Most anglers retrieve a buzzbait just fast enough to keep it on the surface. The idea is to prolong the bass' window of opportunity for striking. The slower the retrieve, the longer the fish have to decide to engulf the bait.
"Not necessarily!" interjects BASS Elite angler Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla. "Sometimes just the opposite is true. Bass may ignore a buzzbait that's fished slowly, or they may roll on it without taking it. But if you reel that bait by them at warp speed, at times they'll blast it. In my experience, this is especially true with bigger fish."
Schultz discovered this speed-reeling presentation several years back when fishing a BASS tournament on the Potomac River. "I'd located some buzzbait fish in practice, but I couldn't catch any on the first competition day. They'd boil on the bait, but they weren't connecting with it. I was very frustrated. I tried slowing it down and using follow-up lures. Nothing was working."
Then, after yet another missed strike, Schultz was speeding his buzzbait back to the boat to make another cast to the spot. "When I was about to lift it out of the water, I mean when it was literally right next to the trolling motor, a 6-pounder swallowed it. That's when the light bulb came on. I started burning that buzzbait in the same area I'd been fishing most of the day, and I put a beautiful stringer in the boat."
Schultz adds that he stuck with this retrieve technique through the remainder of that tournament, and he finished high in the money by doing so.
"From then to now, if a buzzbait is a viable option on a given day, I always try burning it," he continues. "From postspawn through the fall, whenever bass are active in shallow water, anglers should try this technique. It's not easy to do this all day. It'll wear you out, especially if you don't have the right equipment. But when the fish tell you this is how they want it, the gain is worth the pain. This presentation will pay big dividends from California to Florida and in any type of water — reservoirs, natural lakes, tidal marshes, rivers, you name it."
Specifically, Schultz burns his buzzbait around shallow cover — grassbeds, submerged brush, standing timber, stumps, logs, etc. He says the prime depth for doing so is water up to 4 feet deep, though he buzzes water up to 10 feet deep where cover is near the surface (grass, flooded timber, etc.). Also, Schultz adds that this technique offers anglers an ability to cover big expanses of water in a short period of time.
"One of my favorite situations for burning a buzzbait is when there's a spring flood, and water backs out over flats that have grass and bushes," Schultz notes. "Bass will quickly move into these freshly inundated areas, and they will scatter out. This is the perfect presentation for this scenario."
Schultz's chosen buzzbait is the Hildebrandt HeadBanger, which he says rides vertically in the water regardless of retrieve speed. (He says some buzzbaits roll onto their sides at high speed.) He fishes both the 3/8- and 1/4-ounce models. "I'll try both sizes and let the fish tell me which one they prefer," he says. "My standard is the 3/8-ounce size, but sometimes they want the smaller bait."
The skirt on the HeadBanger is more of a tube than a billowing skirt. According to Schultz, this is an important advantage. The tube-skirt's streamlined profile is ideal for fast retrieves. Also, this lure comes prepackaged with a trailer hook — a critical component for high-speed retrieves.
Schultz's favorite colors are gold blade and black/gold skirt; gold blade and white skirt; and silver blade and chartreuse/white skirt. "I'll experiment with these different lure colors also," he says. "I generally prefer a darker bait and skirt when the sky color is darker, but I still keep an open mind to what the fish are telling me."
Schultz's technique is simple: "I'll pick out targets and blaze that bait by them. I'll cast the buzzbait past my target zone and reel it back through it as fast as I can. I'll hold the rod tip high and engage the reel and start reeling the instant the bait hits the water," he describes.
Schultz says anglers should visualize the most likely places for bass to hold. "These might be points or pockets on grasslines, laydown trees on a river bank, or point bushes on a brushy flat. This is classic pattern fishing. You have to learn where fish are holding on whatever water you're fishing, and then you need to find the pattern within the pattern, the little subtle differences that make one spot better than the others. When you burn that buzzbait by the right spots, you're going to have some fun."
He continues, "When I'm searching for the pattern, I'll frequently cast two or three times to a really good-looking spot. Then as the fishing day wears on and I refine the pattern, I'll make multiple casts to a spot that really fits the profile."
Schultz notes that anglers cannot fish a buzzbait too fast for bass to catch it. "As long as it's running vertically and not skipping out of the water or laying over on its side, you can't fish it too fast."
Schultz concludes, "When this pattern is working, it's unbelievable how good it can be. And I'll say it again, speed-reeling a buzzbait is super effective on big bass. If I'm in a lake that has a good population of quality-size fish, I'm going to try to make this technique work. It may not always be the ticket, but when it is, nothing else will touch it."
Gear To Grab
Here are specifics about the tackle Bernie Schultz uses when burning buzzbaits for springtime bass.
Rods: 6-10, medium-heavy action, Shimano Crucial rod, fast tip (model #CRCX610MH) for accuracy or smaller buzzers; 7-foot, medium-heavy action, Shimano Crucial rod, fast tip (model #CRCX70MH) for fishing larger baits and heavier cover
Reel: Shimano Calais 6.2:1 baitcasting reel or Curado 7:1 baitcasting reel
Line: Sufix Elite 14- to 17-pound-test monofilament line or 50- or 65-pound-test Sufix Performance Braid for superheavy cover
If a bass strikes but misses Bernie Schultz's buzzbait, he'll quickly cast to the same spot again, using the same high-speed retrieve. Then, if this second cast fails to tempt the fish, he will revert to one of three follow-up baits that he keeps rigged on rods and available on his casting deck.
"I'll try a Zoom Fluke in white or shad, a 5-inch Senko worm in the same colors, or a No. 13 Rapala Original Floating Minnow in silver or gold. I'll try these baits randomly until the fish tell me what they want, as one will usually out-produce the others. Then that's the one I'll stick with."
Schultz adds, "I'll cast the follow-up bait right to the spot where the fish blew up on the buzzbait, and I'll let it rest motionless for several seconds. Usually this is plenty of enticement for the fish to strike again."
Before You Go
Here is a list of chores Bernie Schultz accomplishes before heading out for a day of buzzbait fishing in May.
• Run a boat preparation checklist (double-check fuel, oil, trolling motor battery charge, adherence to Coast Guard safety requirements, etc.).
• Store plenty of drinks and snacks in a cooler. ("I don't go back to the dock till dark.")
• Store a Cabela's Guide Wear rainsuit in a locker. ("Burning a buzzbait works great when it's raining.")
• Spray line with lubricant (Braid Aid for both braid and mono) for better castability.