Lure manufacturers have designed the chatterbait down to a T since its resounding debut at the turn of the millennium. Though it is now a commonly known staple in any bass angler’s tackle box, it keeps getting better and better as manufacturers keep tweaking its design.
From pros to garden-variety bass anglers, chatterbaits (aka bladed swim jig or vibrating jig) win praise for their versatility.
However, despite their versatility, just as with any other lure, these action-filled jigs work best in particular scenarios. Seasons, water structures and timing apply as critically as with any lure or bait.
Let’s examine the lure itself, its best scenarios for success and its limitations, though few.
- What it does
- Why a Chatterbait trailer?
- Where Chatterbait works best
- How to work bladed jigs
- Best Chatterbait weights and colors
- Best rods and reels for Chatterbait
- What Fishing Lines are best?
- Any down sides to chatterbait?
- A final tidbit
What it does
The bladed or vibrating jig, championed by the ChatterBait Company of South Carolina, brings the average swim jig to another dimension—a dimension of sound more than sight, to slightly contort a bite from Rod Serling’s prelude to Twilight Zone episodes.
The bladed jig makes noise while emulating bait, all because of the style of its skirt, a plastic trailer and the squarish, metal blade or tongue that protrudes from the jig head.
But unlike top-water lures that create noise, this vibrating jig raises its ruckus mostly beneath the surface.
Looking like a shad, a small bluegill or other food fish for larger fish, it emits sound waves and swims erratically as a small fish might when on the move. In the end, if you are in the right spot, bass go mad over it.
The plastic tail helps to create motion and the skirt undulates, but the blade does the rest of the work. It is enabled by its proximity to the leaded jig head (at least one manufacturer is now weighting the blade itself, instead of the jig head).
The blade is situated close enough to the jig head so that it bounces off the lead head when moving, which also causes the blade to rotate.
Make sure the model you buy places the blade close enough to deflect off the jig head. This bumping imparts multiple pulsations in the water as the angler retrieves the jig.
Why a Chatterbait trailer?
A plastic trailer exponentially enhances the vibration of these lures, especially when ribbed. A twin-tail trailer allows you to fish the jig a bit slower because of their flapping or finning action.
A trailer of 2-4 inches long, depending on hook size, not only adds to the lure’s sound waves but also magnifies its profile under water.
✔ If you want to keep your jig down near the bottom, use a larger tailer, which will also allow a slower-than-usual retrieve.
✔ If you wish to fish near the top or drag it along the top, lighten up with your trailer for a rapid, splashy retrieve.
When should you not use a trailer?
When the bass just ain’t biting, try slimming your jig down by removing it. A trailer can also add enough weight to prevent a retrieve on top or just below the surface, especially in clear pockets and channels.
Where Chatterbait works best
What is the best case scenario for a bladed jig or chatterbait? Though not restricted to one type of feature, these lures prove most effective where grass grows, whether the grass tops extend above the surface or one to six feet below it.
The grass is always greener . . .
Just prior to spawning, bass look for shallow shelves and benches where the water temperatures prove ripe for laying eggs.
Big bass hide in the green grass of these shallows in order to ambush smaller fish foraging in the lanes and pockets between grass beds.
As long as smaller fish are feeding in these grassy shallows, bass will keep visiting these haunts, even after spawning season.
Spawning bluegills particularly draw the attention of big bass in these grassy, shallow zones. Because these sunfish spawn from spring to almost the end of summer, the bladed jig enjoys a long road tour.
Later in the season, when the grass starts to brown and clump to form a mass, fishing with a chatterbait becomes more challenging. You can, however, use heavier jigs in this case to bring the bait below the dense mat lying on or near the surface.
Fallen, submerged snags and stumps on the bottom also provide fertile territory for chatterbaits, just as they do for square-headed crankbaits. Bounce the blade jig off of the stumps and fallen logs as you retrieve to draw bass from the shadows.
Don’t count out docks or piers
Don’t pass up docks or pilings when using these vibrating jigs, especially where grass also grows along the shallow bottoms.
If you can’t coax bass to hit parallel to the dock, skip the jig across the surface of the water underneath the dock.
Feed fish like to collect near pilings and poles where smaller aquatic life dwells.
Find shell beds if possible
If your bass waters feature shell beds on the bottom, drag your chatterbait across the shells in shallow water during spring and summer.
Bass will gobble up small fish that suck algae and tiny organisms from these shells, which only serve to accentuate the erratic movement and sound of the blade jig as it caroms off of each shell.
How to work bladed jigs
The versatility of this lure really lies in the number of ways you can retrieve it. From depths of 10 feet to just 10 inches of water, in gin-clear conditions or in murky water, anglers can find a way to put bass in the livewell with chatterbaits.
When bumping bottom structure or just covering an unobstructed bottom, the slow-crawl retrieve usually works best.
When it caroms up from a log or stump and then drops, be especially prepared for a hit. As it cruises a smooth bottom, apply just enough speed to your retrieve to feel the lure’s vibration.
You are reeling too fast when the lure starts to rise toward the top. If it still rises on a slower retrieve, try a heavier jig. Slow retrieves work especially well as water temps cool off and bass accordingly turn down their activity dial.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, in the shallows, channels or pockets between grass beds or other structure, a rapid, rippling effect may be in order to catch bass.
The wake and chatter created by the fast-moving chatterbait emulates a panicked baitfish, which often entices large bass. Be ready for aggressive strikes.
Touch and go
Try dragging your bladed jig over thick grass patches or similar structure that sits high in the water.
Then, suddenly bring up your rod tip to snap it toward you and off of the structure or grass. Let the lure free-fall. Once it begins dropping, prepare for a strike.
Do the jerk
When the path is fairly clear beneath the surface, jerk on the rod as you reel in line. This imparts an erratic action from the hyperactive blade that also causes the skirt to pulsate.
The commotion and vibration combines with the appearance of a wounded minnow, which looks like an easy meal to hungry bass. You can use this retrieve just below the surface with lighter jig heads.
Red light, green light
This retrieve is not isolated to bass fishing or the vibrating jig. Almost any fish can be hoodwinked into a strike by a free-falling bait, lure or fly.
Simply reel your chatterbait in at medium speed but apply the brakes a few times before reeling it in completely. This allows the lure to drop in unencumbered fashion as it covers your desired piece of water.
Whether it’s the injured minnow act or just the sudden vulnerability of the bait, bass usually can’t resist this retrieve as long as you are in their lair.
No matter which retrieve you use, apply the same principle you do for all types of fishing: Keep a tight line.
When stopping and going, bumping off bottom or jerking the lure on retrieve, never allow slack in the line for more than a fraction of a second. Even then, you can often miss a hook set.
Best Chatterbait weights and colors
You will be amply equipped with bladed jigs if you keep a few different color patterns and weights in your arsenal.
Jigs weighted from one-quarter to one ounce will cover the gamut. Often 3/8 to 3/4 oz. will suffice when you know the wind will not be gusting or the water is not to plugged with vegetation.
Remember that when going with extremely light jig heads, you must counter with retrieves that provide enough blade action to impart its purpose: commotion and vibration.
A short note on colors, experiment all you wish. However, you might not reach beyond the following hues: black, blue, shad or peal, bluegill, green pumpkin. Combinations of some of these can often turn in best results.
Remember that the profile and action of this lure lend mostly to its effectiveness. But, when trying to imitate a particular baitfish that you know is prevalent at the time, keep colors on your radar.
Best rods and reels for Chatterbait
Go with a rod with fast enough action to snap the lure into action and optimal vibration. A slow rod tip (i.e., limp as a noodle) can waste your time on a lure designed to travel with force and activity.
Use a rod of 6-1/2 to 7 feet, not so short that you can’t muscle the jig off of things or handle the occasional behemoth bass, and not so long that you can’t sense the action on the vibrating jig.
You can never go wrong with a graphite rod for any type of fishing, but some very seasoned chatterbait anglers—including pro bassers—like fiberglass for its absorption of shock.
Bass characteristically hit the bladed jig with great voracity. A lip rip becomes less possible when the rod can sponge up the initial shock of such a vicious strike.
Match your rod with a bait-casting reel featuring a retrieve ratio greater than 6:1. Anything from 6.3:1 to 8.1:1 usually suffices.
A speedy ratio equates to more casts, something crucial to chatterbait fishing because it is all about keeping this puppy working, especially if casting parallel to shorelines, long patches of vegetation or docks. These scenarios offer much water to cover before moving to the next hole.
Why a bait-casting reel? Because it offers ultimate casting control compared to spin-cast or spinning reels.
Both distance and speed of cast can be controlled with measured thumb pressure on the spool of these reels. Your thumb can also stop the flight of your jig on a dime, allowing you to pinpoint a pocket or bass lair with extreme accuracy.
What Fishing Lines are best?
This lure’s reputation as a bass catcher stems from its success in pro bass-fishing tournaments.
Most pros use fluorocarbon line, tougher and stretchier than mono, to maximize the benefits of a bladed jig when retrieved, cast and engaged in the heat of battle.
Fluorocarbon and monofilament work best in clear water; the former best on short strikes.
If you encounter roily water conditions, opt for a braided line in the range of 30-pound test, but not much heavier.
As already mentioned, you should feel the action on a chatterbait to know whether your retrieve is right. Use this as a litmus test for your line as well. Change your line if you can’t feel the blade action on your retrieves.
Any down sides to chatterbait?
Of course, every bait or lure fails to deliver in particular situations. Because it makes a lot of noise does not mean the vibrating jig is the best option in muddy or very discolored water.
If the trailer, jig and skirt are large enough, it can still strike a profile and emit some sound waves. But longer, shinier and more jittery lures might prove your best option.
Also, chatterbaits can be deterred by extreme wind, like most lures. The skirt and trailer can act as a kite. If you must fish in great wind velocity, try heavy jig heads—an ounce or so—and lose the skirt or trailer, whichever you think you can do without.
Conversely, on extremely calm days when the water is glassy, you might want to try fishing your vibrating jig with the skirt or trailer removed as well.
Depending on the maker, some vibrating jigs use lower quality hooks than other manufacturers. Some tout their hooks as Mustads or Gamakatsus to promote their product over the others.
Try to determine the quality of the hook when buying these lures. Bass fishing in general is all about hook set; this is only exacerbated when fishing a chatterbait.
A final tidbit
By the way, your bladed jig works as a great bass finder when they are not hitting but still chasing something moving.
When casting about, especially during spawning season, you might encounter a lot of near misses.
Once you know they are lurking but not particularly fond of the chatterbait at that moment, try a different type of lure to see if it draws a complete pursuit—i.e., hookup. The chatterbait is such a great lure it finds a purpose even when it’s not catching bass.