There have been few lures introduced in recent years that have become a mainstay in my arsenal like the chatterbait (also known as bladed or vibrating jig). The vibration, versatility, and ease of using a chatterbait has made it a favorite choice in many situations.
But as a bait’s popularity grows, so does the amount of versions, sizes, and colors. To the point that it becomes confusing which is the “best” one to purchase. I have many variations and color combinations – but the two mainstays I recommend is a ⅜ ounce white elite chatterbait and ½ ounce black/blue elite chatterbait as they will cover 95% of the situations you need.
White is always a good color chatterbait
If you look in any fisherman’s tacklebox your sure to find tons of white lures. For good reason, too. Almost all species of baitfish will resemble white in the water. So spinnerbaits, crankbaits, buzzbaits, and the like have a variety of different white patterns.
A chatterbait is an excellent imitation for baitfish, so having a white chatterbait in your arsenal is a good choice. There are many variations you can have, as some baitfish hue more green/brown and others more silver/blue – but a base white can mimic all of them and allow you to use a trailer that more clearly matches the color of the baitfish you are targeting.
Finally, a chatterbait shines in murky to muddy water, and is usually when I suggest fishing it. If your visibility is less than a six inches to a foot – you’ll want the black/blue mentioned below as it contrasts best in the water. But if you’re in the 1 to 3 foot category, which a lot of fisheries maintain at, a white chatterbait is a great option.
3/8 ounce chatterbait purpose
The reason I recommend getting a white chatterbait in ⅜ ounce is because generally baitfish are a smaller size than the imitations you’ll be making with a darker colored chatterbait. With a white chatterbait, we are mimicking small shad, herring, or any other minnow-like fish. They are not going to be overly large the majority of the fishing year. So downsizing to a ⅜ ounce makes sense here.
You’ll also find that a ½ ounce chatterbait needs a good depth of water to work well. A ½ ounce sinks extremely quickly and if you don’t reel relatively fast, you will be bouncing across the bottom when maybe you want a more steady retrieve. Keeping something a little lighter, like a ⅜ ounce is going to help you in those conditions. So not only is having the size difference key, but having the weight difference is as well to give you maximum flexibility.
Black/Blue - My favorite color combo in fishing
As discussed earlier, you’ll want the blue/black chatterbait for when conditions are muddy. If I am fishing muddy fishery and want to search for fish – I am fishing a black/blue chatterbait. The dark colors contrast well in muddy water and give a great color bass can see, leading to more and better strikes on your lure.
Further, black/blue is a good color choice even when visibility isn’t your main concern. Generally if I’m throwing a black/blue chatterbait I’m not imitating the bait fish as much described above. Instead, I’m going for a crawdad type imitation which are generally darker than bait fish. A blue/black chatterbait imitates this well, and if you want more flash of color you can do so with a trailer. This is especially works for me when I hop chatterbaits off the bottom, more similar to a jig.
1/2 ounce chatterbait purpose
So if I am trying to mimic a crawdad, I have to also beef up my presentation to match the size of crayfish in my area. Generally, they are always larger than the baitfish bass are munching on during the year. So upsizing to a ½ ounce chatterbait is good for my darker color as it helps me more realistically match the size of the bait to what bass are eating.
Likewise, I’m going to fish a blue/black chatterbait closer to the bottom of the water to match the crawdads jumping along the bottom. The ½ ounce weight helps keep me towards the bottom of the lake where I want to be no matter how quickly I reel in each cast. The extra weight for greater casting distance is also a nice benefit.
If you live in a very deep fishery where you’re routinely fishing in 12+ foot of water, you may even want to go heavier. But for the majority of cases, I think a ½ ounce will be a great size for this type of presentation.
Jackhammer, Original, Project Z? What are the differences....
When Z-man created the chatterbait they were so wildly successful they ended up making a ton of different types. To the point that it can get a little confusing when you’re looking at them and trying to understand the price points. Lets discuss the ones you are most likely to find under Z-man – the Jackhammer, Project Z, elite, and original.
As the name suggests, this is the original chatterbait released by Z-man. So with that comes the obvious benefit and deficiency. The benefit? It worked so well it took the fishing world by storm leading to a lot of different versions. The deficiency? They made newer versions which fixed the issues in the prototype version.
This does not apply to the action or use of the lure – which the new ones do seem to work better in my opinion – but speaks mainly to the quality of the lure. The first chatterbait I threw, I lost the skirt within a few hours (which, by the way, is fine. I’ve caught fish on it without a skirt). A couple weeks after the head and hook broke apart.
Since then, they have supposedly upgraded the original versions but I haven’t went back. A cheap bait is cheap for a reason – the parts are not of a quality that makes them worth more. So you can use these but don’t expect they hold up well over time.
Original Elite Chatterbait
However, the original elite has not presented those issues for me. The quality is much higher as is the price point, about an additional $2. However, I find that few extra dollars well worth it. I have not had these baits fall apart on me, had paint fleck, or any of the issues the original presented for most fisherman.
It does keep the originals design and it isn’t obviously different – but the quality here is the determining factor. And it still works extremely well. I’ve never had an issue getting their action to work even with the slowest of retrieves.
Project Z Chatterbait
Upgrading from the original elite version was the Z-man Chatterbait Project Z. The most noticeable difference you’ll see here is a longer, more “lifelike” skirt and a painted head included. There were also minor design updates as well as upgraded paint schemes which are extremely enticing to the average fisherman.
Is the project Z better than the original elite chatterbait? I’ve fished them both and can’t say I’ve seen a noticeable difference in casting, action, or the amount or quality of fish I’ve caught. So would I pay the extra $2 for it? Nope. Just stick with the original elite.
I am a true believer in some lures are meant to catch fish, and some lures are meant to catch fisherman. If you look at the project z compared to the original elite in a box, the Project Z wins everytime. You’re buying $2 worth of a pretty paint job and a “realistic” head design that I personally have not found the fish to care one bit about.
I’ll add as well – the lifelike skirt is longer than the original elite chatterbait and covers the hook. Which could be worth it if you plan on only using a chatterbait bare with no trailer. However, I always use a trailer on my chatterbaits and have found the long skirt actually gets in the way of the trailer’s action. So I usually cut it off.
The most recent addition to the chatterbait line, and most expensive, is the Jackhammer chatterbait. I personally do not own a Jackhammer, as I can’t get over the price point. It’s a $16 lure and I already have several original elite chatterbaits that are half that doing just fine.
But I have seen reviews and friends use jackhammers with much success. It is backed by some of the biggest fisherman in the industry, like Brett Hite, and has noticeable upgrades in about every way over other chatterbaits. They are very obviously solidly constructed, have great paint jobs, an easy to work design, and can catch your eye very easily.
Unlike the Project Z, there are some real-world differences as well though beyond what LOOKS good. The head design allows for easier dock skipping, and comes with a Gamakatsu hook which, for my money, is the best brand of hook available. The action is also noticeably different, as it does sway side to side slightly where the original chatterbait retrieves in a straight line.
So if you have the money or are a tournament angler that needs every advantage, I can understand purchasing a jackhammer. For the everyday fisherman? I don’t think the price is worth the minor upgrades you’ll get.
Other brands mimicking the chatterbait
While “chatterbait” has become the common word for this type of lure, chatterbait is actually the brand name made by Z-man who popularized it (think Kleenex for tissues). The broader category of this lure type is actually called “vibrating jigs” or “bladed swim jigs” and includes many other competitors.
I can not speak for every brand, as there are simply more than I can feasibly purchase and use. However, from the several I have used, I haven’t found one that works noticeably better than the z-man chatterbait and it’s many versions. Especially not at a lower price point.
If you delve into chatterbait fishing and determine you want to branch out, Strike King’s Thunder Cricket gets many recommendations. But personally, I don’t see a reason to stray from the originators that made it famous with Z-man. But if you have experience with a different brand and saw noticeably more fish – let me know in the comments below!
Z-man chatterbaits are a great lure for a variety of conditions, and hopefully you now feel a little less overwhelmed when looking at all of your available options. Keep it simple if you’re buying them for the first time – go with a white and black/blue in ⅜ and ½ ounce and you’ll have your bases covered until you want more specific lures for your needs. And don’t feel the need to try different brands or the expensive Jackhammer from Z-man – the original elite will work just fine for most fisherman.