If you haven’t been throwing a chatterbait, you don’t know what you’re missing! A worthy addition to any angler’s tackle bag, chatterbaits are just the right medicine when you need an aggressive presentation that maximizes vibration and erratic action.
But as Ron Davis, who helped design the very first chatterbait, warns, "A very small percentage of the people who bought the bait learned how to use it … When something new comes out, everyone has got to get one. But unless you have a little success with it, you won't use it much."
That’s a real shame, and the chatterbait has been called “the best bait that everyone owns and nobody throws."
So whether you’ve never tried one, or have owned them for years, I’d like to offer a few chatterbait tips and techniques to improve their performance and help you catch the fish of a lifetime.
Keep reading to learn how to fish a chatterbait!
Table of Contents (clickable)
Chatterbaits are essentially improved jigs, and they’re specifically designed to outperform spinnerbaits and square-bills in the grass. By adding a large, hexagonal blade to a time-tested design, they up the ante on vibration, while preserving the skirt and/or soft plastic action that jigs are already justifiably famous for.
The result: an undeniably deadly combination of extreme vibration and tempting action.
And unlike the longer blades of your spinners, that single squared-off blade on a chatterbait makes a lot of noise. As Steve Wright explains, “Ronny Davis's much-tinkered with design makes the hexagonal blade bounce off the lead head of the jig and reverse itself.” That wild vibration makes this lure a killer, especially in high-pressure lakes and rivers.
Chatterbaits are also perfect choices when spinnerbaits are simply too fast for the conditions, and the possible range of trailers makes them among the most versatile options out there. And because they can be rigged Texas-style with those soft plastic trailers, they’re ideal for working thick vegetation like weed beds that simply bedevil a conventional spinner or crankbait.
That’s where they’re at their best.
And whether you’re fishing bass or pike, walleye or muskie, the chatterbait deserves a place in your tackle bag.
From what I’ve said above, there are a few simple ways to know if a chatterbait is the best choice:
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Chatterbaits are generally at their best when fished slowly, whether that’s rolling them over and around a rock pile or popping them gently from a weed bed.
You don’t want to burn these guys through the water; so slow down and have confidence that the lure will call the fish to you. But that means that you need to work them correctly!
Chatterbaits are at their most effective when you actively work them. A robotic retrieve just can’t wring the most from them, but a few quick pumps of your rod, a wriggle here and there, and some extra erratic action get that blade moving and the trailer swimming.
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Want to see these techniques in action--underwater?
As with most lures, you want to go natural in clear water and bright when it’s murky, dirty, or stained. For natural options, look to match your local hatch, whether that’s ciscoe or perch for pike, or frogs and shiners for bass.
In muddy water, colors like white and chartreuse are always solid options, and given the immense range of soft plastic trailers available, you can have your pick of colors and styles.
Keep in mind that pretty much any large, aggressive species will hit a chatterbait, so from pike to bass, walleye to muskie, these combinations will get it done.
Right off the bat, I’ll admit I’m biased toward Z-Craws and Brush Hogs in clearer water, keeping my paddle-tails and flukes for higher turbidity applications. That’s just my experience--your mileage may vary.
I also prefer the skirt and trailer to either alone. For my money, more is better!
I generally throw the ⅜ ounce chatterbait, and if short strikes are a problem, I’ll trim down the head of the trailer until they stop. Just take it easy, and start small with those reductions!
One of the most popular chatterbaits out there, the Z-Man Original--when paired with the impressive Lake Fork Trophy Lures Live Magic Shad--has the action that just turns fish on.
And whether you retrieve this awesome combo with a steady, slow cadence or work the bottom in short hops, all that fluttering action and vibration is a recipe for a hard hit.
I like pumpkin colors for both, but your options are almost limitless.
This is perhaps my favorite pairing: the Z-Man in “Perch” and the 4 ½-inch Z-Craw in “California 420.” Those tiny speckles of red on the chatterbait and trailer, when combined with the swimming action of the craw, are just murder.
Whether you buzz these over weed tops, plop them into the thick stuff and work them out, or run them down the outside edge of the grass, bass and pike can’t leave them alone. Anything from quick pops, to varying your retrieve, to just letting it flutter between cranks will get the fish going crazy!
In murky, dirty, or stained water, light, vibrant colors can be killer. That’s when I’ll turn to the Z-Man in “Sexy Shimmer Blue” rigged with a “White Pearl” 7” Zoom Super Fluke.
Between action, vibration, and smell, this combo’s got you covered, drawing hits in water where vision will be limited.
Another muddy/stained water pairing that I like is the Z-Man Elite and the Zoom Swimming Super Fluke. In “Chrome White” and “Baby Bass,” respectively, you’ll have the lifelike tail action of the awesome Zoom paddler, the fringed skirt of the chatterbait, and plenty of color and vibration to summon a strike.
The Elite is just a tad beefier than the regular Z-man and features a 5/0 Gamakatsu hook.
In the hands of a confident angler who knows how to work them, chatterbaits are a truly effective option. Especially when the lake or river you’re fishing gets a lot of pressure, that extra action and vibration can be just the ticket to impressive hits, even after the area you’re fishing has been worked-over by others.
I hope these tips and techniques will encourage you to try chatterbaits more often, and if they work for you, please let us know!