If you’re running shallow water and prefer a subsurface power technique, fishing square-bill crankbaits might be for you. They can go where other crankbaits can’t and get a lot of bites.
The unique shape of a square-bill’s lip (spoiler: it’s square) makes it ideal for banging off cover such as rocks and branches without getting hung up. That disturbance caused by a crankbait hitting and deflecting away from cover is often what triggers nearby fish to bite.
The structural differences between medium- and deep-diving crankbaits and square-bill crankbaits are minimal, but the biggest difference is also the most important.
While shallow-diving plugs with rounded lips do exist, square-bills have predominantly taken over the market for crankbaits that cover zero to 5 feet of water due to their exceptional ability to deflect off cover. A square-bill is a phenomenal bait for fishing around all kinds of cover, from grass to brush to stumps and riprap.
Square-bill crankbaits come in all sizes, shapes and colors. They can be silent or can contain knockers or BBs to create even more disturbance in the water. Like most crankbaits, they can be made to mimic shad, bream, crawfish and everything in between. Variety is the name of the game when it comes to plug fishing.
Square-bills, at their simplest, are rounded and streamlined hard baits made of wood or plastic that float until retrieved. When in motion, drag on the short lip creates downward force and causes square-bills to dive and swim with a wobbling action.
Most square-bills come equipped with a pair of exposed treble hooks that, while they sometimes will snag on cover, are fairly well-protected by the lip deflecting the bait off cover.
The key to effectively fishing a square-bill is maintaining bottom contact or deflecting it off cover where fish might be set up. The erratic action of the plug when it deflects is what triggers fish to react.
When choosing a square-bill, it’s best to pick one that is rated to run at slightly deeper depths than the water you’re fishing in order to ensure the bill of the bait nicks the bottom and any cover it may run into.
There are several ways to fish a square-bill, but the most common way is to simply cast and reel with a steady retrieve. Banging it into rocks on bottom, or deflecting off stumps, laydowns and other targets will trigger more bites. Because square-bills can be fished quickly and can go just about anywhere, they’re great search baits for finding bass quickly.
Some months, however, it’s necessary to slow down. Cold-water bass can be very lethargic and might not be actively feeding. Looking for reaction strikes may be the best approach in those situations.
For finicky bass, especially in cold water, pause the bait occasionally, or work speed changes into the retrieve. The erratic nature of a varied retrieve can entice lethargic fish to strike. Flat-sided square-bills are also good choices for chilly water.
A challenge when fishing any crankbait (and most baits with exposed hooks) is remaining snag-free when fishing around cover. An experienced angler who is familiar with crankbaits is proficient at feeling what his bait is hitting and working the bait through the obstruction with his rod and his retrieve.
When fishing grass, the easiest method for avoiding snags is ripping or popping the bait free. This provides the added benefit of creating a disturbance that may trigger a strike.
If you start to feel your bait getting hung up, don’t pull back hard. This will often cause the bait’s hooks to dig in or wedge the bait deeper in the snag. But if you are hung up between rocks or branches, pause the retrieve and allow the natural buoyancy of the crankbait to float the bait up and away from the snag.
Nearly all shallow water presents opportunities to fish a square-bill crankbait. Even areas that lack a lot of structure or cover can hold fish, and square-bills are terrific search baits for covering a lot of water quickly.
A favorite type of cover for square-bill aficionados is rock, including riprap, shallow rock bars, break walls and chunk rock banks. Banging a square-bill off the rock gets a lot of bites, especially if bass are in the area feeding on shad or crawfish.
Many anglers also swear by square-bills in shallow water littered with stumps and standing timber. Flooded boat ramps, hard-bottom banks and areas lined with laydowns are good target areas too.
A good square-bill cranking rod needs some backbone for castability and sensitivity, but also enough bend to keep fish pinned when hooked.
The most common rod setup for crankbait fishing is a medium or medium-heavy casting rod with moderate-fast or fast action, somewhere in the 7-foot range. Some anglers will size down to a 6-6 or 6-10 rod for more precise casts around cover, and some like a long rod for bombing down a bank, but a 7-foot, medium rod is perhaps the best all-around square-bill cranking setup.
Gear ratio preferences vary for square-bill fishing with a casting reel, but most pros prefer a 6.3:1 to 7.3:1 reel. Both allow enough flexibility to burn the bait or slow it down if necessary.
Fluorocarbon line in the 12- to 20-pound-test range is best for most types of crankbait fishing, square-bills included. However, when fishing around heavy cover, it’s often best to size up your line to prevent line damage and break-offs.