By Ted Pilgrim
On morning strolls up and down Lake Hartwell’s boat-launch docks, repeated murmurs and quiet nods toward casting decks appeared to form a pattern.
“Look, there’s another one.”
“Yep, it’s that same ChatterBait.”
“Man, seems like everyone’s throwing that thing.”
After the last sack of bass hit the scales at the 2018 Bassmaster Classic, a final tally of another sort emerged: Seven out of the top ten finishers had cast some type of bladed jig.
It didn’t take a lot of detective work to discover the bait of choice was a ChatterBait — whether or not the anglers flashed Z-Man logos on their jerseys, or even called the bait by name up on the stage.
The ever-likable Ott DeFoe, who finished sixth, acknowledged: “I fished a ½-ounce green pumpkin bladed jig — the Bass Pro Shops version made by Z-Man.”
Eventual tenth-place finisher, Gerald Swindle, gave further voice to what a lot of the anglers might have been thinking. “I caught every bass this week on a half-ounce Evergreen (Z-Man) ChatterBait, the JackHammer,” said Swindle, “I’m not sponsored by ‘em; I paid fifteen-ninety-nine a piece for ‘em, just like y’all do. I got about eleven-hundred dollars (worth) of them; I won’t lie to you.”
In truth, the remarkable current run of the ChatterBait dates back at least a decade, perhaps beginning when Bryan Thrift won the 2006 FLW Stren Series event on Lake Okeechobee, boating 19 of his 20 fish on the original bladed swim jig. Brett Hite opened the eyes of more anglers when he won the 2014 Bassmaster Elite event on Lake Seminole and the FLW Tour contest on Lake Okeechobee that same year—both on ChatterBait bladed jigs.
In just the first few months this year, the unique, vibrating, wobbling jigs took top honors at two more big name contests. At the FLW Tour event at Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes. First-, second- and third-place finishers all wielded a Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer, thumping impressive largemouths amid clumps of submersed hydrilla. A few weeks later, Stephen Browning won the Bass Pro Shops Central Open at Ross Barnett Reservoir, catching nearly all his bass on a pair of ChatterBait JackHammer jigs.
For Hite, everything changed following Thrift’s 2006 win, when he learned a difference-making trick. “The first ChatterBaits came rigged with a little split-tail trailer,” recalls Hite, who’s now won over a million dollars on the bladed jigs. “One of my West Coast buddies told me to pull off the trailer and replace it with a swimbait. First time I rigged a ChatterBait with a big bluegill-colored swimbait, a 5-pounder crushed it as soon as it broke free from a patch of grass. It was game-on from there.”
After his recent Bassmaster Open win, Browning revealed that he married his winning ChatterBaits with two primary trailers. “At Ross Barnett, I threw a black/blue, 3/8-ounce JackHammer with a matching Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ during the darker morning hours, and followed it up with a solid white ChatterBait and white Razor ShadZ trailer in the afternoon. I felt the DieZel vibrated differently than the RaZor, and gave the bait more loft, which was key in dingier water.”
Yet while recent buzz propelled the JackHammer bait into rarified air, another Bassmaster Elite Series pro professed confidence in earlier versions of the lure. “The Original ChatterBait is still one of my favorites,” said David Walker, fresh off his 12th Classic appearance. “Similar to a sqaurebill (crankbait) or a single spin, the ChatterBait gives you that thump-thump-thump, but carries it to extremes.
“It’s almost the perfect tournament bait, because it allows me to cover a lot of water and pick off more bites along the way. It’s not a little fish bait, either; big fish attack it equally well. At this point, I’d say the ChatterBait has proven to everyone on tour that it’s got a special action that results in big bites.”
Walker emphasizes the power of a ChatterBait during the prespawn to postspawn periods, but says the lure can be just as good throughout summer. “I keep a ChatterBait rod on my casting deck pretty much year-around; it’s almost replaced a spinnerbait.
“For me, a ChatterBait shines in two key situations. One, for fishing around shallow vegetation, especially on those 6-foot spawning flats, before the really thick grass comes up. I tell a lot of folks to fish the Project Z Weedless ChatterBait around vegetation because it’s got a streamlined head that slides through the thick stuff really well. This design also allows for greater blade movement, and I think a little more vibration. I like darker colors, too. Green pumpkin and black/blue are two patterns that consistently produce.”
The second standout scenario, says Walker, occurs around floating docks, particularly in marinas, where large floating complexes cascade vast shadows. “It always surprises people how well a ChatterBait skips way up under docks,” he notes. “Bass that suspend under the planks respond really well to these baits.
“When shad are spawning in these marinas, one great pattern is a white or chartreuse-and-white Original ChatterBait with a 4-inch DieZel MinnowZ. This is a lively, buoyant trailer that lets you retrieve at a nice, steady speed, while floating over trouble spots; it’s so tough that even if you bang it around on sharp edges, it holds up no problem.
Trailers and Tackle
“ElaZtech,” notes the Tennessee based angler, “fishes more dynamically than other materials. A tough, buoyant trailer like a RaZor ShadZ allows me to slow down my retrieve if I need to, but I still have the advantage of weight so the whole bait’s very castable. You put a RaZor or a DieZel MinnowZ on the back of a ChatterBait and it stays there until you pull it off. For me, an original ChatterBait with a RaZor ShadZ is the perfect match. The whole thing flows together seamlessly. As the ChatterBait does its unique head wobble, it really activates the tail.”
Walker further praises the lure’s versatility. “It’s hard to beat a straight-up steady retrieve, like a lipless crank. Give it a pop to shake grass, if necessary. But I can also hang a craw-shaped trailer like a Turbo CrawZ on the back and fish it on deeper structure. It’s that flexible.”
Relative to tackle, Walker emphasizes the need to spool with 17- to 20-pound fluorocarbon rather than braid. “Fluoro offers the perfect feel for a ChatterBait. Braid is almost too responsive. Fluorocarbon lets me feel the rhythm of the blade, and alerts me to when a less aggressive bass slides up, nips and just disrupts the blade’s motion.” He also opts for a moderately stiff 7-foot casting rod that enhances casting control so I can hit specific targets, but also pitch or sidearm cast under cover. Browning agrees, tying his ChatterBaits to 20-pound fluorocarbon on a 7-foot St. Croix Legend Tournament “Sweeper Spinnerbait” rod.
“If you looked around at rods on casting decks during the Classic,” observed Walker “everyone was throwing a ChatterBait in one form or another. It’s simply been a confidence lure for tournament guys. I can’t imagine any hotter lure on tour right now.”