Genius Z-Man ChatterBait WillowVibe re-thinks bladed jig design on super-subtle levels
Ladson, SC – Step inside the lure shop of bladed jig inventor Ron Davis Sr. and your perceptions of what constitutes a ChatterBait will likely leave you at the door. Of course, you probably won’t be dropping by his shop anytime soon, so you won’t discover most of the other secret projects underway inside Davis’ laboratory. But if you’re reading this, you’re among the fortunate-first to glimpse Davis’ newest masterwork, an intriguing new bladed jig design known evocatively as the ChatterBait WillowVibe.
“Who says all bladed jigs have a hex-shaped blade?” asks Davis, whose original ChatterBait touched off an undeniable fishing phenomenon over two decades back.
Fifteen years in development, a collaborative effort between Davis and Z-Man Fishing has resulted in a veritable marvel of angling engineering. At first glance, like most strokes of simple, elegant genius, the WillowVibe’s sleek, minimalist physique misleads you. But be forewarned: this little willowleaf-bladed jig is full of surprises.
Like all finely-crafted lures, the WillowVibe began as a solution to a vexing fishing dilemma. “The idea for this lure came to me while fishing for big stripers focus-feeding on little bitty shad,” recalls Davis, who along with son Ron Davis Jr. crafted the Original ChatterBait Bladed Jig in 1998.
“These can be some of the most selective, tough-to-fool fish in the lake,” explains Davis, an astute angler and aquatic observer from Rock Hill, South Carolina. “These fish are so laser focused on specific, subtle baitfish cues that we as anglers easily overlook them. In these scenarios, a lot of folks throw underspins. But I wanted a lure I could cast a mile and that allowed for easy, precise depth control.
“You’ve seen shad the flip through the surface when they’re fleeing predators? An underspin can’t do that, but the WillowVibe’s blade mimics this exact surface-flip, and does it so realistically that bass swim right over and eat it.”
Davis continues: “This lure’s got a little secret, though. It starts humming with the first crank of the handle, and buzzes smoothly through the water; we refer to it lovingly as ‘the bee.’ But twitch the lure with your rodtip and watch what happens next. The WillowVibe jumps, darts and hunts in totally random fashion. Ever watched what a frantic shad does with a bass in chase? Zip!, zip!, zip!— back and forth. Now throw the WillowVibe and compare the two. Pretty convincing copy of the real thing.”
As Davis and other great anglers will tell you, there’s no better trigger for selective bass and other fish than these evasive, fast-slashing maneuvers, especially in areas of openwater. So, while traditional bladed jigs excel near heavy cover, the ChatterBait WillowVibe enters a totally different stratosphere—pulsing through the pelagic zone where baitfish and big bass collide. Where stripers crash shad parties. Where walleyes waylay windrows of ciscoes. Where smallmouths and crappies munch minnows in bulk.
“We’re just starting to realize where this bait excels,” says Z-Man pro Joey Nania. “So far, the answer is that it works more places than not, though certainly in non-traditional ChatterBait spots, such as rock, low-visibility zones, river current, and deeper ledges with largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. When you first throw this bait, you’ll fall in love with its sweet subtle vibrations. Feels totally different on your rodtip than a hexagonal ChatterBlade. It’s a faster frequency vibration that pulses even when you’re barely moving it. You’ll feel it, too, down in 15 to 20 feet of water.”
Nania immediately suspected the WillowVibe would be a spotted bass destroyer at lakes like Lanier, Hartwell and Logan Martin. His instincts with the lure proved right on the money. “Late this past winter, throwing a 3/8-ounce WillowVibe on Lake Guntersville, where we’d already gone through with a JackHammer, I caught twenty more largemouths in pretty short order. The smaller hook skyrocketed my hookup percentages, too.
“On Logan Martin Lake, I caught 60 spotted bass with the lure in three hours,” Nania divulges, visibly buzzing with enthusiasm. “That lake has a lot of river current and dirty water. Really didn’t think the lure would produce here. Whoa, was I wrong.”
Such misconceptions no longer surprise Davis. “I think anglers might mistakenly look at the WillowVibe and pigeonhole it as a small fish bait, or something that’s only effective around shad schools,” says Davis, who spent years convincing skeptical anglers about the merits of his early ChatterBaits. History, it would appear, has more than vindicated his hard work.
“Actually, there’s nothing ‘finesse’ about the WilllowVibe,” he notes. “We selected a willowleaf blade because it leaves more room to oscillate from side to side, giving off a really tight, high-frequency vibration—more of a buzz than a solid thump. Of course, it’s essential to precisely determine the right pull-point, or line attachment location, which dictates oscillation, stability and vibration. Put it in the wrong spot, and we’re not even having this conversation.
“Truthfully, I’ve always wanted a bait that could do different things—pull off two or more totally different actions—within the same retrieve. The lure swims and hums along or slashes erratically, depending on retrieve speed alone. The reason it’s so compelling to fish, I believe, is that it emits a totally different sound and underwater signature than any other bait fish have seen before.”
“A slow, steady retrieve produces a nice rhythmic vibration,” adds Nania. “You can throw it in 6-inches of water, starting the retrieve immediately, occasionally flicking the blade through the surface or waking it on top. Or, for suspended fish, count it down and keep it at any depth to about 15 feet with a nice steady retrieve. Give the WillowVibe little twitches to make it jump and dart, randomly. It’s also a ledge-killer at places like Guntersville. Let it hit bottom, tightline it and give it a couple little snaps. You’ll also appreciate how well it comes through and out of rock crevices. A quick pop usually frees it right up.”
Nania propels the compact WillowVibe up to 70 yards per cast, preferring spinning tackle with 10 or 15 pound test braid. He concedes that other anglers will throw the bait on casting tackle and 14-pound fluorocarbon with equal comfort and ease. For trailers, Nania hypes the subtle swimming vibes of a Z-Man StreakZ 3.75, 3-inch MinnowZ or Slim SwimZ.
A totally original design from ChatterBait creator Ron Davis Sr., the Z-Man ChatterBait WillowVibe features a hardened stainless steel blade that delivers an all-new rapid-fire vibration. The lure’s unique sound is also made possible via direct-connection to a ¼- or 3/8-ounce ball-shaped jighead. Highlighted with lifelike 3D eyes, the WillowVibe jighead sports a functional wire keeper that pins 3- to 4-inch soft plastic trailers securely in place, creating the illusion of a frantic baitfish. The ChatterBait WillowVibe is available in ¼- and 3/8-ounce sizes and four colors, MSRP $5.99 per 2-pack. For more information, visit www.zmanfishing.com.