb.
"I started making this bait in 2008 and the original didn't have a split ring, but I added one once Z-man's patent came out. But it actually hooks bass better with the split ring, since the blade flips over when bass eat it, so the hook isn't blocked."
The Viberator is unique for its long wire line-tie on the nose of the jighead, which extends the whole lure to 5 inches with a moderate-size swimbait trailer, or 6 inches with a Reactions Innovations Skinny Dipper, one of Moughalian's favorites. The long spinnerbait hook used in this lure makes that easy to rig, with high hookup success. The head has detailed features with realistic eyes and custom paint job.
New for 2016 is the Hale Raiser from Stanley Jigs, named for designer John Hale and his brother Robert, now a co-owner of Hale Stanley Lures. This unique bait starts with a pear-shaped blade, basically a Stanley Wedge Thumper Blade that's flat. "It's cut from the same die we use for spinnerbaits," John Hale says. "There's a wire harness with a line-tie, and it has two small metal balls on top that rattle as the lure vibrates on the retrieve. We used our Wedge Head design, as it comes through the grass better than anything." This arrow-shaped head is joined to the blade with a split rig, and Hale emphasizes that the Hale Raiser works great as a swim jig when you unclip the blade. "The 5/0 extra-side-gap VMC hook swings on a wire clip behind the head, and you can replace the hook if, say, you wanted to rig a small swimbait trailer. With the trailer Texposed it comes through brush and thick vegetation."
The latest development has been the collaboration of Freedom Tackle Corporation with Z-Man to create the ChatterBait Freedom, using Freedom's patented hook attachment system. This model, to be marketed by Z-Man and released this spring, combines the ChatterBlade with Freedom Lures' head-to-hook attachment system. Michael Tamburro of Freedom explains: "For years, we'd been asked by customers to create a vibrating blade jig with our Advanced Interchangeable Hook Design. Instead of building our own, we partnered with Z-Man, the leader in this category. This hook system allows anglers to customize their hook choice to match various trailers. It comes in 6 colors with a 5/0 VMC wide-gap hook, in 3/8- and 1/2-ounce sizes."
Bladed Jig Applications
Initially, anglers felt that ChatterBaits had so much built-in action, all you had to do was open the pack, tie it on, cast, retrieve, and catch bass. It does work like that sometimes. But like all good lures, there's more to it than meets the eye. And this evolution in techniques has been part of the reason bladed jigs remain at the top of the lure selection chart of pros, particularly during spring and early summer.
David Dudley, angler savant of the FLW trail recently noted, "I'm on my second day of working on my bladed jig box and I'm still not done. It's such a powerful bait, it needs extra care. Gotta trick out blades, tune them to run right. I bend them slightly right or left to run underneath docks or other shaded areas. You can bend them for more or less resistance to increase or decrease vibration output, which can make a difference when fishing pressured bass." The studly Dudley, three-time FLW Angler of the Year, is not one to leave a blade unturned when it comes to catching bass in competition.
Andy Montgomery of South Carolina fishes the Bassmaster Elite series, where he's acknowledged as an expert dock fisherman. He often skips a Strike King Pure Poison under docks and trees. "Unlike a spinnerbait, bladed jigs skip well, as well as a jig," he says, "but few anglers have tried them in that application. I use a Rage Bug as a trailer when I'm skipping it. I also use that lure around vegetation, it's particularly deadly in dingy water where visibility is reduced and bass focus on the lure's tremendous vibration."
He's found that Rage Blades excel around underwater cover, particularly stumps and rocks. "Unlike the Pure Poison and ChatterBaits, the Rage Blade easily deflects off hard cover due to the placement of the lead," he says, "adding a great triggering action for bass. Bang it into a stump like a square-bill crankbait and it wobbles around it. I've fished the 1/2-ounce model as deep as 20 feet on Kentucky Lake, fishing deep ledges. I make long casts and use a yo-yo retrieve. In those situations, I use a Swimmin' Shiner as a trailer, or sometimes a Blade Minnow." For most conditions, Montgomery relies on black-blue or green pumpkin, switching to white or chartreuse/white in murky water.
Luke Clausen of Washington, who's had great success on both the Bassmaster and FLW Tours, recalls that he first became familiar with the ChatterBait when he won the 2006 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Toho. "Rick Morris came in second and caught nearly all his fish on it," he says. "I figured I'd better learn to fish it, especially in those weedy waters like Toho. But I've found the ChatterBait is a year-round option, and works well in various situations. One of the best is the shad spawn, which usually cranks up shortly after bass have completed their spawn.
"Shad gather by the thousands along grass edges, riprap walls, or stumpy areas, the whole school seeming to roll and boil along the edge as they broadcast eggs. Naturally it's a magnet for bass, usually peaking early in the morning. Spinnerbaits are popular choices for this bite but the ProjectZ ChatterBait increases vibration and its shuddering action drives bass crazy when they're feeding on shad."
Clausen pays a lot of attention to his trailers, opting for a Z-Man Diezel Minnow, a 4-inch swimbait or Razor ShadZ, a 4.5-inch ElaZtech minnowbait with a forked tail, in warm water when he retrieves it at a medium to fast pace. In cold water, he slows the pace and adds a crawbait, such as Z-Man's Turbo CrawZ as a trailer.
Martens agrees about the versatility of the bladed jig. "I use curlytail trailers a lot in spring, and experiment at other times to see if a straight-tail trailer or a paddletail is working better." He carries at least 7 or 8 colors, different blade colors, and his own custom skirts. "I choose colors according to water clarity," he says," going with black in the murkiest water and white or silver with a transparent skirt in the clearest conditions. You need gold blades in Florida, and green pumpkin is a great all-around color, while a silver blade and white skirt works when they're feeding heavily on shad." He fishes a 3/8-ounce Shock Blade primarily, working in 1/4- or 1/2-ounce models at times. "Lure weight is comparable to spinnerbaits," he says. "You might need a heavier one in windy conditions or to probe a bit deeper, or go light in calm shallow water."
While choice of rod, reel, and line might not seem important for this style of lure, pro anglers contend that your percentage of hooking and landing fish is closely related to this selection process. "The rod is the most important choice," Martens says. "I use a 7-foot medium-heavy Enigma Aaron's Edge rod for working around vegetation and brush, and upsize to a 7-foot 3-inch model for fishing offshore areas, a medium-power for lighter lures and a medium-heavy for baits over 3/8 ounce." He uses both braid and fluorocarbon, 16-pound fluoro in more open or deeper areas, and 20- or 30-pound braid where vegetation is dense.
"Parabolic rod action is important when fishing a ChatterBait," Clausen maintains. "I use a medium- or medium-heavy power 7-foot 5-inch Megabass Orochi XX. These actions up your odds of hooking a bass that strikes and getting it into the boat.
"With bladed jigs, the blade sits far in front of the hook, so it's important to have a little delay to allow the fish to fully engulf the lure. Some anglers make the mistake of setting the hook hard when they feel a bite.
"Instead I keep reeling with a parabolic rod and then pull back in a smooth motion to set the hook. And that's the reason I don't use braided line. Fluoro gives you some stretch that helps the bass eat the bait, similar to a crankbait. In professional fishing, it's critical to not lose fish. If I was fishing casually, I might use braid for its convenience, as it isn't a big deal if bass get off. And more do escape with braid, since they're generally not hooked as well." Montgomery concurs, going as light as 12-pound test for his deep offshore pattern with a Naked Rage Blade. Similarly, reels with medium-speed retrieves work best: Montgomery favors a Daiwa Tatula with 6.3:1 ratio while Clausen goes with a 6.5:1 ratio model.
As we move into the spring months, it's time for the bladed jig to shine. There's a lot more to this wild looking and wild acting lure than meets the eye. Tuning baits and trailers to conditions on the water and the mood of bass will put you in the winner's circle this season and maybe even the subject of Internet chatter.