October 26, 2016
Last fall, I introduced my friend, Lewis, to the fun of bass fishing with chugger plugs. These big-lipped topwater lures have been among my favorites for decades, but for some reason or another, Lew never tied one on.
When we arrived at the lake, I rigged up a Rebel Pop-R and began casting. Lew tried a spinnerbait.
Kersploot! I ripped the chugger through the water, producing a noise not unlike that made when a 2-pound rock is dropped 10 feet into the water.
“That thing makes one heck of a commotion,” Lew complained, swiveling his boat seat to watch me work the lure. “What are you trying to do? Scare all the bass away?”
Without answering, I reeled the slack out of my line and waited. Then I waited some more. The chugger slowly swung around until it was looking at me. I twitched it just enough to make it shudder and send out little ripples.
Off to the side, I glimpsed the almost imperceptible wake of a fish moving beneath the surface toward the lure. I waited long seconds, then, kersploot, I jerked the lure again. Lew was about to further admonish me for making so much racket, but before the words left his mouth, the water beneath my plug erupted.
If I lived to be 100, maybe sometime I’d finally manage to be completely ready when a bass hits. It seems they always catch me with my drawers at half-mast, even when I know they’re coming. Yet despite the suddenness of the smashing strike, I managed to hook this particular fish.
It raced for cover. Three times it jumped. Then finally, I got a lip-lock on it and heaved 5 pounds of largemouth bass over the transom. Before I released it, Lew had replaced his spinnerbait with a chugger from my tacklebox, eager to get a taste of chug-a-lug bassin’ himself.
It was an exceptional day of fishing. Over the next six hours, we landed in the neighborhood of 100 largemouths. Most were small—1 to 2 pounds each. But our tally also included several 4- to 6-pound hawgs. Every one of them nailed a chugger plug, and the last catch was as exciting as the first.
Chuggers, or poppers as they’re sometimes called, are among the most productive and fun-to-fish of all bass lures. Each looks like an overgrown fly-rod popper. The face is scooped-out, grooved, flattened or otherwise designed to catch water, and the lure makes a popping or chugging sound when jerked.
Cast a chugger close to cover and let it sit still a few seconds. Then give the lure a jerk. The force of the jerk determines the lure’s reaction. A gentle yank may produce a little spritz of water, a sharper snap will make a noticeable pop, and a forceful jerk elicits a deep whoooomp! Experiment with different movements to see which produce the most strikes. Be ready to set the hook as soon as you see a swirl or feel the fish hit.
Some bassers have more success working chuggers with a rapid, “walk-the-dog” type retrieve. Keep a slight amount of slack in the line to allow the lure to walk from side to side, working it with sharp downward snaps of the rod. This creates a splashing surface commotion mimicking the frantic fleeing action of a school of shad. Strikes tend to be savage.
I’ve seen pro anglers catch lots of bass while working chuggers at a very fast pace. But for me, it’s the slow approach that gets the best results day in and day out. You have to get a handle on your tensions, control the urge to get the bait back and throw it into a better looking spot. Let all of the splash and resulting ripples disappear, then wait some more. Get the slack out of your line immediately, but don’t give the lure the slightest movement until it’s looking right at you.
There’s a good reason for this. You want to keep the chugger as close as possible to the spot where it landed. This is easier to do if you don’t make that first twitch until the lure is pointing your direction. Drop your rod tip so the line pulls the lure directly forward. When you give it a pull, the dished-out face of the chugger digs into the water and the lure pops back up in almost the same spot.
Watch nearby cover as well as your plug whenever fishing this way. Bass often stalk a chugger. You might see a cattail tremble or a lily pad move. Get ready if you do. Big bass often take a close look at the lure before they strike. One second your chugger is sitting quietly on the surface, the next second the water boils up under it and the lure flips—but the bass misses it.
If this happens, don’t yank your chugger into the next county. Let things settle down and reel all the slack from your line. Then use your rod tip to wiggle the lure ever so slightly. I’ve played out this scenario dozens of times, and often as not that big bass will hit the chugger so hard it’ll seem like he’s trying to pull you into the water with it.
Chuggers are super lures for fishing over the tops of weed beds, but you’ll snag fewer weeds if you make some minor adjustments first. I like to trim the front point of each treble hook with a small pair of wire cutters. Position each treble so only one point of each hook aims forward, then cut off the front point. This turns each treble hook into a double hook. The hooks now ride with points up and slide more easily over weeds and pads.
Now, to fish a small opening in a bed of lily pads, for example, cast the chugger into the spot and wait for the ripples to die. Often, a bass will strike almost immediately. If not, give the lure a twitch, moving it forward no more than an inch or so. Wait for the ripples to die again, and if nothing happens, do the twitch-and-settle bit a time or two again before casting to another opening.
Accurate casts are important to fish this way successfully. But if your lure doesn’t land exactly where you intended, don’t jerk it around. Let’s say your cast is short and your lure winds up in front of the hole you wanted to hit. Don’t retrieve your lure immediately and cast again. Leave it alone. Wait till things settle down. Fish the lure exactly as you would had your cast been accurate. You’ll be surprised how often a bass will bust the bait even though it’s not where you intended.
When fishing the outer edges of cover, you may want to try working a chugger beneath the surface to imitate an injured baitfish. Point your rod at the lure, and reel until the head dips under the water. Then jerk repeatedly while reeling to give the lure a darting action. Cagey bass often find this ploy irresistible.
Chuggers come in many sizes, from a quarter-ounce up to an ounce and more. I like to cast the smallest versions with a spinning outfit. Larger lures are easy to handle with baitcasting tackle. Don’t use snap swivels with the chuggers because they alter the lure’s action. Tie the bait directly to your line with a tightly cinched clinch knot.
Some bassers claim chuggers should only be used early and late in the day. I’m reluctant, however, to make such a flat out statement. I’ll admit, over the long haul, I’ve probably had my best luck fishing chuggers near dawn and dusk. Their effectiveness seems to wane as the sun gets higher. There have been times, however, when chuggers have kept on producing for me, right through the middle of the day.
That loud kersploot you hear when you give a chugger a good sharp jerk seems to draw bass up from the depths to investigate, even when they seem lethargic and prone to lockjaw. They’ll bump the bait, nudge it, flip it over sometimes before they take it. But that second twitch or third or fourth seems to enrage them like a red cape waved before a bull. Sooner or later, if you jiggle that chugger just right, if you work your rod tip to impart that certain something, they’re gonna strike with a vengeance.
If only I could be ready when it happens.