Z-Man® pro conquers MLF Patriot Cup with always-reliable ChatterBait® JackHammer™
Given his druthers, Stephen Browning would just as soon flip ElaZtech® softbaits at jungles of aquatic grass. But how can you argue when the bass won’t stop inhaling your ChatterBait like luscious jelly beans?
That first day of the Major League Fishing (MLF) Patriot Cup, Browning’s so-called ‘bladed jig’ was already on fire. “Right away that morning on Lewisville Lake, bass were trying to chew the paint off the lure,” recalled Browning, among the finest ChatterBait tacticians on tour. “I went into these little pockets with standing timber and immediately found success with a lure that always seems to come through for me. I’ve just built up so much confidence throwing that bait in these situations; really feel like it helps me read the activity level of the bass, and how they’re feeding on a given day.”
Originally reported as a generic bladed jig by MLF officials, angler-observers quickly sleuthed out the fact that Browning’s winning lure was, perhaps predictably, a 3/8-ounce, white ChatterBait JackHammer and matching pearl-white RaZor ShadZ™ trailer.
Unique among major bass tourneys, the Major League Fishing Patriot Cup pitted three groups of eight anglers against each other in a three-day, three-lake format. Elimination, Sudden Death and Championship rounds each played out at a different waterbody, unknown to the anglers until they arrived at the boat ramp each morning.
“You’re not even sure what lake you’ll be fishing until you arrive at the landing each morning,” noted Browning, among the hottest anglers on tour in 2022. “The format forces you to bring only the lures you think you’ll fish with. Meaning, you may have to run to the tackle store to restock after each day. I knew that could become an issue if I needed to restock my ChatterBaits—especially JackHammers— because these things just continue selling out so fast.”
Browning Goes Overboard
That first morning on Lewisville Lake, near Dallas, Browning opened the action with a solid 3-pound largemouth. Soon, however, an interesting challenge would emerge. “Four casts later, I hung my JackHammer on a piece of cover in 2 feet of water,” he recollected. “But I didn’t want to disturb the spot, so I broke the lure off, intending to return and find it later. Of course, when I came back later, I couldn’t find it. Then, I went into another pocket with standing timber, and a gar sliced my line. Retied my third JackHammer and somehow managed to hang the lure on another tree.”
Having started the day with exactly four white 3/8-ounce ChatterBait JackHammers, Browning now faced a dilemma. “The water was so shallow up in this pocket, I couldn’t get my boat in there to retrieve the lure. I recalled that MLF rules allow you to get out of the boat in certain instances. So, I pulled my shoes off, rolled up my jeans and bailed out. Wasn’t going to lose another one of these bad boys—even though I’m sure seeing me out there wading through the shallows in my blue jeans provided some of the anglers with a good chuckle. Happy to say, I successfully retrieved my JackHammer and was back in business pretty quick after that.”
Back in business, indeed. For Browning would go on to win his group’s Elimination round with thirteen bass for 23.04-pounds.
Then on day two—the so-called Sudden Death round—the remaining anglers found themselves on nearby Eagle Mountain Lake. “I tied on the same 3/8-ounce JackHammer and went to work,” said Browning. “Eagle Mountain has a lot of cattail lined banks, where I caught quite a few bass before fishing my day one pattern, working the back ends of pockets. My last two fish of the day came off the same type of cover I’d fished at Lewisville, which gave me even more confidence entering the Championship round.”
Bladed Jig Vibes
Throughout the tourney, Browning paid particular attention to his ChatterBait’s ability to function like a divining rod, transmitting key signals in the aquatic environment back to his rodtip. The keen observation, borne of vast bladed jig experience, paid dividends on day three. “I view the JackHammer as an indicator of what’s going on in the water around you. If you pay attention, that blade can talk to you, tell you how bass are reacting to and eating the lure. That proved to be a key little detail throughout this tournament, and especially in the championship round.”
On the final day of the Patriot Cup, the anglers found themselves on Lavon Lake, another bass-rich reservoir near Dallas. “All morning, I was trading blows with Edwin Evers, taking our turns catching bass and leapfrogging each other in the standings.”
But as Browning later explained, his ChatterBait competence led to game-winning adjustments. “I’d been detecting these minor changes and interruptions in the lure’s vibration. Although you weren’t feeling any sort of strong bite signals, the change in vibration was enough to suggest bass were occasionally boiling on the lure—taking a stab at it—but not entirely committing on the first cast to a spot. So, anytime I’d detect this slight change in the blade’s pulse, it prompted me to make a few more casts to these particular trees. In several key situations, the decision to make multiple casts produced a bigger bass.”
(Photo by Garrick Dixon/MLF)
With the score-clock ticking down to just six minutes, Browning threw his ChatterBait / RaZor ShadZ combo to one of those ‘nervous zones’ and connected with a big kicker largemouth. “That was a solid four-pound bass that probably put me over the top,” he recalled. Browning would go on to win the Patriot Cup and defeat Evers by a count of 44-05- to 36-01-pounds.
Following the final tally, Browning praised the advice of his son Beau, who had recently won the Bassmaster College Series tourney at Norfork Lake, Arkansas with a similar ChatterBait pattern.
“My son Beau had been throwing that 3/8-ounce size a ton. He showed me just how well that lighter bladed jig moved through cover. I watched Beau fish the lure just a little slower than I normally fished my ½-ouncer. Besides fishing right with me, bite per bite, I noted how Beau was getting his lure to tick the grass tips or branches and rarely hang up.
“Glad I listened to Beau’s advice. Now, if can just keep my shoes on and my feet out of the lake next time, things might work out ok,” Browning laughed.
About Z-Man Fishing Products: A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide.