How To Catch Bass Using Buzzbaits
April 05, 2017
The first time I fished a buzzbait, nearly 30 years ago, I knew it would work. So I was surprised when it went untouched. It seemed to have all the ingredients—soft, plopping sound on the surface, wiggling skirt, flashing blades. Moreover, the unusual lure seemed guaranteed to arouse the curious and aggressive nature of a bigmouth bass.
Fortunately, I didn't let my initial disappointment squelch my interest in the bait, an old Harkins Lunker Lure. I kept trying. One evening it happened—I caught a bass on almost every cast in a small oxbow lake, fishing over weed pockets and lily pads.
I later learned that this lesson is a common one. It's hard to predict when buzzers work best. At times, I've considered conditions and thought, "They should really eat a buzzbait," only to admit defeat after a couple hours.
Conversely, I've spent the day dredging the depths with finesse baits, only to learn that other anglers had enjoyed a blistering buzzbait bite nearby. One thing that's predictable, however, is that a buzzbait bite is a big-bass bite, which makes it well worth searching for.
Top-ranked Texas pro Alton Jones, known for his versatility, comments: "The buzzer is a bait I always carry, though I may go days at a time without throwing it. When it's right, it's really right and outproduces any other lure," Jones says. "You have to keep trying it to see if the bass are in a buzzbait mood. Fortunately, when they're on it, you won't have to wait long to find out."
The Buzzbait Calendar
Most buzzbait fans feel confident once water temperatures approach 60°F in the spring, and until they drop below about 50°F in fall. Around the spawn, most anglers favor slow-moving baits, when targeting bass holding in thick cover or around nesting areas.
Jones notes, however, that buzzbaits can tempt big females that suspend near the surface in early spring, where they seem to heat themselves in the warmest water available. "These big bass are spooky, and once you see one, she's usually gone. Make long casts with a small buzzbait like Booyah's Pond Magic Buzz and work it slowly over open spots in shallow bays. It won't be a jarring strike, but the bait disappears in a swirl."
He cites another spring situation when buzzbaits shine: "This scenario usually occurs in southern waters when a spring hot spell quickly raises the water temperature into the 70°F range in the middle of the spawn. Again, you're fishing for spooky females. You can catch them by running buzzbaits over grassy flats, both submergent vegetation like hydrilla and milfoil and emergent plants like Potamogeton, needle grass, pepper grass, and alligator weed."
During summer, most anglers fish deeper structure or weededges, or target shallow cover with jigs and soft plastics. A morning topwater bite offers a chance for a big fish on a buzzer. But in shallow midwestern lakes, some experts pick up a buzzbait rod in the morning and don't put it down until weigh-in. You might get more bites on a worm but the buzzbait fish are typically bigger. In hot weather, cast over thick weedcover and experiment with retrieve speed. Keep a stickworm or jig handy to throw back if a bass misses the buzzbait.
Fall is prime buzzbait time, whether you fish weedy natural lakes or rocky reservoirs. Cooling water moves bass shallow, and they feed aggressively under prime conditions. In fall, prime buzzbait conditions include both sunny calm conditions and overcast windier times.
As water temperature falls through the 50°F range, weedgrowth on middepth flats thins, providing better feeding opportunities for big bass. In clear lakes, a strong buzzbait bite often lasts until waters cool below 50°F. A big, slow-moving, single or double buzzer lures bass to the top better than a soft plastic bait or a spinnerbait—a strong pattern for the year's biggest bass.
In reservoirs with a shad prey base, cooling water also brings a strong, shallow bite as bass push baitfish schools against vertical banks in the main lake or in feeder creeks, and they also surface-feed offshore in clear impoundments. Last November at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, I enjoyed a hot buzzbait bite, fishing with local experts including James Dill, maker of Crock-O-Gator buzzbaits. Dill consistently finishes high in tournaments, relying almost exclusively on buzzbaits through fall and into winter. As the water cools, slow your retrieve rate. Wherever possible, run the lure into stumps, rocks, or snags to suddenly change the cadence.
Buzzbaits work in water clarities from ultraclear to muddy, but most experts feel their odds are best with visibility from 6 inches to 3 feet. Water of intermediate clarity keeps bass relatively shallow, while still providing sufficient visibility for them to track the lure from below.
Straight off the shelf, buzzbaits catch fish. Still, pros often alter lures to gain a slight advantage in sound production, in appearance, or in hooking ability.
Stinger Hooks: Because bass often seem to strike behind a buzzbait, many experts add a stinger hook when conditions allow. It's arguable whether a bass that misses a bait actually wanted to eat it, however. Fish accurately aim attacks on steadily moving objects on the surface. Bass sometimes charge a bait to chase it away, or to investigate it more closely. An extra hook can hook these fish.
In open water, a Mustad Triple Grip or VMC Sure Set treble makes a good trailer. Secure it on with a section of hard plastic that allows it to swing freely. Some anglers remove the low-hanging tine of a treble to reduce hang-ups. For buzzers in the 1/8- to 3/16-ounce range, a #6 treble is generally sufficient, increasing to a #2 for big 5/8-ounce models.
When adding a single hook, most anglers position it with the point up to reduce snags. But in open water, a down-turned point often catches schooling bass—largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass—that slash at the lure. The only downside to that is hooking bass in the tongue, which injures a nerve and causes mortality in nearly all cases.
When fishing fallen trees or lily pad beds, stinger hooks waste time in snags. If bass blow up behind the lure in dense cover, try changing size, color, and retrieve pace.
Tuning Blades: Alton Jones has refined a system for getting the most from a buzzer, no matter the brand. "First, I like buzzbaits that are squealers rather than clackers," he states. "To maximize that sound, you need to work on all the lure's sound-producing surfaces.
"Start with the aluminum rivet that holds the blade on the shaft. If it isn't crimped to the shaft, crimp it so it can't turn. Now examine the rivet and take a small needle-nose pliers and bend the flanges of the rivet to maximize the surface area where the back of the blade contacts the rivet. Ensure that the tab on the back of the buzzbait blade is at 90 degrees to maximize contact.
"Now with the lure turned with the hook up, use a fine file to rough up the surface of the rivet. Once you've completed those steps, you're ready to tune the lure. Buzzbaits are meant to turn in water, as it lubricates them to prevent metal fatigue. So, hold your bait under the bathtub faucet for about 15 minutes. After about five minutes, you'll hear the sound change, becoming louder and squeakier. After 10 more minutes, it will get downright obnoxious. Now you're ready to fish!"
The original Lunker Lure remains a standout. Many similar designs feature with a single aluminum Delta blade catch bass, too. Lure designers have studied the physics of buzzbaits and made alterations that inspire strikes.
To create a buzzbait that quickly pops to the surface as the retrieve begins, River2Sea made the head of their Crystal Buzz of a bismuth-tin alloy and encased it in polycarbonate. It also has a hand-tied skirt and a pair of blades separated by a spring that helps create a potent cadence. And ahead of the blades lies a "weed bead" that keeps vegetation from clogging the blades.
Wisconsin bass expert Mike Mayan likes to fish buzzbaits in the industrialized harbors of the Great Lakes and their tributary rivers. He targets largemouth and smallmouth bass that hold in the abundant manmade cover these waterways offer—sea walls, barges, and piers. "Your bait should tick against the edge of the cover for the entire retrieve," Mayan says. For years, he altered blades and bent wire to create righties and lefties that would hit cover on either side. He then collaborated with Uncle Josh Bait Company to develop the Bump-N-Run Buzzbait, which has a notched head to make it track right or left, depending on the situation.
Crock-O-Gator's Head Knocker has a flat, curved head to hold the surface well and a blade designed to hit it on every turn, creating a loud clacking sound. Four sizes area available, from 1/4 to 3/4 ounces. The big one is deadly for the fall Ozark buzzer bite that can last into December.
Lure designer John Duwel of Strictly Bass Lures, a buzzbait specialist, added the Rocket Buzz, 7/16-ounces for long casts into the wind. Also check their Sting Runner, designed for use with a swimbait, minnow, or grub. The softbait stays below the surface and wiggles while the blade churns the surface. Persuader American, a company specializing in spinnerbaits and buzzers, offers seven designs, several with multiple blades for extra lift, flash, and surface commotion.
Terminator offers three models, with a single-blade Super Stainless Buzzbait and a Tandem Buzz, as well as the Original Titanium Buzzbait with its SnapBack frame that resists bending and ensures smooth running. Its blade is overcupped to increase splash and the upturned nose lets it pass over cover smoothly. Talon Custom Lures' Shibui Buzz is specially tooled to allow the blade to turn loosely, creating a squeak. The wire form has a dropped design to sit deeper in the water for solid hook-ups, and baits come with hand-tied, wire-wrapped skirts. At Bert's Jigs and Things, Bert Deener finds great demand for his new downsized buzzbaits with plastic quad blades. He builds them with either standard silicone or super-fine silicone for added wiggle. His 1/8-ounce model in Blueback Herring is a favorite for clear-water finesse fishing as the blade is clear with silver flakes for just a hint of flash. To their extensive line of buzzers, Strike King has added the Double Take Buzzbait, with twin counter-rotating blades for a straight-tracking slow retrieve, available from 1/4 to 1/2 ounces. Their Kevin VanDam Tournament Buzzbait, available only through Bass Pro Shops, has a keeled head for a quick rise and a silicon Perfect Skirt with Magic Tails for extra attraction. And Booyah's Buzzinator, another Bass Pro exclusive, brings the company's lineup to five. This one features deep-cup blades with a serrated front edge to throw a bubble trail as it turns.
Bass Pro Shops XPS Professional Series Buzzbait is an in-line design that casts easily. Two blades counter-rotate, producing a big surface bulge.
Buzzbaits remain one of the most effective lures at times. When the window opens, don't neglect these noisy blades. Once you gain confidence, there's no limit to the lunkers you catch. And excitement is guaranteed with the wild strikes these baits yield.