Shaye Baker started fishing with his dad in Alabama as soon as they could find a life jacket small enough to fit him. Competing with his father in local tournaments, Shaye quickly found a hunger for competitive bass fishing. He furthered his fishing career at Auburn University helping to establish the Auburn University Bass Fishing Club. While at Auburn, Shaye served as the President of the club and qualified to fish on the traveling team amassing six Top 5 finishes including two 3rd place finishes in consecutive FLW College Fishing National Championships. While beginning to dabble in the world of outdoor journalism, Shaye continued to fish semi-pro events finishing in the Top 5 in the Bassmaster Opens, FLW Costa Series and BFLs. Finding himself at a crossroads, Shaye chose to put down the rod and pick up the pen and camera to focus on his career in outdoor journalism. Shaye has had work featured in Bassmaster Magazine, FLW Outdoors Magazine, B.A.S.S.Times and the Japanese bass fishing magazine, Basser. Shaye has also had work featured on ESPN and Wired2Fish.com,FLWfishing.com and Bassmaster.com. While working with B.A.S.S., Shaye initiated and spearheaded their GoPro division which brought more video coverage to the fans than had ever been done before in competitive fishing. After his tenure with some of the best companies in the business, Shaye identified a need for competitive fishing where participation didn’t cost a fortune. By founding UPLOADED, the Online Fishing Series, Shaye established a free tournament series where anglers could film their fish catches and upload their videos to compete against other anglers for prizes.
Call it what you will, a vibrating jig, a bladed jig or some other politically correct nomenclature you fancy, by and large the general public knows it as a ChatterBait. This style of lure exploded onto the national scene 10 years ago when the godfather and guru of the technique, Brett Hite, won his first FLW Tour event on the Kissimmee Chain. In the interest of historical accuracy, Hite ironically caught his fish that week on a Phenix Vibrating Jig and not an actual ChatterBait branded bait. Moving on.
Hite demolished the competition with a 14-pound margin of victory over 2nd place finisher Carl Svebek III. The most telling bit of information one can derive from that tournament comes from the daily weights accumulated by Hite, showing the true essence of fishing a vibrating jig.
It’s cliché, but ‘hero or zero’ describes it well.
Hite’s respective weights Day 1 through Day 4 were: 22-6, 6-8, 28-14 and 13-7. Vibrating jigs are home run hitters. Home run hitters win ball games. But home run hitters also strike out… often.
Before we dive too deep into how to capitalize on on this powerhouse of a power-fishing technique, let’s look at the nuts and bolts of what makes a vibrating jig so good. The vibration generated by the hinged metal blade is obviously what sets the bait apart from all others. It’s different than anything a spinnerbait, crankbait or lipless crank can put out.
It’s more aggressive, violent and downright jarring.
A good vibrating jig needs these four things above all else: a strong line tie, rust resistant components, a good trailer keeper and a strong sharp hook.
From there, you’re free to experiment and customize your vibrating jig. Skirt color, trailer selection, trailer hook versus no trailer hook. There’s a lot that can be done to tailor a vibrating jig to any given scenario.
Customization can be as obvious as using a shad pattern skirt or something closer to a bluegill color depending on the primary forage in the area. Or it can be as specific and subtle as going from a swimbait style trailer in submerged vegetation in 5-feet of water to a craw style trailer in 2-feet of water to help the bait ride higher in the water column but maintain the same rate of retrieve. I actually did the latter in an FLW Costa Series event a few years ago to complete a 26-pound, 6-ounce bag of Guntersville bass on Day 1.
Trailer selection is so critical when you’re talking about vibrating jigs. You can pick what you feel is the best all-around trailer like Brett Hite does with hisYamamoto 4” Zako Shad and have it be your go-to in almost every situation, then use your rod, reel and line choices to alter your presentation. Or you can change things up using the trailer selection.
You can use almost any soft plastic bait to trail a vibrating jig but there are really three specific categories that I stick to: swimbait, craw and split tail.
As previously mentioned, I use a swimbait style trailer like a Missile Baits Shockwave when I want to let the bait get a little deeper in the water column. Or when fishing around submerged vegetation that is just a little too thick for a craw style trailer like the NetBait Mini Kickin’ B that I was using in the video clip from the Lake Guntersville Costa event.
The dichotomy there is that I’ll also go to the craw style trailer to slow the bait down or get it to stay above the vegetation.
With both of those trailers when I’m fishing around vegetation I’m usually trying to mimic a bream or bluegill or even golden shiners down in Florida, but rarely shad. That’s where the spilt tail style trailer comes into play. (Side note: I actually just use theZ-Man ElaZtech Split Tail TrailerZ that come with a lot of theZ-Man ChatterBaits. The ElaZtech material is durable but still has a lot of action and the trailer is color oriented to match whatever color ChatterBait it comes with.)
This style trailer is great in situations where you’re fishing around heavy wood like stumps, brush piles and lay downs. You want your vibrating jig to stay upright at all times in these situations. The split tail trailer masks the hook while not adding to the already oscillating action of the vibrating jig like some other trailers would, making it just a little more weedless in wooded situations.
Color Selection is incredibly important but should be fairly obvious when you assess the situation you’re in. Matching the hatch is usually the determining factor when it comes to color selection. The caveat, at times the water color does more to dictate the bait color than the present forage. In clear water situations, you still want to lean towards something more natural. But in muddy situations, you want to lean towards a brighter color like white or chartreuse to help the fish find the bait.
Trailer hooks are a sore spot for some anglers as they make the bait less weedless. However, I personally prefer a trailer hook, especially when fishing in muddy situations where a fish is primarily swiping at the bait based on feel and less likely to inhale the bait completely. There have been a lot of fish over the years that have made it into my boat with nothing but the trailer hook bringing them aboard.
Selecting the weight of your vibrating jig primarily comes down to three things: depth of the strike zone, wind conditions and desired speed of retrieve. Thanks to one key characteristic of the bait, the necessary weight range isn’t vast. When casting a vibrating jig and when a vibrating jig is falling on slack line, it folds up making it more aerodynamic and compact. So almost every situation can be met with a 3/8-ounce or 1/2-ounce vibrating jig. Just allow those three situational factors guide you in determining the weight of your bait.
Super glue is another beneficial tool when customizing your vibrating jig. It can be used to secure the skirt and trailer, though if you picked out a good vibrating jig in the first place it would have a trailer keeper on it. Still, in the early days when most vibrating jigs on the market did not have a trailer keeper, super glue was extremely handy. It’s especially beneficial if you do choose to employ a trailer hook. Having to remove a trailer hook and trailer hook keeper to change out a trailer that keeps getting pulled down because it isn’t secured can be a very time consuming and frustrating hindrance when throwing a vibrating jig all day.
For starters, I want to pay homage to Brett Hite once again for all he has done to establish and fine-tune the technique of fishing a vibrating jig. His prowess and experience are second to none and should definitely be taken into consideration when you’re deciding how you want to select the gear you use to fish a vibrating jig. Had I studied Hite’s setup years ago before I developed certain preferences of my own, I would have been ecstatic to have adopted his blueprint.
However, our setups differ in almost every way. Part of that stems from different backgrounds and philosophies. Hite was a much more well-rounded angler than myself when he first started to fish a vibrating jig. He had much more experience with finesse fishing and crankbait fishing than I did, or do to this day for that matter. Elements of those styles of fishing made their way into how he fishes a vibrating jig. Hite uses a glass rod for instance and sets the hook like he would when using a crankbait, reeling while he makes a long sweeping hookset that allows his rod to load up. Hite also uses fluorocarbon in place of braid, cognizant of the importance of stealth versus brute strength learned from years and years of compromising the latter for the former when finesse fishing out West.
I on the other hand grew up in Alabama, learning to fish from my dad who was and is a great power-fisherman. Braided line was on nearly every rod I picked up as a young angler and is something I came to rely on. I wasn’t cranking ledges or discovering the difference in the number of bites you could get when you downsize from 10-pound test to six. I was heaving a big spinnerbait in a foot-deep mudhole with 20 obstructions between me and the end of my cast. So when I first picked up a vibrating jig, that’s what I related it to, slow rolling a spinnerbait.
Given my roots, I still lean towards braided line and a graphite rod and that dictates my hookset. All different from what Hite does. But again I want to stress that I in no way consider myself better than Brett Hite with a vibrating jig. I’m simply more comfortable with my setup and therefore more effective with it than I would likely be with his. And I want to mention my preferences because I know there are a lot of anglers out there with similar skill sets to my own who will likely find my setup more applicable to their abilities. So here’s Brett Hite’s setup, and in the coming paragraphs I’ll breakdown what gear I use for some of the more popular ways to fish a vibrating jig.
So we’ve indirectly started the conversation about a few of the more popular ways to fish a vibrating jig just by talking about trailer selection. But let’s really dive into a few ways to pattern bass with a vibrating jig.
Skipping a Vibrating Jig
One thing that really makes a vibrating jig different from a spinnerbait is how compact the bait is. The blade being more inline with the bait makes it downright better for several applications. It’s easier for fish to inhale the whole bait, it rips through vegetation better and it skips better.
Skipping a chatterBait is something that I love to do. The technique is really a microcosm of what made a vibrating jig so good to begin with, it was something different that fish had never seen.
Likewise, skipping a vibrating jig under bushes, docks and other structures puts the bait in front of fish that are not typically exposed to something so aggressive.
Trailer selection is again important here. You don’t want to go with something to bulky or ‘grabby’ like a craw. The split tail style trailer works well here because its malleable and folds up with the bait instead of catching the surface of the water and slowing the bait down.
Whether I’m fishing a vibrating jig, a swim jig, a spinnerbait or a squarebill, I’m always adding a little action to the bait by bouncing my rod tip and varying my retrieve. I firmly believe this makes all of those baits better than if I were to simply reel them in steadily. However, with a vibrating jig, you have to be a little more careful with this around wood.
You always want your hook to stay as vertical as possible. So if you pause or pump your bait, you can’t just let the bait fall over on slackline. It will get hung and get hung often. You have to control your bait even in the fall by keeping your line semi-tight.
Keeping contact with the bait will also help you feel the bite better and most importantly, distinguish the difference in a bite and bumping a piece of wood, preventing a lot of hangups from unwarranted hooksets.
You will inevitably get hung when fishing a vibrating jig around wood. It is physically impossible not to at times. The key is to minimize those hangups and not get frustrated. As my dad says,
“If you’re not getting hung every now and then, you’re not fishing where the fish are.”
The key to fishing around shallow wood with any style bait is to really pick it apart. The fish will usually be tucked right up against the wood waiting to ambush prey, especially in cold water situations. So you have to get in there and bump around to draw the strikes.
Ripping a vibrating jig through vegetation like hydrilla, milfoil and coontail is perhaps the most popular way to fish a vibrating jig. Again, in these situations I like to vary my trailers based primarily on depth and thickness of the vegetation. You want to let the bait tick along the surface of the vegetation, ripping it free whenever the bait begins to hang on a piece of grass. But you don’t want your bait to get bogged down to the point you can’t rip it free and have to reel the bait in to remove big balls of vegetation.
The right gear is essential here, especially when the vegetation is thick.
I tend to land somewhere in the 7’ 6” medium heavy to heavy action range with 50-pound braid.The Fitzgerald Fishing Vursa 7’ 6” Medium Heavy is a great rod for this. The rod should have a lot of strength but also a fair amount of tip so that you can heave the bait a long way and play the fish down as it nears the boat. There’s not much call for heavier braid than 50-pound test because you’re typically going to straighten out a hook or line tie on most vibrating jigs before you break the 50-pound test line.
The heavier action, longer rod and braided line are important to give you leverage on the fish and keep them up out of the vegetation during the fight. If they do bog you down, it’s often better to go to them with the boat and free them by hand instead of trying to pull them out with your rod.
Just be sure to keep your line tight and be ready incase the fish frees itself before you get there.
Here’s a video from a Costa Series event on Lake Okeechobee in 2013 where I ripped aZ-Man Original ChatterBait through hydrilla in 2-3 feet of water to finish 11th. You should really take time to enjoy the music.
Chapter 6 - Ideal Conditions To Throw A Chatterbait
Typical power-fishing conditions (low pressure, cloudy and windy days) are ideal for a vibrating jig. Though that’s not to say bass won’t bite a vibrating jig on sunny, calm days as seen in the video from Okeechobee fishing in submerged vegetation.
A vibrating jig works well in both clear water and muddy water conditions.
Shallow and relatively deep, with a select few anglers even fishing heavier vibrating jigs on bluffs and offshore ledges.
Seasonally, pre-spawn and post-spawn are best when bass are aggressively pursuing bigger meals. Though bass can certainly be caught on a vibrating jig year-round throughout most of the country.
In short, vibrating jigs are awesome because they catch big fish and can be used to cover lots of water. But sometimes, big fish don’t bite and you can be left with a sore arm and an empty livewell. It’s good to have a complementary pattern lined up in case conditions change or you need an additional keeper or two. But it’s also a good idea to go all-in if you feel remotely confident that you could get a limit with a vibrating jig.
Outside of the ‘hero or zero’ dilemma, the only real drawback of a vibrating jig lies in its stickiness. They get hung up. Putting into practice the things we’ve talked about here will help mitigate those mishaps. Keep your bait upright around wood and don’t let it sink too deep into vegetation.
We’ve laid out what characteristics make up a ‘good’ vibrating jig. But remember, choose the rest of your gear depending on your skill set and your situation. If you’re 5 feet tall, there’s no need to skip a dock with a 7’ rod just because I do or a 7’ 3” rod just because Brett Hite does. Another phenomenal vibrating jig fisherman, Bryan Thrift, designed a great6’ 9” rod for you. There are a lot of options and experts out there now. Find the right gear for you.
If you can do these things and develop just a little confidence and capability, a vibrating jig will become one of your favorite lures in the box.