<i>Putting the buzz on bass</i>
Noisy buzz baits usually attract the attention of a better grade of bass. Low-light periods are prefered. (Jim Gronaw photo)

It was dark, but I could make out the definition of the horizon in the distance as pre-dawn began to emerge.

I had been throwing a noisy surface bait known as a buzz bait. With a slow and steady retrieve, I could hear the "gurggle-gurggle" sounds of the lure as it inched it's way back to me. Somewhere in between the apex of the cast and shoreline there was a audible splash, more like a slurping sound, and my rod loaded up under the weight of a good fish.


Half asleep, I instinctively set the hook, but to no avail. The fish launched itself almost immediately, throwing the lure several feet and thus ensured its freedom. If only that bass knew that I was going to released him ... maybe things would have been different.

But that's the nature of buzz bait fishing for bass. You win some and you lose some. Sometimes, the bass are aggressive and literally set the hook themselves with powerful strikes. Then again, there are instances when strikes are soft, tentative, and the fish don't quite seem to commit to the lure. But one thing for sure ... fishing buzz baits for bass is always, always exciting.

For starters, buzz baits are a family of lures that have a Lexan or metal 'prop' on a top wire arm and a skirted lead head molded onto a lower wire arm. They are designed to make a commotion on the surface with the blades or 'props' making a gurggling, buzzing sound on the retrieve. They work best during low-light conditions or at night and characteristically attract a larger grade of bass than other lures. They have been around for a long time and are made by many companies. Color is usually not a factor on a buzz bait bite, as fish tend to attack the disturbance and ask questions later.

They will take a variety of larger gamefish, but shine brightly during the late-summer to fall bite on largemouth bass and at times on river smallmouths.

My biggest issue with the buzz bait is timing the hookset. When fish are aggressive, as mentioned, they tend to set the hook themselves with explosive surface strikes that can trigger 'a-fib' symptoms…regardless of your current physical condition. Put this scenario in the dark and it's double the thrill. At other times the strikes are more of just a soft, 'mushy' swirl at the lure, with often a clean miss buy the fish. Time-honored instruction from the pros tell us to "wait until you feel the weight of the fish, then set the hook."

I try to follow this advice, but still manage only about 50 percent hook ups on my buzz bait strikes. And though universally considered a "shallow water" lure, you can indeed call fish up from greater depths, even 10 feet or deeper, with loud, slow-moving buzzes.

Some anglers utilize a trailer, or 'stinger' hook that is attached to the existing hook of the bait. This can up your odds on the near-miss short-striking bass that just want to have fun. Lately, I have been using a size 1/0 treble hook as a stinger, but must admit I am but 2 for 4 on this innovation. Most savvy bass guys use the stinger hook to ride down, opposite from the lure's upward hook coming off of the lead body. Some like to use plastic trailers as an added attraction for bass that tend to 'tract' the lure before they commit to strike. However, others yet simply trim the rubber skirt even with the main hook, using no stinger at all.

Everyone has their opinion, and prefered method, for tossing these baits.

Top buzz baits made by Stanley and Strike King, in 3/16th- and ¼-ounce sizes, are good starting points from a size perspective on local largemouth bass populations. My good friend and lure maker Gary Livesay has made his "Hi Rider" buzz baits with an over-sized Lexan prop and banana-shaped lead body for super-smooth and deadly-slow retrieves that bass just can't resist.

I have taken at least two 7-pounders on his lures. There are other options but I tend to favor props with three veins rather than two. The three veined props can be fished slower than the two. Additionally, Lexan blades tend to run smoother, easier than those made with metal.

Catch a buzz bait bite within the next three weeks as dropping water temperatures will trigger a top-water gig with the local largemouth patrol. Additionally, you can figure on some late evening or early morning smallmouth activity on the upper Potomac, Monocacy, and Susquehanna rivers. And one more tip ... they can work great in muddy water.