Buzzbait Bonanza

Working a buzzbait is one of the most exciting ways to catch bass, but most people think it’s a limited lure. This angler knows buzzbaits are versatile and they catch hammers.

The sun was barely peeking through Venice’s roseau canes, but chirping could already be heard in the canal.

A subtle splash, such as that made by a spray of minnows, accompanied the metallic call of the buzzbait moving along the line of lilies.

All of that ended, however, when a huge explosion engulfed the lure, as if someone had dropped a cinder block on it.

Brent Bonadona grinned as he set the hook, looking back to make sure his fishing partner was ready.

Ken Sherman, accustomed to having others net his fish, looked up at the sound of the strike.

In his hand was another of Bonadona’s big bass that he had just removed from the net.

Sherman hesitated an instant, as Bonadona’s newest capture was pulled to the boat, but finally acted.

He laid the first fish in the bottom of the boat, grabbed the net and scooped another 5-pounder out of the water.

“Ken didn’t have time to think,” Bonadona recalled. “I had 21 pounds in the boat before he ever caught a fish. Before he could finish weighing them, I’d have another fish on.

“It was crazy.”

That wasn’t the way it was supposed to work. Sherman was supposed to contribute, but the early morning bite was all Bonadona’s.

Although it killed him to watch someone else hooking such beautiful fish, Sherman quickly swallowed his pride.

“I told him to just keep catching them,” he laughed. “I didn’t care who put them in the boat.”

All the while, the chirp, chirp, chirp of a buzzbait could be heard, and bass after hefty bass charged from the canes to annihilate the obnoxious lure.

And then the bite stopped, Sherman picked up a worm and started adding to the day’s stringer.

But the main damage had been done with a single lure before the day even heated up — 21 of the 24 pounds eventually weighed in that afternoon came off of Bonadona’s buzzbait.

And that was fine with the Port Allen tournament angler, since he would rather have a buzzbait in his hand than any other lure in his tackle box.

“It’s what I’m confident with,” he said. “I’ll fish a buzzbait during the spawn.

“I’ll catch fish off the beds with this.”

It’s a confidence born of experience, but some might wonder why he would choose a bait that is good for maybe an hour in the morning and about 30 minutes in the evening.

But Bonadona knows his buzzbaits aren’t as limited as those anglers believe.

“I’ll fish it until they stop biting it. I won’t stop fishing it when the sun comes up,” Bonadona said.

Overcast days are obvious opportunities to fish buzzbaits all day, but even without the aid of the cloud cover, Bonadona said there are times when he sticks with it.

The reason most people limit the lure to early mornings and late evenings is that they believe bass won’t hit a surface bait in the bright sun.

Bonadona agreed, to an extent.

For instance, on this day Bonadona put up the lure after catching about five or six bass when the sun got above the trees.

“This water is so clear, the fish bury in the grass,” he explained.

But if there’s a tint to the water, fish aren’t as sensitive to the sunlight.

“I like to have green water,” Bonadona said.

When he has those water conditions, bass are more inclined to continue to bust bait on the surface.

But even in gin-clear water, there are applications for all-day buzzbaiting.

“There are times, like in Bayou Black, where you have a hard line of lilies, and they’ll hit a buzzbait all day,” he said.

A heavy mat of hydrilla also provides such opportunities.

“Isolated patches of grass are more suited to spinnerbaits,” he said. “For buzzbaits, I like some thicker concentrations of grass.

“That gives the fish a little more cover.”

The key is to position the boat so the lure remains in the strike zone as long as possible.

Bonadona trolls right down the line of vegetation, casting parallel to the grass and putting the lure within easy striking distance of any prowling bass.

“If there’s some open pockets in the grass, I’ll throw in there, but if it’s a hard line, like lilies, I’ll parallel it,” he said. “That’s all you can do”

But even when focusing on such vegetation lines, Bonadona is analyzing, ensuring his lure hits the areas most likely to produce.

“You know how (the grass) will make those little points when it’s matted all the way down?” he asked. “That’s where the fish are most likely to be.”

So he ensures he tips these points, providing easy pickings for bass that might be laid up under the shade of the grass waiting to ambush passing prey.

But even when bass shut down on the buzzbait during the heat of the day, Bonadona doesn’t cut the lure off his rod — it’s always right on the deck, within easy reach in case conditions turn favorable again.

Partly cloudy days are when he makes most use of a buzzbait.

Bonadona pays close attention, and as soon as the shadow of a cloud approaches, he grabs his buzzbait and goes to work.

“As the clouds pass over, I alternate between a buzzbait and whatever I was fishing,” he said. “If the sun pops out, I put it right back down.”

And the clouds don’t have to be extra heavy to prod fish to move back to the edges of grass and become aggressive.

“It needs to be just enough to change the picture,” he said. “It changes the whole perspective when it clouds up.”

That’s exactly how Bonadona fished on that day in Venice, when he put so many big bass in the boat.

“That morning, we caught everything on a buzzbait, and then they shut off,” he said. “When it would cloud up, we’d pick that buzzbait up again and start catching fish with it.”

While he loves to catch fish around grass (“If you live in Louisiana, you’d better like to fish grass,” he said), Bonadona knows wood also can produce.

Cypress trees, willows, tupelo, laydowns, stumps and cypress knees all have their days, and Bonadona will work them over.

When he works this wood, Bonadona ensures he makes contact with the structure.

“I like to run it up against the bark,” he said. “A lot of times, they’ll actually come up and hit it while the blades are chunking against the tree.”

And his confidence that wood will hold fish even extends to small structure.

“Even if there’s one little twig out in the middle of the canal, I’ll throw around it,” Bonadona said. “That’s all it takes.”

His favorite scenario, however, involves the combination of grass and wood.

“If I have matted grass with isolated wood structure, I know there will probably be bass there,” Bonadona said.

Water depth also is something to which he pays close attention.

“I try to focus on water from 5 feet on up,” Bonadona said.

Interestingly, that doesn’t always mean 5 feet from the bottom.

“If you’ve got some structure in the water, like a log or a laydown, that can keep you in that 5-foot range, even if the water’s deeper,” he said.

And the water almost can’t be too shallow to catch fish.

“I’ve caught them right on up until their backs were sticking out of the water,” Bonadona said.

Another factor is the bank characteristics, particularly how steep it drops off.

“I’d rather a gradual bank,” he said.

That’s because sloping banks are more likely to hold fish-attracting cover.

“A lot of times you’ll get some structure that will still be 5 or 10 feet off the bank,” Bonadona said. “When you have a sharp drop-off, you usually don’t have that much structure.”

Retrieval rate is another concern, he said.

Although buzzbaits target the meanest, baddest fish in an area, he said you can move the bait too fast.

“You’re looking for aggressive fish, but I don’t like to rip it across the top of the water,” he pointed out. “I reel just fast enough to keep it on top.”

That allows the lure to remain in the strike zone longer, while maintaining its action and allowing bass to zoom in on its location.

“I find (a slower retrieve) eliminates a lot of short strikes,” he said.

Of course, he could simply add a trailer hook to snag those short-striking bass, but Bonadona normally refuses such excess gear.

“I don’t like a trailer hook because I find it catches too much grass,” he said. “I know a lot of people who fish for money use trailer hooks, but I just don’t like them.”

And while he prefers a leisurely retrieve, that doesn’t mean he won’t sometimes crank up the speed.

“There are times when they want it buzzing, but nine times out of 10, they want it slow,” Bonadona said.

To accommodate both approaches, the angler uses a high-speed reel (6:1 ratio).

“That allows me to keep it on top of the water without reeling too fast, but I can really speed it up if I need to,” he said.

Lure color also can make a vast difference.

His box is jammed with choices, but most of the buzzbaits he stores in his boat fall into two color categories: black with a black blade and chartreuse/white with a chartreuse-tinted gold blade.

“That black buzzbait works best in clear water, and when it’s sunny,” Bonadona said. “That black just shows up better against the backdrop (of the sky).”

The more-colorful selection is best for all other situation.

“That bait works real well in darker-colored water because the fish can see it,” he said.

Tuning of lures is an issue about which anglers debate, but Bonadona said he believes it’s mostly overrated.

Some people (Sherman included) twist their lures to put the hook farther under the water, tweak the bend of the blades to get erratic action and torque the hook to allow for easier hook sets. Bonadona said he’s found all of that work doesn’t make much difference to the fish.

“I used to squeeze the rivet and put it on an angle, but it wears the blade out quicker,” he said.

The only thing he does is scrapes the paint off the blade where it contacts the rivet.

“It lets that aluminum (in the blade and in the rivet) rub against each other so you get that chirp,” Bonadnna said.

Although he’ll often use a pocket knife to remove that paint, most of the time he simply lets the lure hang out of his truck window while he’s driving to the landing.

“I’ll let it hang out a lot when I drive because it loosens it up and knocks that anodizing off, especially with the painted blades,” he said.

The lure is always tied on a medium/medium-heavy Shimano V Rod that allows him to get good casting distance and accuracy.

“It’s got enough backbone in it, but it’s not actually a medium-heavy rod,” Bonadona explained.

The reel is spooled with 17-pound mono, which allows plenty of fighting strength to pull fish out of thick cover.

“I try to find a line without a lot of memory in it,” he said “It just makes it easier to cast.”

And that’s a real concern, since long casts are sometimes necessary.

“In that black water, you want to make longer casts,” Bonadona said. “You want a long cast, but you don’t want a cast that’s out of control.

“You want to make sure you can still put the bait where you need it to be.”

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.