A buzzbait is frequently considered an ideal choice in shallow water, but there is much more to the story that every angler needs to make themselves aware of. The lure draws a reaction strike when worked near specific cover or over structure. With its disruptive splash and fluttering skirt, a buzzbait creates a pronounced presence on the retrieve. Bass relating to shallow water cover and structure cannot help but become aware of such a noisy lure. Shallow water cover and structure encompasses everything from the bank to pads, weed lines, cattails, trees, overhangs, docks, humps, and bumps. The key is to train your eye to notice these places without even thinking.
Then there is the question of when to use a buzzbait. Anglers generally feel a buzzbait is only effective at first light, early morning, early evening, and at night. Others have learned that a buzzbait can catch bass all day. I do not throw a buzzbait year-round, although you can. The fun time of year to throw a buzzbait is in the fall, at least for me. Watch for bass to become more active, generally feeding in shallow water. A buzzbait really stands out in calm water and I generally avoid using one when the water gets choppy. When it rains, many anglers feel a buzzbait is the absolute best choice. So you see, you do have some options.
I cast a buzzbait using three basic approaches with subtle variations I have picked up over the years. A long cast is the most obvious approach and the easiest to master. This lure was meant for the long cast. No two things could go together so well, but there are some tricks and even some bad habits to be aware of. After making the cast, the lure will start to fall. Before it hits the water, you want to be ready. I like to engage the reel a second before the lure lands so that I'm not dealing with slack line. It gives me immediate control over the action. However, engaging the reel in this fashion can be hard on the internal components according to some professionals, so take that into account. It is a hard habit to break, at least for me. Stopping the spool with your thumb is a simple alternative. Your goal is to get the lure moving right away. Not only do I stop the lure in its path, but as the lure hits the water, I also lift the rod ever so slightly. I lift the rod for two reasons. I can keep the lure from sinking right away, but by lifting the rod, I am also pulling the lure back towards me. Another rule of thumb for the long cast is to place the lure beyond your target and bring it over the strike zone.
I have also discovered that a buzzbait is a great lure to pitch over short distances. When using these short casts, keep your thumb over the spool. By stopping the line in this subtle manner, the lure will enter the water with less of a splash. I briefly lift the rod after the pitch just as I would with a long cast to begin the retrieve right away before engaging the reel. When pitching in heavy cover, keeping the bait on the surface is important. It is very easy to hang up on anything lurking just under the surface.
The third easy approach is a sidearm cast. I like using the sidearm approach when I am not close enough to pitch or trying not to spook fish with the boat. A sidearm cast will cause the lure to enter the water with a more violent splash, but you can keep the lure low and get it underneath overhangs that might otherwise be inaccessible. The reaction bite is well worth the risk.
Identifying key areas
Cast parallel and as close as possible to anything that forms a straight line. The bank usually runs in a straight line. Shallow weed lines often have straight edges. The outer edge of lily pads can have a rather straight arrangement. Even a stand of cypress trees all in a row count. Cast a buzzbait across the long axis of a log laydown or fallen tree. Work a buzzbait along dams and sea walls. When you find a point, whether it is from a stand of trees, the bank, or weed line, cast along either edge with your boat situated at the point. Again, try to stay as close as you can to the strike zone.
Cast perpendicular or just beyond or behind anything that looks different. A pocket or break in a weed line deserves attention. Place a buzzbait between two prominent objects very close to each other. Find anything that comes to a point and cast the buzzbait just beyond the tip of that point. I love approaching cattails and tall grasses this way. Work the open pockets in stands of lily pads. A heavier buzzbait can also be pitched underneath limb overhangs, low-lying bridges, or into thick cover. Find stick-ups and tree stumps where bass could be holding and work a buzzbait over the area a few times. Train yourself to notice these changes in cover and structure. Quite often, you will discover a pattern that can put several fish in the boat in no time at all.
Although docks hold bass, I have not found buzzbaits to be as productive as other lures around such structures. Maybe it has just been a run of bad luck. If I were to throw a buzzbait at a dock, I would aim for the back corners along the bank and avoid the rest of the dock altogether. If a bass is there, you know a buzzbait will call its name.
A buzzbait also works in open water. It does not have to be shallow as previously stated, although flats are great places for a buzzbait search and destroy approach. A buzzbait can be worked over deep water too, especially when bass are schooling and feeding. Bass can move alarmingly fast from deep water to the surface. I have read articles where anglers have witnessed a bass make a 20 to 30 foot ascent just to slam a buzzbait over crystal clear water. Use your eyes, ears, and sonar to locate bass in these other situations. You never know.
I rarely get any bites using a very fast retrieve. Sure it's fun to see a buzzbait rip through the water, but the rule for buzzbaits is like many other lures. Slow down. Many of my strikes happen when I slow the buzzbait down to a light gurgle or maybe a hair faster. Holding a rod upright with the rod tip high in the air offers more control at slower retrieves. This lifts the wire nose of the bait up out of the water and can give a buzzbait a little more splash whereas holding the rod to the side keeps the nose of the bait in the water and creates an entirely different presentation. Try to bump into as many things as possible. Mere inches matter, so the closer you are to the target, the better. You want to get their attention and bumping into stumps and other objects does just that. A bass may turn its nose at a bait that is a little too far outside its comfort zone.
There are ways to vary the retrieve. Many anglers do not take advantage of a buzzbait the way I do. I have had tremendous results using a Walmart buzzbait in a somewhat non-traditional fashion. Using quick half to full turns of the reel handle interrupted by brief pauses, I have been able to make the buzzbait spit in spurts as it surfaces. You can do the same thing, albeit somewhat slower by lifting with the rod tip and taking up the slack in between each lift. This technique will draw a reaction strike. I recommend giving it a try.
The bite and the hookset
The bite often happens in the first five seconds. If I don't get bit after ten seconds, it's (usually) a safe bet that nothing is going to happen and I will go ahead and reel the lure in, especially when I plan on covering/eliminating lots of water. When I make my cast and slowly lift the rod to get the buzzbait moving, it is enough to draw the strike right away. Be ready to set the hook right after your cast. When setting the hook, you have two options. You could set the hook right away and many anglers get away with it, but as with many topwater lures, it is necessary to use a 1-2 count. It is very difficult to resist setting the hook on a blowup, but once you learn a little bit of patience, it will pay off. Get a feel for what works best for you. I admit that when using my Strike King Tri-Wing buzzbait, setting the hook right away seems to work. With larger buzzbaits, a delay is necessary. Should you miss a bite, the gold standard follow up is a plastic worm. Have one rigged and ready to go.
That should get you going. Buzzbaits are very exciting lures. The explosive strikes are well worth the effort and something every bass fisherman should experience. You'll be a buzzbait addict in no time at all.