By Curtis Niedermier
As predatory fish, bass often use the surface of a lake, pond or river as a barrier to trap smaller prey fish while they’re foraging. For a small bluegill or shad, the experience of becoming a meal isn’t pleasant, but for anglers, seeing a bass break the surface to feed is an exciting scene. That’s probably why most bass anglers rank topwater fishing among their favorite techniques.
A topwater lure is simply any kind of artificial prey imitator that can be fished along on the water’s surface. Most topwater lures float, but not all of them, including the buzzbait.
A buzzbait is a unique wire-frame topwater lure that many professional anglers consider to be highly effective for drawing strikes from the largest bass around. It’s also an essential part of any bass angler’s tackle box.
What is a buzzbait
A buzzbait falls in the “wire bait” category because it is built on a metal-wire frame that holds all of its components together. The wire is bent into a J-shape. On the short end of the frame is a large propeller, or blade, with small wings that “catch” water as the lure is retrieved. The water forces the blade to spin, which lifts the bait up onto the surface. The blade not only provides this necessary lift, but it also creates a cool gurgling, splashy action on the surface that can attract bass from a long distance.
On the opposite end of the wire from the blade is a hook, a weighted head made of lead and, usually, a skirt made of thin strands of silicone rubber. The head provides some weight to make the buzzbait easier to cast. It also helps to “balance” the bait so that the blade stays up on the surface and the hook and skirt skim along just under the surface.
Skirts come in many different colors, but most anglers prefer a black or dark skirt when the sky is overcast and a white skirt when the sun is shining. Bright colors such as orange and chartreuse are also good, particularly in muddy water.
The final key component of a buzzbait is a special C-shaped bend added to the wire’s front corner where the lure should be tied to the line.
Most buzzbaits fit this description, but there are some variations. Double-bladed buzzbaits are built with two small blades instead of one large blade. Some are very large, but others are very compact.
Regular buzzbaits squeak or squeal as they’re retrieved. The sound is caused by friction as the blade spins around the wire and is part of the lure’s attraction. There are also “clacker” type buzzbaits that are made with a small bead, blade or wire arm that makes contact with the blade as it spins. They create a different sound that sometimes gets more attention from bass.
Finally, there’s a similar category of lure called an in-line buzzbait. Instead of a J-shaped frame, an in-line buzzbait has a straight or slightly bent wire frame, and the blade is rigged directly in line with the lead head. Though not as popular as a standard buzzbait, the in-line is just as fun to fish.
How to fish a buzzbait
The buzzbait is a fantastic lure for fishing along a shallow shoreline at a fast pace, whether fished from a canoe, kayak or boat, or by walking the shoreline.
Because it has just one hook, and that hook is guarded by a wire arm and blade, a buzzbait can usually slip through grass and woody branches without snagging. That makes it a great option for fishing around those types of cover, but also for fishing around docks, rock and overhanging tree limbs.
To fish a buzzbait, start by making a long cast. When the bait lands, it’ll begin to sink, so the retrieve needs to begin immediately. Crank the reel quickly to bring the buzzbait back up to the surface. Once it’s churning on top, the bait can be retrieved in at a slower speed because the blade will help keep it up.
That’s al there is to it. Cast it out, hustle it up to the surface and then wind it in. Smart anglers will experiment with fast and slow retrieves, or with mixing in stops and starts. Also try to buzz right next to any visible cover such as a tree limb or grass. Even making contact with the cover can cause a bass to bite.
Bass are notorious for swiping at a buzzbait, rather than engulfing the entire lure. If one gets the hook in its mouth, it’s as good as caught. If it bumps the bait and misses the hook, sometimes pausing to let the buzzbait sink down can convince the bass to strike again. If not, make another cast and try again.
A buzzbait can be fished on any type of conventional rod and reel – spinning, baitcasting or spin-casting – but a heavy-power baitcasting rod-and-reel combo is the top choice of the pros.
Braided fishing line is best in most scenarios because it’s very strong and doesn’t stretch. Use 50- to 65-pound test. Monofilament line works well too, but it needs to be strong. Use 20-pound test.
4 tricks for buzzbait success
1. Change the profile – Many anglers like to customize their buzzbaits by removing the skirt and replacing it with a soft-plastic toad, craw or minnow lure. This changes the lure’s profile in the water. Generally, the bulkier or thicker the plastic lure, the slower the buzzbait sinks, which makes it easier to get the lure on the surface and keep it there.
2. Break it in – Professional anglers believe that a buzzbait isn’t ready to be fished in a tournament until it has had time to “break in,” which means the blade has spun around enough times to polish the wire just right. This allows the blade to spin freely and usually changes the pitch of the blade’s squeak. The easiest way to break in a buzzbait is to fish it, but some anglers will tie one to a care antenna and drive down the road with the blade rotating rapidly. It looks funny, but it works.
3. Tune it – The angle of the top wire arm is critical in how a buzzbait tracks on the surface. Tweaking it slightly to the left or right can cause the bait to run off to one side. Sometimes this is helpful if you want the buzzbait to track alongside a dock or shoreline. But usually it’s just annoying. If the bait isn’t tracking a straight line, make small adjustments by bending the wire arm to bring it back to center.
4. Increase the hooking power – Some buzzbaits come with a small trailer hook that slides over the main hook to help catch bass that just swipe at the bait. Unless the lure is being fished through extremely heavy cover, leave the trailer hook on to bait. If a buzzbait doesn’t have a trailer hook, pick up a pack at a local sporting goods store, and keep them handy.