I’ve always been fascinated with the lures used to win bass tournaments. More specifically, the rise and fall in popularity of certain techniques intrigues me more than anything, as I’ve consistently struggled to buy into the concept that bass grow accustomed to certain approaches and then shy away from them, all the while voraciously attacking lures new to the market.
Even though I realize that concept is, in fact, quite true.
In any case, lately I’ve grown bored in my research. Tournament after tournament, from coast to coast, the results have become predictably interchangeable: the winner caught his fish on a ChatterBait. Second went to the guy throwing a ChatterBait, while the 3rd-place finisher mixed it up with a Senko and a ChatterBait.
Wow. Cutting edge.
I never could have predicted this monumental shift toward single-lure dominance across the pro tours. I mean, not long ago, the overall trend in artificial lures was toward incredibly detailed, lifelike swimbait creations. It seemed as if the market – as well as the fish – were now demanding an approach as close as possible to as the real thing.
Not so with today’s direction. Sure, the ChatterBait likely mimics several possible items on the bass’ menu, but the lure’s overall effectiveness lies in its ability to be fished in a variety of scenarios and cover types with nearly any tackle imaginable. The ChatterBait casts well and is easy to skip under objects, it can be fished shallow and deep, and its single stout hook holds fish well.
Finally, it goes without saying that a ChatterBait combines many positive attributes of other lure categories: the wiggle of a crankbait with the fishability of a spinnerbait and the overall simplicity of a swimming jig.
So what we essentially have is today’s version of the perfect bass lure. But where are we heading, and how long will it all last?
First off, we must consider the unique tendency for bass to grow accustomed to our tricks and adapt accordingly. While we’ve known for some time how bass will shy away from certain gaudy offerings after repeated exposure – say, lipless crankbaits – it’s now thought that the same may occur with the subtle. I found it interesting when fellow bass geek Charlie Hartley recently commented that he felt the bass in Florida had grown used to Skinny Dippers and quit hitting them to some degree. Without question, Hartley’s testing can be counted on as valid, as he likely makes more casts for bass each year than anyone in the world. But a specific brand of swimbait? Maybe.
So it’s with such an open mind that I feel the next frontier may be ChatterBait variations intended to trick more fish. Think back to the spinnerbait. Fans of the history of our sport likely have learned ¬– or may remember – of the spinnerbait’s dominance during the infancy of tournament fishing. Some now famous anglers practically made a living throwing nothing but the blade in the 1970s. As the technique matured, so did the subtle variations in spinnerbaits, creating renewed hysteria along the way. Blades changed shapes, then colors. Wire diameter was reduced – said to be imperative for proper vibration – then even expanded to titanium. Trailers were added, head shapes modified and skirt material came under scrutiny. Overall, we increased what a spinnerbait could do.
I see the same happening soon with ChatterBaits, and to an even larger degree. We have yet to discover the expanded realm of possibilities here; just think in terms of the blade alone. What if we changed its size or shape? Or maybe the thickness, or even the material the blade is made of. And what about that mysterious line-tie, snap-swivel thing – what if we changed that to a series of split rings or a wobble-head type of set-up? Or a blade in front of another blade … or a series of blades like an umbrella rig? An Alabama-Chatter?
In any case, my point is that we have yet to expand on a lure that, due to its overall configuration, may offer the greatest potential for modification of any bait in history. So, as doubters like me continue to sit and wait for every bass in America to grow tired of the ChatterBait and breath life back into my other approaches, I think it’s going to be quite some time before that happens, with all that’s out there on the horizon. Only the engineers at Z-Man know for sure.
Which brings up a final, interesting point. Along with its unique fishability, the ChatterBait represents another first in bass fishing: it’s owners have challenged and defeated the copycats. Like it or not, for the first time we can say that an original thinker got his due with the defense of the ChatterBait patent, and the company responsible for bringing it to the mainstream is benefitting.
Maybe that, too, will establish a trend. As other lure manufacturers certainly take note, Z-Man is proving that it’s possible to fight off the counterfeits and maintain a hold on the market. Count that as another facet of the latest lure revolution.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)