Square bill crankbait: versatility in a small package

By on January 27, 2015
A spring largemouth from Portage Lake. (Courtesy Jeff Elliott)

Put a square bill crankbait into just about any situation and it seems to find a way to put bass in the boat. They are the jack of all trades of the crankbait world. Few baits are as effective in a broader range of water clarity, temperature and cover types. It’s one of those lures that can be effective the first day on the lake every spring until the boat gets put away in the fall.

A typical square bill dives 3-5 feet, making it for the most part something for attacking shallow water. A 6:4:1 Lew’s baitcast reel and a 7-foot medium action Dobyns rod is my ideal set up. This allows me the most control over retrieve speed and enough give in my rod to keep fish hooked up. I’ll spool up with 12-pound fluorocarbon most of the time, although braid is the best option if It really needs to be ripped out of thick vegetation.

Though square bills excel in shallow water, they do just fine in open water, especially if cranking it fast over the heads of smallmouth bass. But a square bill really shines when it deflects off a piece of cover. The key being successful is to use the square bill to “attack” cover. The sudden change of direction caused by crashing the bait into a piece of cover simply makes fish react.

Quickly cranking square over smallmouth bass in open water works well. (Courtesy Jeff Elliott)

Quickly cranking square over smallmouth bass in open water works well. (Courtesy Jeff Elliott)

The square bill gets snagged far less than a round billed crankbait would, making it easy to throw it in the middle of a laydown and crawl it back out. It also makes it an excellent choice for grinding through rocks. Keeping the bait bumping the rocks or wood is often the key, and repeated casts to the area may even be important to triggering a bite. These are excellent areas to target, especially in a river system where dirty water keeps fish tight to shallow cover and susceptible to the square bill.

Although it can be frustrating at times, snapping the bait through weeds is another strength of the square bill. That’s why they work well as search bait on many of the weedy flats in my home state of Michigan. Sometimes it’s a simple as picking off individual fish roaming a vast flat, but a couple bites can also dial you in to where a school is holding. One of the biggest strengths the square bill has over all the other “moving baits” is that you can still get bit when it is calm. Wind certainly helps, but flat water is not a deal breaker. Since the square bill is fairly realistic and changes directions when it deflects, it still triggers bites.

For the most part, the brighter colors are going to shine in dirty water, and more natural colors in clear water. A square bill does a great job imitating shad, bluegills, crayfish and many other prey items. So if you have an idea of what they are feeding on, “match the hatch” with the square bill color.

This muskie bit a square bill meant for smallmouth bass on Lake St. Clair. (Courtesy Jeff Elliott)

This muskie bit a square bill meant for smallmouth bass on Lake St. Clair. (Courtesy Jeff Elliott)

Square bills are effective on both smallmouth and largemouth, making them a great choice for lakes where both species are present. It will usually be obvious which species you’re going to catch by the habitat type, but sometimes they intermingle. I’ve even caught a largemouth and a smallmouth at the same spot on the same crankbait. In addition to bass, I’ve found just about any predator species will bite a square bill given the right opportunity. Pike, walleye, drum, muskie, crappie and even big perch are common.

No matter what type of water you fish, there is some sort of shallow cover to attack and create a reaction bite. If you haven’t tossed a square bill around your local lake, give it a shot this spring, you won’t be disappointed.

Top image: A spring largemouth from Portage Lake. (Courtesy Jeff Elliott)

About Jeff Elliott

Jeff Elliott is a 2014 Bassmaster Team championship qualifier. He has 75 tournament wins, including the 2012 Detroit Lions/Kevin VanDam Charity tournament. He is a seven-time points champion and a Bust'in Sticks TV show champion.

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