Chatterbaits are, understandably, one of the most effective lures for tons of different fish. Everything from trout to bass to pike have eventually succumbed to a chatterbait at some point. The Chatterbait made its name in bass tournaments back East, after a father-and-son duo came up with the design for the bait and sold six dozen to a shop in Greenwood, South Carolina. That was back in 2004, and by 2006 they were used by four of the top ten anglers on the FLW bass circuit. When Brian Thrift won a Stren Series event at Lake Okeechobee, the small father-and-son company received orders for 500,000 chatterbaits in the next two weeks. Since then, the chatterbait has cemented itself as a legitimate bait that most folks have in their tackle box.
It’s not a fad like the Banjo Minnow (I remember those TV ads. They were so tempting I nearly bought a few dozen Banjos.) In fact, chatterbaits are so common and effective now, that a lot of the folks I know who are serious bass anglers have dozens in their tackle boxes. A couple of my good buddies fish Lake Powell in Southern Utah religiously, and if it’s not a crankbait or a jig, there’s a good chance they’re throwing chatterbaits at the smallmouth, largemouth, stripers, and sunfish in Lake Powell.
While the chatterbait hasn’t been around for the decades and decades spinnerbaits, or even crankbaits, have, they’re clearly here to stay. Honestly, they’ve more than proven themselves by this point.
Today, we’ll look at just what a chatterbait is, why you’d want to use them, and how to effectively fish them.
What is a chatterbait?
In simplest terms, the chatterbait is a modified version of the spinnerbait. Instead of the willow-like blades a spinnerbait uses, a chatterbait sticks a hexagonal piece of metal on the point of a jig head. The back end of that jig is covered in a skirt – just like the ones on spinnerbaits – but with the hexagonal head, the action of the jig hook is completely different in the water.
Now, some use a slightly different version of the hexagonal blade, to offer a more subtle movement. But the original chatterbait was designed to buzz like nobody’s business in the water. In fact, it got its name because Ronny Davis – the father of the father-son duo that developed the bait – joked one day while using a prototype on the Saluda River that it vibrated so hard in the water it makes your teeth chatter. From that day on, the new bait was known as the chatterbait.
And that’s exactly what the chatterbait does. It vibrates harder in the water than anything I’ve ever used, with the exception of a really big flatfish. But that’s comparing apples to oranges a bit, since I’ve never seen anyone trying to spin cast a 10-inch flat fish. Then again, someone out there probably has, and swears by it.
Regardless, the idea behind the chatterbait is to use the hexagonal head on the jig hook to create frantic side-to-side movement. This sends vibrations out through the skirt or any plastic. I’ve seen chatterbaits with everything from Gulp minnows on them to big Dirty Sanchez crawdads.
There’s no limit to what you can stick on your bait. No other bait vibrates as hard as the chatterbait, and that’s its claim to fishing fame. That amount of vibration and disturbance in the water is sure to catch the attention of fish – especially big bass, trout, and even pike or musky. In fact, I know a few folks who regularly fish in the Northwest Territories in Canada for pike, and swear by how well a chatterbait works to really entice the big ones up there to bite.
So, while a chatterbait is simple in design, it works on a variety of levels to help you catch more fish. Between the vibrations and the ability to use virtually any soft plastic off the back end of the hook, you’re really only limited by your imagination when it comes to fishing these baits.
Why use a chatterbait?
I’ve found that some of the best use cases for a chatterbait are when nothing else seems to work. If the fish – especially bass – are sulking and not really coming out to play, the violent movements of a chatterbait are as close to a sure thing as you’ll find to generate a strike.
They’re also a great choice if you’re looking to switch things up a bit. I know that personally, I get a bit tired of throwing the same bait time after time. Switching things up to something that’s a bit off-the-wall – like a chatterbait – is a great way to ensure that fishing always stays fresh and challenging.
And, I’ve found that if you’re hitting water that’s pressured – think your nearby bass pond that everyone goes to after work for a quick session on the water – and you know most folks use jigs or soft plastics, then a chatterbait is a welcome reprieve for those fish from the barrage of usual lures. This is actually something I’ve observed in fly fishing that translates directly to spin and baitcasting. Fish get tired of seeing the same old lures or flies. On famous tailwater trout fisheries especially, those trout see hundreds, if not thousands, of the same fly, from the same fly shop, each season.
The minute you throw a fly of your own out there – perhaps it’s a bit mangy, or uses different colors than what’s sold in the fly shops, or is just a different size or shape – those fish get interested. They’re seeing something that they know isn’t the same Adams that’s drifted over them a thousand times already that month.
This holds true in conventional fishing. Chatterbaits were all the rage a decade ago, and while they’re still used a lot, you can often find yourself being the only angler throwing them on any given bit of water.
There’s also a lot to be said for how much vibration the chatterbait generates in the water. Fish pick up vibrations in the water through their lateral line – a sensory organ all fish have. The more you can stimulate that organ with the right kind of movement, the more fish you’ll end up catching.
The right kind of movement is key. The lateral line is so sensitive that fish can sense when a disturbance in the water is made by something outside the water, like someone stepping into a still pond. Shoot, they can even detect the subtle change in light and temperature when your shadow lands over them on a clear day. The chatterbait produces the kinds of flailing movements that injured baitfish do, which in turn triggers a fish’s predatory response. This is what I mean by the right kind of movement, and it works wonders to entice even the pickiest of fish to at least explore your bait.
Finally, don’t forget that the chatterbait won a ton of bass tournaments. That’s what gave it the sudden overnight popularity that it saw in the late 2000s, and why it’s still sold everywhere today. This is a lure that’s proven itself on the biggest stage possible. It’s certainly good enough for us average anglers to use.
How to fish a chatterbait
Now that we’ve covered why you’d want to fish a chatterbait, and what it is, let’s talk about how to effectively fish these things.
There’s always a learning curve with a new bait, and each bait demands a slightly different presentation. That said, chatterbaits can be used the same as just about any other lure you care to throw on your line. You can rip them fast through the top of the water column, pull them slow through deep holes, or bounce them briskly in medium-moving current. Whether you’re in a lake or a river, those are really your only three options for presenting a bait. Fast, slow, or somewhere in between.
If you opt to fish them slow, then it’s best to use the unique characteristics of the chatterbait to your advantage. By that, I mean when you pull it through slow, deep water, reel just quickly enough that you feel the blade of the chatterbait moving against the water. So long as you can feel that slow, methodical movement of the blade, you know you’re going slow enough. Popping it, letting it sit, and then pulling the bait until you feel the blade catch, is a great way to entice the big, lazy bass that don’t like to move much for their meals.
Fishing a chatterbait quickly means that you want it to land on top of the water, and immediately start pulling it. The bait won’t quite skip across the top – the design just doesn’t allow for that – but it will ride very high in the water column. This gives you the chance to entice fish who are feeding on top, and when you’re ripping a vibrating bait that quickly through the water, it tends to trigger an immediate instinctual reaction from the bass. Because it’s moving so quickly, and pushing so much water, bass have two options – fight or flight. Often, a bait moving this quickly makes bass lunge at it to either destroy the bait, or to eat it. Either way, you end up hooking a big fish, which is the point of fishing the chatterbait to begin with.
Finally, there’s the method of fishing the chatterbait on a more deliberate retrieve, but one that’s not as slow as when you’d feel a single swipe of the hex blade against the jig hook.
For example, I like to “bounce” my chatterbaits in the water column with a consistent rhythm. My go-to is a quick bounce-bounce-bounce, where I’m jigging and reeling at the same time, at a medium speed. Then, after that last bounce, I let the jig sink for a second or two. I give the chatterbait two more exaggerated bounces, letting it fall back to the bottom of the water column. I then start the pattern over again.
This is a rhythm I settled into years back, when I was strictly fishing with jigs. It proved to be effective for trout in high-mountain lakes, to largemouth bass in places like Lake Powell or Sand Hollow Reservoir. To this day, I still use this rhythm when retrieving streamers on a fly rod. I think developing your own medium-speed jigging retrieval rhythm is one of the best things you’ll do to round our your education as an angler.
Of course, you can fish a chatterbait any way that gets it in front of fish, and there’s certainly not a “wrong” way to do it. These are just the instances that I’ve found the most success when using chatterbaits.
I will say that I don’t tend to fish any kind of bait on rivers. When I’m on moving water, I default almost always to fly fishing gear. In the event that I do fish gear on rivers, it’s usually a jig of some kind. So while I don’t have the direct experience myself, I do know that a lot of folks have success, especially for bass, when fishing chatterbaits in rivers.
To sum it all up, the chatterbait is an effective, time-tested bait that deserves its own space in your tackle box. The only real limiting factor in how you can utilize a chatterbait is in your own imagination. Get creative with how you present them to fish, and in your retrieval. This will help keep your fishing game fresh and honed for the next big bass that comes your way.
These baits are proven to put big fish in the net, and if you use them correctly, you’ll be in great shape to find your next monster catch.
3 Best Chatterbait
Z-MAN Evergreen Jack Hammer Chatterbait
Z-MAN Chatterbait Freedom
Z-Man The Original ChatterBait