5 secret buzzbait tricks

A lot of weekend anglers have forgotten about buzzbaits, and that is a mistake. Elite Series pros give tips for fishing this topwater bait that have been kept secret until now.

You may never see a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament won by an angler who fishes a buzzbait exclusively throughout a four-day event.

But don’t let that fool you. The ol’ egg beater lure gets fished hard by the pros.

“A lot of weekend anglers have forgotten about buzzbaits, and that is a mistake,” says three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam. “When the fish are using shallow water cover, the buzzbait will flush them out.”

Texan Gary Klein agrees. The lure is one of his favorites for drawing fish out of heavy cover in both stained and clear water.

“It’s a great tool for locating bass in the shallows,” he explains. “When I’m checking out new areas, I move quickly and make a lot of casts until I get a bite. It may not be the only lure that I use during a tournament, but it’s an important one for finding fish.”

The lure belongs in nontournament anglers’ tackleboxes simply because it is fun to fish. Buzzbait strikes on the surface not only are sudden and exhilarating, but the lure attracts big fish as often as it does small ones.

“There’s not but four characteristics of a lure that make it appealing to a bass, and a buzzbait offers three of them,” says topwater expert Zell Rowland. “It can be seen, heard and puts out vibrations. The only one missing is scent, so it covers just about everything you need to trigger a strike.”

Here are some of the pros’ favorite tips to help you increase your buzzbait success:

1. Vary your speed

Rowland says most anglers make the mistake of tying on a buzzbait, making a few casts, and then putting it down for the rest of the day.

“You have to experiment with the lure to find just how the fish want it, and changing speeds is a good way to do that,” he describes. “Changing speeds not only allows you to experiment with the sound and vibrations, but it affects what the bass sees, as well.” Once Rowland gets a strike, he notes the speed and begins tweaking the blades. By cupping them more or less, he can further alter the speed and noise. Cupping the blades more allows him to slow the bait. If the fish want it faster, he opens the blades slightly.

2. Fish it at night

Before turning pro, Alabaman Gerald Swindle made a killing throwing buzzbaits in night tournaments on Smith Lake near his home.

“A lot of features you see in a buzzbait came from Smith Lake anglers fishing at night,” he insists.

Swindle admits that you may not catch the numbers that you can with other lures at night, but the buzzbait will produce bigger bass. Nighttime bass are more secure, he adds, therefore they will travel a greater distance to hit a buzzbait than they will during daytime.

“What’s neat about nighttime buzzbait fishing is that you don’t have to throw it in the places where you fish the lure during the day,” he explains. “There doesn’t have to be cover in the area — just big flats near deep water where the fish move up to feed.” One of his favorite targets is the outer edge of boat docks and bushes that cast soft, after-dark shadows.

“If there’s a fish in the area, he’s lurking in the shadows,” says Swindle. A trick developed on Smith for short-striking fish is to angle the wire between the blade and the head into a downward stair-step.

“That keeps the head, skirt and hook a little deeper underwater, which makes it easier for the fish to eat the bait,” he offers.

3. Expand your seasons

Kelly Jordon says buzzbaits are mistakenly stereotyped as hot weather lures.

“I’ve caught some giants in 46-degree water in both spring and fall, when most people think you have to fish deep,” he says. On unseasonably warm spring or late fall afternoons, bass will venture into shallow water to feed, he adds. When fish move toward shallows in cold water, they’re usually looking for a big meal.

“A friend of mine (Brooks Rogers) caught a 13-pounder on Lake Fork around shallow cattails one spring before the fish had even begun thinking about spawning,” says Jordon. “This has become one of the most overlooked times to catch a hawg on a buzzbait, and it provides another option for fishing over heavy cover where you can’t fish a jerkbait or spinnerbait.” Jordon recommends an extremely slow retrieve that produces a steady plop, plop, plop commotion on the surface.

4. Clear water distortion

Buzzbaits are best known for fishing in shallow stained water, but they can be just as effective in clear water when dressed for the occasion. The big, noisy traditional buzzbait may get you a few strikes, but a scaled down version will catch more fish in clear water. VanDam, who learned to bass fish on Michigan’s ultraclear natural lakes, says buzzbaits can produce a lot of exciting topwater strikes, provided you choose and fish them appropriately.

“Water clarity and cover determine the buzzbait I use and how fast I fish it,” says the seven-time Angler of the Year. “In clear water and sparse cover, I use a smaller, single-blade buzzbait that allows me to run it faster and trigger reactionary strikes.” His favorite size is 1/4- or 3/8-ounce, but he will go to a 1/8-ounce if small baitfish are present or if skies are bright and there is little wind.

“That 1/8-ounce can be magic on those quiet, bluebird days when you think a buzzbait would be inappropriate,” he notes. VanDam is a strong proponent of faster speeds in clear water. Speed distorts the lure’s true image and leaves fish with the impression it’s a tasty critter trying to get away. To create a smaller image and enhance a fast moving buzzbait’s performance, VanDam removes at least half of the strands from the skirt. A thinner skirt reduces buoyancy and the smaller profile is more natural, he says.

“It keeps the bait running truer and the head deeper in the water, which in turn will increase your hookups,” he explains. In addition, his skirt choice will be one that is more translucent, which also enhances the natural appeal.

5. Change directions

Klein recommends that anglers spend time learning the inherent characteristics of each type of buzzbait and how to alter them to suit your needs.

“Some lures track a little to the right and others a little to the left,” he notes. “When the buzzbait bite is on, I have two rods rigged — one with a bait that runs left and another that runs right.”

Why? Because Klein wants his bait to run into targets, such as boat docks, brushpiles and logs. He positions his boat accordingly prior to the cast to ensure he gets the ultimate presentation.

“One of the most effective ways to trigger the strike and play off the personality of a bass is to make the lure deflect and change directions,” he explains. “You can make the bait run straight at you and still catch fish, but those that track off-center and change directions when contacting a target will get more strikes.” Klein says you can make a buzzbait track off-center by bending the wire slightly between the blade and the line tie. It doesn’t take much and you can overdo it, he cautions.

“What’s important — and this goes for any lure — is you have to think outside the box to get the most from your lure and its presentation,” he offers. “Lures are tools that you have to master and understand all of the variations and modifications to get the most out of that lure.”

Blowin’ in the wind

Buzzbaits are difficult to cast into the wind, but the pros have found a way around that.

“Get rid of the skirt,” suggests Zell Rowland. “The skirt catches the wind and, in most cases, it only serves as window dressing. A lot of people fish buzzbaits without a skirt and still do well.” An alternative, he adds, is to replace the skirt with a soft plastic body as a trailer. When targeting giant bass, Gary Klein adds an 8-inch lizard as a trailer on a large buzzbait.

“That’s a good way to catch one of the biggest bass in the area when the buzzbait bite is on,” he says.

Increase your hook-ups

When bass are aggressively attacking buzzbaits, they rarely miss. Unfortunately, that’s more of an exception than the rule.

Here’s how to improve your success with buzzbaits:

1. Use a trailer hook. It’s a must, unless you’re fishing heavy cover where the extra hook snags easily.

2. Change colors. “If the water is clear, it means the fish are seeing the bait too well and are not as aggressively striking it,” says Kevin VanDam. “A change to a more subtle skirt color can make a big difference.” If the water is stained and they’re missing, VanDam switches to a slower, popper-style topwater.

3. Follow up with a vertical presentation. VanDam keeps a weightless Zero (Senko-style stickworm) rigged and ready when fishing buzzbaits. If a bass blows up and misses, he pitches the bait into the same spot. Angered bass can’t resist the tantalizing fall. 

“If the cover is heavy, rig it on a spinning rod with strong braided line,” VanDam advises. “You can make longer and more accurate casts and have the strength to muscle out the big fish.”

Originally published in 2008.