Each year, it seems like one lure or setup becomes the hot bait on the bass tournament trails.

This year, it's become apparent that the lure of the year has been Z-Man's ChatterBait thanks to new offerings from the company for 2018 — namely, the Jack Hammer.

During the 2018 Bassmaster Classic in March, seven out of the top 10 finishers cast some type of bladed jig, according to a story by Ted Pilgrim of Traditions Media titled "The Year of the ChatterBait."

“I caught every bass this week on a half-ounce Evergreen (Z-Man) ChatterBait, the Jack Hammer,” said Gerald Swindle, who finished 10th at the Classic, in the story. “I’m not sponsored by ‘em; I paid fifteen-ninety-nine a piece for ‘em, just like y’all do. I got about eleven-hundred dollars (worth) of them; I won’t lie to you.”

The ChatterBait is similar to a crankbait, with heavy action that you can feel through the rod as you retrieve it through the water. The difference is the amount of action, with the ChatterBait literally shaking your arm as your reel it in. The Jack Hammer puts off even more vibration than the Original, which debuted in 2004, hence the name.

"I have found the Jack Hammer the best ChatterBait on the market," said Hayden senior Thomas Heinen, a high school angler on the BASS and FLW circuits who is sponsored by Z-Man. "Before I threw the Jack Hammer, my favorite was the Project Z ChatterBait. That bait has caught me tons of nice bass. Especially in dirty water, when the bass don't get a very good look at the bait, they feel the vibration from this bait and that can cause a reaction strike from finicky bass."

Heinen typically rigs his ChatterBait up with a big Z-Man Razor ShadZ swimbait trailer. It's not just a good lure for largemouths and smallmouths, but just about any sort of predatory fish. Heinen proved that during a recent pre-fishing trip ahead of the FLW High School State Championship on Wilson Reservoir, when hooked into a huge wiper. Heinen said they had just launched the boat and saw a point that had a bunch of shad in 45-degree water. They trolled over using boat captain Larry Brumley's new Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor and he made a cast with the Jack Hammer.

"After a few cranks, I felt this massive hit," Heinen said. "My first thought was a snag, but my reel was stripping tons of drag. I set the hook pretty hard and the fight was on. We fought him for a good 10-12 minutes before I wore him out. When he came up, I saw how big he actually was and was super shocked.

"I knew it wasn't a bass the second it started fighting. Was kinda disappointed at first because it wasn't a bass but realized this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime catch. We thought he weighed about 30 pounds. That is one other thing on the Jack Hammer, the hooks are super great! After we got pictures and released her, I was ready to make another cast. The hook and bait held up great. Other baits would have probably been mangled up or would have straightened out the hooks."

He's also caught walleye, striper, white bass, crappie, catfish and drum fishing a variety of ChatterBaitZ.

"I love all the ChatterBaitZ, but the Jack Hammer is my go-to because of its hunting action," Heinen said. "It's phenomenal in dirty and clear water. This bait just doesn't have a certain condition to fish in. It's an all-around, all-season type of bait. Of course, the Elite, the Original and the Freedom all catch fish, but those baits play their own role in certain conditions."

Alongside the Jack Hammer, Elite, Original and Freedom, Z-Man also offers the ChatterBait Micro, DieZel ChatterBait, ChatterBait Flashback Mini, the ChatterBait Mini, the Project Z ChatterBait and a weedless version of the Project Z, each with their own applications. For instance, the Flashback Mini is a small, holographic swim bait with a ChatterBait blade that works well on panfish, trout and crappie but can still catch bass.

"There are tons of variations of the ChatterBait," Heinen said. "I have found the Jack Hammer very effective in multiple conditions. So far this season, it has caught me countless number of fish. I have had one tied on every fishing trip so far this year.

"In fact, Z-Man pro-staffer Steven Browning won the Bassmaster Open using that bait."

The Freedom offers a swinging hook design that allows for weedless rigging of swim baits. The Micro and Mini are both downsized versions of the Original that are great for pond fishing bass and crappie, and the DieZel is designed to work perfectly with the Z-Man DieZel Minnow as a trailer. Each comes in a variety of different color options.

"As far as colors go, I try to find something similar that is in the body of water that I know the bass are feeding on," Heinen said. "I call it 'matching the hatch.' If I know the bass are feeding on shad in the back of coves in the fall, I'd throw a pearl color. I always try to find something as close as I can to what the bass are feeding on. That is why Z-Man has such a variety of colors and patterns. Bait fish could be different in different bodies of water, so having the color offers that Z-Man has is truly incredible. I will always have a color that 'matches the hatch.' "

TOP SECRET STAFF DOES WELL NATIONALLY

It's been an impressive couple of weeks for Topeka-based Top Secret Jig Co. and its pro fishing staff.

Ryan and Howard German took third place last Saturday at a single-pole Crappie Masters event on Lake Fork, Texas, with a total of seven fish weighed for 13.57 pounds to take a $2,250 payday. Fellow Top Secret team Frank Haidusek and Mark McClure took fifth with seven fish for 12.12 pounds, tallying a $950 prize.

The week before at the Crappie Anglers of Texas Crappiefest, which was also on Lake Fork, Missouri resident David Harley caught the $12,500 big fish — a 3.07-pound white crappie — to win $12,500 on a Top Secret jig.

"Yeah, I'm really proud of all my pro staff guys," Top Secret owner Brandon Manis said. "One of my teams, (Chad) Nugent and (John) Wood, won that Lake Fork tournament last year using Toad Tamers. Really excited for all our local tourneys to get going for my local pro staff teams. Took on a some newer tournament teams, and I look forward to seeing them learn and progress.

"On the Crappie Masters side, good placings is a ton of exposure. I don't advertise, the baits sell themselves."

STATE BASS CHAMPIONSHIP RESCHEDULED

The Kansas BASS Nation College State Bass Fishing Championship, which originally was scheduled to take place April 8 on Milford Reservoir, was postponed last weekend because of weather. It will now take place this Sunday, weather permitting. For more information, contact Richard Heflin at (785) 246-0243 or by email at richard.heflin@se2.com.