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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF The late J.D. Fletcher on the Kings River in 2002. Fletcher had a knack for catching summertime smallmouth bass with buzz baits.

The buzz from the lake is that things are downright wacky now that hot summertime fishing is here.

Buzz baits and wacky worms are a top to bottom approach for catching black bass when the dog days park their hides under Northwest Arkansas' front porch.

Happy memories fill my noggin when I use either lure. That's because the late and legendary fishing guide, J.D. Fletcher, taught me how to use both. For 40-plus years, J.D. took people fishing on the Kings River and Table Rock Lake. Kings River was his love.

J.D. was like my second dad. The hours we spent fishing together on the river and lake are among the most precious of my life.

First, some buzz bait and wacky worm basics, then more about J.D.

From the break of dawn through sunrise, buzz baits tempt black bass at all the region's lakes -- large or small. Something about their splashing, brash top-water action brings out the mean in Mr. Big. It's more of a reaction strike than the fish deciding if it's something to eat.

Buzz baits are easy to use. Just cast and retrieve them across the surface. Work buzz baits around bushes, wood cover, anywhere a bass may roam. Try dark colors when it's cloudy; bright when it's sunny.

Once the sun gets to climbing, fish deep with a wacky worm. Points, rocky shorelines and the shade of docks at any lake are prime targets for going wacky.

Rigging a plastic worm wacky style is simple. Thread the hook point through the middle of the worm so both ends dangle. Now insert a finishing nail or wacky worm weight into one end of the worm so the weight is hidden. There's your wacky worm.

The rig looked too funky to catch fish the day J.D. showed it to me. We hopped in his boat and cruised to a point on Table Rock Lake not far from the resort he ran back then near Eagle Rock, Mo. I was a skeptic, but hey, if J.D. said it'd catch fish, we were going to catch fish.

Indeed we did. J.D. plucked a couple of spotted bass from the point bouncing his wacky worm about 10 feet deep. This was during spring. J.D. worked it deeper in the summer. I saw the wacky worm light and have been fishing it ever since.

The first time I used a buzz bait with J.D. Fletcher, we planned to float the far downstream reaches of the Kings River, from Stony Point access to Romp Hole access where the Kings joins Table Rock Lake. It was the last day of August, hot as blue blazes.

"We're gonna catch 'em at high noon with buzz baits, and the hotter the better," J.D. testified. I thought he'd been out in the sun too long. We slid his 17-foot aluminum john boat into the clear Kings River.

Sure enough, I caught a 4-pound largemouth on that float. I couldn't believe my eyes, until we caught and released a half-dozen more smaller ones, all on buzz baits.

We had such a good time that, for years afterward, J.D. and I had a standing date every Aug. 31 to go "buzzin' the Kings."

The real treat was when J.D.'s son, Jeff, joined us. Dad and son were a comedy show all day. J.D. would catch a bass and say to Jeff, "This is a 3-pounder easy." Jeff: "Aw dad, you're puttin' the Fletcher stretcher on that fish."

One trip I asked J.D. why a bass would hit a buzz bait, a lure that doesn't look like anything a fish eats. In his J.D. way, he alluded to the reaction strike.

A buzz bait "is like an old dog asleep on the front porch. If you startle him, he's liable to bite you," J.D. said.

And startle those bass he did. J.D. didn't mess with the teensy buzz baits lots of river rats use. He threw a big bait with a blade like a windmill that really put up a ruckus.

Then one Aug. 31, we were on the river casting our buzz baits. It was 100 degrees by 11 a.m. without a breath of breeze. That trip whipped both of us. We agreed to go buzzing the next year in the fall, but before any leaves fell. Fishing a buzz bait is a booger when the surface gets leafy.

That's why I think of J.D. when I'm working that buzz bait at dawn and going wacky once the sun shines.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at

Sports on 07/23/2019

Print Headline: Baits catch summer bass, conjure fishing memories


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