OG Bladed Jig Pro Wins Big Bass Derby

Ladson, SC – Two years before Bryan Thrift won the first professional bass tournament of his career on an Original ChatterBait® bladed jig, he had already been quietly testing the lure that would eventually help him ascend to exalted angler status—just as it would soon ignite epic bass bites for thousands of anglers across America. Now, well into the era of catch-weigh-release competition, Thrift has won perhaps the biggest game of the season, adding another $300k to his bankroll— thanks largely to the same category of “off the wall” lure he slung under the radar, all those years ago.

Practicing for the 2023 Major League Fishing REDCREST (aka Bass Pro Tour Championship) at Lake Norman, North Carolina, Thrift had located a sizeable pocket of bass in an obscure ditch well up a creek arm. “That last day of practice, I ran way up the river, found that ditch, and quickly got 7 or 8 bites on a Big Blade™ ChatterBait®,” recalls the Shelby, North Carolina based Z-Man pro.

“Instinctively, I felt this was an area I’d come back to later in the tournament—a place I could catch a quick limit of bass, if necessary,” said Thrift, referring to his eventual game-winning location. Late in the fourth day, while struggling to elicit bites on a swimbait, Thrift returned to his “back pocket” bass hole, only to discover fast-changing conditions.

Thrift’s 1/2-ounce ChatterBait JackHammer (spot remover pattern) captured tourney-winning bass on days 4 and 5.

Matching lure to conditions, Thrift switched to a ½-ounce, Spot Remover-pattern Z-Man ChatterBait® JackHammer™. “Within 25 minutes, I’d caught 13 pounds on the JackHammer. I started thinking, ok, I might have a real chance to win this thing.”

On the fifth and final day, Thrift returned to his river spot, employing the same shad-emulating ChatterBait and a split-tail trailer. “At around 1-o’clock, I ran right to the same ditch and in 20 minutes of slow-crawling the JackHammer, had six bass and another 13 pounds in the boat.” Out-weighing Alton Jones Jr. by over four pounds, Thrift would soon hoist his second major championship trophy (he won the FLW Cup in 2019), winning REDCREST with a total of 46-pounds 12-ounces.

Early in the tourney on his home lake, Thrift struggled and barely made the Knockout Round, placing 19th after the first two days of fishing. As he narrowed the focus on his ChatterBait pattern, Thrift’s lead began to materialize. He led the Knockout Rounds (days 3 and 4) before finishing strong with a masterful bladed jig performance.

Exhibiting impressive versatility with the JackHammer, Thrift plied 6- to 10-foot ditch ledges lined with rocks and stumps. “It was kind of the opposite of burning a ChatterBait through shallow cover,” he noted. “The water up there was pretty cold, down in the low to mid 50s. So, I was really crawling the lure slow, creeping and grinding it along bottom just fast enough to keep that hex-blade thumping and churning, creating that powerful, proven ChatterBait vibration.

Thrift’s preferred bladed jig in spring, dirty water conditions,
a Big Blade ChatterBait unearthed big bass during tournament prefishing.

“I don’t know if people realize it, but there’s so much more you can do with all the different Z-Man ChatterBaits, because from the beginning, they’ve been so smartly designed and so well balanced. Ron Davis (ChatterBait inventor) passed his knowledge on to Z-Man, who has really taken the bladed jig game to whole other levels. You’ve got that precise sound and vibration that’s unlike any other lure out there. Every component—from blade to connection points to jighead to hooks and skirts—work together to max out the attraction factor. It’s a super precise collection of moving parts that result in special little bass-catching tricks: The blade collides with the head, adding a secondary clacking sound that’s never been duplicated. And depending on trailer selection, you can make a ChatterBait juke and hunt left-right-left—an almost magical fish-catching move.

“To really bring out that natural erratic action,” Thrift adds, “I’ll go with a soft jerkbait style trailer. No extra drag from a broad tail helps activate the blade movement, triggering its natural hunting tendencies. On the retrieve, you can initiate this action simply by using a constant fast retrieve. Or, as I did at REDCREST, begin with a slow-roll and then quickly add two or three fast turns of the reel handle. This action provides a burst of speed that triggers those cool little left- or right-hand turns in lure direction. Then, immediately slow back down to really emphasize the lure’s random, evasive maneuvers.

“While all these subtle tricks are possible with the JackHammer and under-the-radar ChatterBaits like the Project Z™, the king-size Big Blade ChatterBait is the real stand-out in terms of juking action. The oversized hex-blade deflects more water and results in some crazy, random lure action. It’s the bladed jig I usually throw early in the season—especially in dirtier water or if I need to really dial up the thump-factor.”

Having recently won a cool $300k and, as Thrift estimates, over a million dollars total on ChatterBait bladed jigs and counting, you’d be tempted to imagine the Z-Man pro might be ready for a break. “Actually, I’m rigging rods right now, already getting ready for Stage Two of the Bass Pro Tour, just days away.”

Reflecting on what’s become a legendary career of bigtime tournament wins and volumes of bass attached to ChatterBait bladed jigs, Thrift’s thoughts drift back to 2006 and a place called Okeechobee.

“Amazing to recall the way anglers once viewed these lures. Imagine, a ChatterBait being regarded as an off the wall gimmick no one wanted to buy,” Thrift laughs. “At Okeechobee in those early years, I was the only angler throwing an Original ChatterBait. I gave my partner one, too, and we proceeded to catch probably 40 bass, including some giants. Pretty cool that all these seasons later, the same concept—and that same captivating vibration, profile and unique action—still gets eaten by just as many big bass as it did when Ron Davis put one of the first ChatterBaits in my hands.”

Thrift hoists another ChatterBait bass toward a cool $300k. (Photo by MLF / Garrick Dixon)

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.