Beginner’s Guide To Chatterbait Fishing

UPDATED 31 JULY 2022

by Robert Ceran

Are you thinking about throwing chatterbaits for bass?

If yes, then you’re on the right track, since many experienced bass anglers (including pros) regularly catch trophy bass on chatterbaits.

However, chatterbaits are a little more challenging to fish than many other lure types, and it’s important to fish them at the right time and with the right technique in order to catch fish on them reliably.

In this article we’ll walk you through the basics of chatterbait fishing, and will cover the most important questions beginners have about this lure, in order to help you put more fish in the boat with chatterbaits. 

What is a chatterbait?

A chatterbait is a skirted jig with a metal blade attached to the front of the jig head. The hexagonal blade is attached to the jig head via a hole in the metal blade, which gives it a lot of freedom to move around.

As a result of this construction, the blade vibrates very actively when it is pulled through the water, and this gives chatterbaits their characteristic swimming action.

In addition, many anglers add a plastic trailer to the hook, giving the chatterbait additional swimming action during retrieval.

Is a bladed jig the same as a chatterbait?

A chatterbait is a type of bladed jig, but there are other types of bladed jigs that are not chatterbaits. Most notable among these are underspins, which have a spinner blade attached to the bottom of the jig head.

In other words, all chatterbaits are automatically bladed jigs, but not all bladed jigs are necessarily chatterbaits.

Chatterbait vs swim jig (what’s the difference?)

The main difference between a chatterbait and a swim jig is that a chatterbait comes with a blade attached to the front of its jig head, while a swim jig does not.

As a result of this difference, chatterbaits have a vibrating swimming action when they are retrieved, while swim jigs don’t.

One thing to note here is that swim jigs tend to be a little more weedless than chatterbaits, since the blade of a chatterbait easily gets hung up on grass and other vegetation.

These two lure types are also fished with different techniques, and on the whole, swim jigs are easier to fish than chatterbaits, which makes them more attractive for beginners. 

What is the difference between a chatterbait and a vibrating jig?

The main difference between a chatterbait and a vibrating jig is that chatterbaits are a specific model of vibrating jig produced by Z-Man Fishing.

And since Z-Man has registered a trademark for the term “Chatterbait”, most other fishing lure brands don’t use this name, and instead just call them vibrating jigs.

The main exceptions to this are Fox Lures and Picasso Lures, which also call their vibrating jigs chatterbaits (and probably have a licensing agreement with Z-Man).

In general, however, if you want to get a vibrating jig that’s not manufactured by Z-Man, you should search for the term “vibrating jig” instead of chatterbait.

Are chatterbaits good for bass?

Yes, chatterbaits are great lures for bass and regularly produce trophy size bass, especially during spring.

However, chatterbaits are a little more tricky to fish than other lure types, and it takes some practice in order to catch bass consistently with them.

We’ll talk more about the best techniques for catching bass with chatterbaits below. 

When should you throw a chatterbait?

The best time of year to throw chatterbait is spring, but you can fish them productively from late winter to fall.

The main reason why chatterbaits do so well during spring is that the grass is still relatively sparse at this time of the year, which makes it easier to fish a chatterbait through grass flats without getting caught on the grass. 

Another reason why chatterbaits make a good pre-spawn bait is that you can combine them with a large plastic trailer, and prespawn bass are very partial to a large meal at this time of the year.

A chatterbait fished close to the bottom regularly catches trophy size bass during spring. 

Chatterbait vs spinnerbait

The main difference between a chatterbait and a spinnerbait is that a chatterbait has a single blade that is attached directly to the jig, while a spinnerbait has two or more blades that are attached indirectly to the jig via a metal arm.

As a result of this different design, a spinnerbait gives off a lot more vibration than a chatterbait during retrieval. Also, the arm of the spinnerbait covers the point of its jig hook, which makes a spinnerbait semi weedless, while the hook of a chatterbait is fully exposed.

When should you throw a chatterbait or a spinnerbait?

In general, chatterbaits work best in early spring, while spinnerbaits work better in late spring and summer.

The reason for this is that chatterbaits are not as weedless as spinnerbaits, and as a result they can get through grass beds better during the early spring period, before the grass starts growing out. Later, when there’s more grass in the water, spinner baits are better at getting through the vegetation without getting snagged.

In addition to this, chatterbaits have a more subtle swimming action than spinnerbaits, which works better for cold water bass in early spring. As a rule of thumb, chatterbaits work better when the water is below 60 degrees, while spinnerbaits are better when the water is over 60 degrees.

Which chatterbait is best?

Most anglers I know agree that the Z-Man Jackhammer is the best chatterbait overall. It was designed and built in a collaboration between Z-Man, Brett Hite, and Ever Green, and combines a great design with very high quality materials. 

Is the Jackhammer chatterbait worth the money?

Yes, the Jackammer chatterbait is definitely worth the money, as it comes with a great design coupled with exceptionally high quality materials (including a Gamakatsu hook, two wire keepers, and a hand tied skirt).

One reason why the Jackhammer works so well is because it doesn’t use a split-ring to attach its blade to the jig head, and as a result of this design the chatterbait starts vibrating as soon as you start retrieving it, which sets it apart from many other brands.

Making sure that your chatterbait starts vibrating as soon as you start retrieving it is essential if you want to pause and restart it during retrieval, which is one of the most powerful techniques for catching bass on this lure. 

However, if the price of the Jackhammer chatterbait (which retails at about $16) is a little too steep for you, you can also opt for the Z-Man Custom Chatterbait, which retails around 7 dollars, and is a high quality chatterbait that provides the best value for money.

What is the best size chatterbait for bass?

The best all around size chatterbait for bass is 1/2 oz. This is heavy enough to be fished slow and deep, but can also be burned through shallow water. However, if you predominantly fish in shallow waters, you should also try out a 1/4 oz and 3/8 oz size chatterbait, to see what you feel most comfortable with.

And if you mostly fish in water that’s deeper than 15 feet, you may want to try out a larger 3/4 oz or even 1 1/4 oz size chatterbait, since these sink faster, and are easier to fish close to the bottom in deep water. 

Do chatterbaits need trailers?

Yes, most anglers agree that the trailer on a chatterbait is more important than its skirt.

A trailer completes the overall profile of a chatterbait, and depending on its design allows it to imitate a baitfish or crawfish that will trigger the feeding instinct of a bass that has been called in by the vibration of the blade.

In addition to this, a trailer also adds extra swimming action to a chatterbait.

This is particularly true with trailers that are designed to be paired with chatterbaits, such as the Yamamoto Swim Zako or Yamamoto Cowboy.

However, it should be noted that you can get good results when using a chatterbait without a skirt.

What is the best trailer to put on a chatterbait?

When it comes to chatterbait trailers, there are two main variations that you need to consider: swimbait trailers and crawfish trailers.

For me, the best swimbait trailer for chatterbait is the Yamamoto Swim Zako, while the best craw trailer for chatterbait is the Strike King Rage Craw. 

Swimbait trailers are usually a light silver or greyish color, and are designed to resemble a baitfish. Craw trailers, on the other hand, are usually red, pumpkin green or brown, and are designed to resemble crawfish.

Ideally, it’s good to have a selection of swimbait and craw trailers, and to match up their color with the skirt color of your chatterbait. Also, when you start using a new trailer, make sure to check its swimming action. If its action doesn’t look good, it’s usually better to switch to a different trailer. 

What gear ratio is best for chatterbait?

The best gear ratio for chatterbait is 7.0:1 or 7.1:1. When combined with a good chatterbait rod, this medium fast gear ratio is fast enough to burn a chatterbait through shallow water, while it’s still slow enough to fish a chatterbait slow on deep structure.

What kind of line do you use for a chatterbait?

For fishing in grass, the best line to use for a chatterbait is 15 lb test fluorocarbon, which has a little more stretch to it than braid. This is important when you get your chatterbait snagged in grass, and need to jerk it loose.

This is exactly the moment when most bass bites occur, and if you’re using fluorocarbon, the chatterbait is released more slowly than when using braided line, which gives the bass a chance to grab it.

If you’re fishing a chatterbait in open water however, the best line to use is a 20 lb test braid with  15 lb test monofilament leader. The strong braid helps to set the large hook of a chatterbait more effectively.

How do you fish a chatterbait for bass?

Since chatterbaits come with their own swimming action in the water, due to the vibrating blade at the front, it’s possible to fish them with a very simple straight retrieve technique and catch bass that way.

However, in many cases you’ll catch a lot more bass by bouncing the chatterbait off cover, such as dock pilings, rocks, or stumps. Doing this pauses the chatterbait for a split second, and when it restarts it changes direction and speed, which is extremely effective at triggering strikes from bass. 

If there is no cover to bang your chatterbait into, you can generate the same sort of erratic behavior by regularly pausing for a split second during retrieval, followed by speeding up the chatterbait slightly right afterwards. The best way to do this is by modulating the cranking cadence of your reel. 

In many cases, you’ll get most bass bites right at the moment when you speed up the chatterbait. This is because bass often like to follow a chatterbait, but without committing to eating it. But when the chatterbait darts away, this looks like a baitfish trying to get away, and this often triggers the bass to eat the chatterbait. 

Do chatterbaits work in saltwater?

Yes, chatterbaits are great lures for catching redfish and speckled trout in saltwater. The best time to throw chatterbaits in saltwater is when fishing in stained water.

The reason for this is that the vibrating blade of a chatterbait helps fish to find your chatterbait even when they can’t see it, with the use of their lateral line organ. That’s why chatterbaits tend to outperform other lure types in saltwater when there’s low visibility.