Note: This article is featured in the South edition of the May issue of Game & Fish magazine, which arrived on newstands this week. Click to learn how to get an annual subscription (10 issues) for $5.
Quick! What’s the most fun way to catch bass? Sure, floating topwaters are great, and power fishing with spinnerbaits and crankbaits is a blast when the action is fast. But for sheer excitement, you just can't beat a buzzbait.
The buzzbait is a "perfect storm" lure. It combines the cast-and-retrieve joy of a spinnerbait with the topwater action of a prop bait or plopper-style lure. It’s mostly weedless, so it stays out of trouble, and the strikes are the stuff of great memories. What’s not to love?
Best of all, a buzzbait is an excellent lure choice throughout the South in the month of May. Temperatures are warming—though we’re still weeks from the summer doldrums—and bass metabolisms are high. Sometimes the fishing’s not exactly easy, but it’s usually pretty good. The bass spawn is mostly over, but there are plenty of males guarding their fry in shallow cover, and larger females are making short feeding forays into the shallows as they shake off the rigors of the spawn. Shad and bluegill are spawning now, and that can trigger all kinds of action. In other words, it’s buzzbait time, and our experts are here to get you dialed in on what might be the best fishing of the entire year.
THE SQUEAKY BAIT GETS THE BASS
Edwin Evers comes by his love of buzzbaits in the most honest and earnest way imaginable. He caught his first bass on a buzzbait almost 40 years ago, churning it across the water with his trusty Zebco 33.
Today, the Major League Fishing Redcrest and former Bassmaster Classic champion uses stouter gear, but the thrill of the surface strike is just as stirring."There's something about that lure coming across the surface that's guaranteed to keep you engaged," he says.
When buzzbaits first took the bass world by storm in the 1970s, anglers would hang them on their car and truck antennas and drive to the lake. The high-speed spin would widen the hole in an aluminum blade and give the lure a distinctive squeak that bass supposedly found irresistible.
Today, that squeak is just as desirable, but top pros like Evers have found a better way to achieve it that won't interfere with your radio reception.
"My favorite buzzbait is the 1/2-ounce Bass Pro Shops Lazer Eye Pro Series model," he says. "I take a pair of pliers and crimp the rivet that the blade sits on so that it grips the wire tightly and won't spin. Then I take a small file and rough up the rivet and the blade where they touch. That really brings out the squeak."
Evers' gear for the buzzbait includes a 7-foot 4-inch medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum Signature Casting Rod and Platinum Signature Baitcast Reel (8.3:1 gear ratio) spooled with 50-pound-test Bass Pro Shops Hyper Braid 8 line. His go-to skirt color is chartreuse and white, and he generally opts for a silver blade. He’ll occasionally exchange the skirt for a soft-plastic frog body, claiming it casts better, skips better and has a larger profile.
Evers always fishes his buzzbait with a trailer hook, but he chooses a small one—1/0—just to extend his hooking range to the rear of the bait. He varies his retrieve according to water conditions—faster when it';s warm or the water's clear, slower if it's cool or dingy.
One mistake Evers sees a lot from casual buzzbaiters is using the lure only in low-light conditions. "A buzzbait is an all-day bait," he says. "It's not just for early and late or when it's cloudy. And it's a big-fish lure, but that big bite will often come in the middle of a bright, sunny day. A noisy buzzbait can call big fish out from heavy cover or from under a boat dock like few other lures."
Most buzzbaits come equipped with a rubber or vinyl skirt, but it's been years since David Dudley fished one that way.
"I've replaced just about all my buzzbait skirts with Zoom Horny Toads," says the Virginian, who is the only four-time FLW Angler of the Year and the youngest angler ever to win a B.A.S.S. professional tournament, at age 20 in 1995. "The frog body is a lot more versatile, it casts better and I can skip it under boat docks and other cover."
Dudley's favorite buzzbait for early-summer bass is the Tackle HD Worldwide Buzzer designed by fellow Bass Pro Tour angler James Watson. Dudley prefers the 3/8-ounce model for most of his fishing. In low-light conditions he uses a black Horny Toad; under bright conditions he uses white.
"I like that bait because I can change it from a 'clacker'-style buzzbait to a quieter model just by bending the blade arm toward or away from the lead head," he says. "I like the blade to strike the head when there's a chop on the water and I want a little extra noise. When the water's flat and calm, I bend the arm away so the blade doesn't hit the head."
May is Dudley's favorite time to throw a buzzbait because it allows him to target male bass that are guarding their fry as well as bass that are feeding on spawning shad and bluegill. When these periods overlap he’ll often pick up a buzzbait rod early in the day and not put it down until it’s time to head back to the launch.
"I look for the fry guarders in spawning coves and bays," he says. "Shad usually spawn around bluff banks, rock, riprap or even floating docks. Between the two groups you can find bass all around some lakes."
For bass feeding on shad, Dudley will use a white Horny Toad body, but he clips off the legs right below the abdomen in order to make modifications.
"I replace the legs with Accent Blades from 7 Fifteen Baits," he says. "They're small willowleaf blades with screw locks that you insert into the frog body. They add a lot of flash. I'll add a blade where each leg was and another on either side of the body, which makes it look like a small pod of shad."
With the addition of a trailer hook—bass will nip at the legs of the frog or at the blades—Dudley's bait is ready for action.
LET'S GET SMALL
Lee Bailey Jr. loves buzzbait fishing so much, he’s personally designed several commercial buzzers through the years. The former Bassmaster Elite Series pro now makes the Baby Buzzbait (), which comes in 1/8- and 1/4-ounce sizes.
Why so small? Because the Baby Buzzbait is an absolute bass slayer around vegetation.
"You need a small, light buzzbait to come through grass and pads," Bailey says. "If you're throwing a standard 1/2-ounce model—or even a 3/8-ounce bait with a frog body—it's going to bog down when my Baby Buzzbait won't. A smaller buzzbait also has a very appealing profile. It creates a strong surface disturbance, but it's not so big that it deters bass from striking."
Unlike Dudley, Bailey prefers a skirt on his buzzbaits, not a frog body. And unlike Evers, he never uses a trailer hook since bass are less likely to miss his compact lure. Bailey likes stable weather for his May buzzbaiting, but notes that impending storm fronts can really fire up the bite. Though he makes the Baby Buzzbait in four colors, black is definitely his favorite, and he uses one very simple retrieve.
"I reel it as slow as I can and still keep it on top," he says. "Bass want to eat, and they're seldom in a mood to chase their food. A slow retrieve also helps them target the bait."
Bailey's final word of advice is not to set the hook too quickly. It often takes a second or more for bass to securely grab the lure after they take it under the water. To compensate, he uses 17-pound-test monofilament and fishes the lure with his rod at the 11 or 12 o’clock position. This forces him to drop the rod tip before setting the hook. That slight delay, and the stretch inherent in monofilament line, gives the bass a better chance to inhale the lure and Bailey a better chance at a solid hook-up.
BACK-UP PLANS FOR BUZZBAITS
Buzzbaits are great, but if they have a fault, it's that they have a tendency for missed strikes. Missed strikes might be inevitable, but they don't have to mean missed fish—not if you’re ready with a good back-up bait.
When you miss a fish on a buzzbait, set the rod down and reach for one of the following optins. Make a fast and accurate cast and you could be rewarded with another strike.
1. Wacky Weightless Stickworm
Lures like the Yamamoto Senko or Yum Dinger are ideal back-up baits. Rig them wacky style for more action and let them fall on a slack line. The wafting, wiggling action may make the bass think he’s crippled his prey. Matching your stickworm to your buzzbait color can enhance that illusion.
2. Weightless Soft Jerkbait
If your bite is related to the shad spawn or other baitfish activity, try a white or pearl Zoom Super Fluke or Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shad. Cast past the strike, twitch it a couple of times near the surface, and then let it fall.
3. Creature Bait
If your missed strike came in heavy cover, a weightless stickworm or fluke won't reach the fish. Instead, reach for a creature bait—like the Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver or Strike King Rage Bug (pictured)—that’s Texas-rigged behind a 1-ounce sinker. Pitch it to the spot and let it fall straight down. Most strikes occur on that initial fall.