Getting Cranky

The new square-bills bust brush, slip snags, and take largemouths.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The "alphabet plugs"-Cordell's Big O, Bagley's Balsa B, and Rebel's Wee-R-initiated the modern age of bass crankbaits when they were introduced in the mid-1970s. These square-billed lures wobble vigorously, resist snags-the broad lip shields the hooks-and carom off cover. The more recent round-billed lures gained popularity, however, because anglers wanted crankbaits that dove deeper, ran a bit steadier, and created less water resistance.

But a new generation of square-bills is triggering strikes from bass because of their bull-in-the-china-shop action through cover. Variations in body type produce different wobbles, which you can match to specific conditions.

Fat-bodied square-bills like Bomber's Square A, Norman's Baby N, Strike King's Pro-Model 4S, and Worden's Timber Tiger are good in muddy water because their wavering action generates subsurface commotion that sight-restricted bass home in on. Thinner-bodied square-bills such as Bagley's B Flat and Stanford Lures' C Flat Special swim with a tight wiggle that appears more lifelike to sight-feeding bass in clear water, especially if you choose natural baitfish colors.

With either body type, take an aggressive approach. These lures are built for it.

Run the Shallow
Wood Bump square-billed crankbaits into stumps, windfalls, brush, and rocks. The hard contact sparks reflex strikes from bass. Stop cranking briefly if the lure gets wedged in, and let it float up to clear the cover. Such a pause also gives bass an opportunity to nail it.

This ploy paid off for me at Tennessee's Lake Chickamauga on a day when bites were hard to come by. I was fishing a large flat, dotted with brushy snags, in murky water 2 to 4 feet deep. A spinnerbait was the obvious choice. But when that didn't produce, I switched to a small Bagley Balsa B and ran it over every limb and branch I could find. The result: I caught 17 bass in a few hours of casting without snagging the lure. Why did it work? Because the square-bill knocked its way through the cover and triggered strikes.

Sneak Under Docks
Bass often suspend just a few feet beneath floating docks, even where the bottom is 20 or more feet deep. Retrieve a square-billed crankbait tight to all sides of the structure, and run it underneath by casting over the corners and sweeping the line under the dock. Don't neglect the walkways that connect the dock to the bank.

The supports of fixed docks provide bass with "leaning posts" where they can lounge in the shade and nab unsuspecting baitfish that wander too close. Bump these supports with your plug. Fixed docks often stand high enough over the water to let accurate casters sling crankbaits under them. If your casting skills are lacking, though, your lures will take a beating.

Play in the Pads
Fields of loose lily pads offer openings and lanes that let you bump a square-billed crankbait through the stems and over their hard root systems on the bottom. Few anglers bother cranking these plants, so most likely you'll show the bass something they haven't seen before, which often means more strikes.

Submerged grass, such as milfoil, hydrilla, and pondweeds, also give up bass to square-bills. Look for growth within 3 to 6 feet of the surface, and select a crankbait that dives just deep enough to clip the tops of the vegetation.

Use square-bills to surprise bass-with a vibration, profile, and in-your-face presence that makes them strike.