Straining the Water with Square-bill Crankbaits

The giggle from the back of the boat indicated that I was about to go down one more fish. The morning was not going my way. Our daughter, Erin Taylor Young, was giving me a fishing lesson from the back of the boat. However, there was no splash or “Need the net” call, just another giggle.

Looking back to see what triggered the humor, she pointed to the concrete seawall we were fishing. There were wet splash marks on the concrete every 12 to 14 inches.

“Is that what you meant by straining the water?” she asked

We were fishing for Kentucky (spotted) bass along concrete seawalls lined with rocks and boulders. Our lures were square-bill crankbaits, like the legendary Bagley Balsa B and Rebel Wee R. Sadly, the Wee R is no longer in production. The game plan was to cast our lures close to the seawall in 14 to 18 inches of water, then reel the lures fast to bump and bounce off the rocks.

Erin was straining the water from the back of the boat, making frequent close-together casts, assuming the fish would not travel far to strike her lure.

Talk about being whipped at your own game. This was a technique I had previously taught her based on lessons learned 45 years ago by reading Buck Perry’s structure fishing manuals and while fishing tournaments in Illinois.

Buck Perry was a master at straining the water by repeatedly trolling lures at various depths across points and underwater irregularities. He wanted his lures to cover all depths from the surface to the bottom, making passes slightly deeper each time until he found fish.

Anglers can also strain the water while casting lures. My first exposure to this was while fishing a tournament on Rend Lake with the late Billy Phillips from Tennessee. Phillips manufactured spinnerbaits under the name of Little Jewel and fished from a 17-foot-long, aluminum V-bottom boat with a 40-hp outboard. The steering system was a homemade cable system with a makeshift steering wheel bolted to the front gunwale.

When Phillips fished a shoreline, he ran the trolling motor on the slowest speed so he could make frequent casts about 12 inches apart. He was a marvel of accuracy and thoroughness, straining the water with his casts. Those were the days of the black, Lew’s Speed Stick fiberglass rods and Ambassadeur 5000 reels—perfectly suited for fishing in close quarters.

When questioned about the thorough way he strained the water, Phillips would answer, “I don’t know how far the bass will chase a lure today, or any day for that matter, so I take no chances, preferring to put my spinnerbait in their face where I can.”

His logic seemed sound; there is no way to know how far a bass might move to intercept a lure. His tournament successes proved this theory.

Another of Phillips’ habits was to stick his rod into the water about 2 feet, and swirl his spinnerbait around the outside of submerged brush as his boat passed in front of it.

“You can’t imagine how many bass I catch doing this,” he replied, when questioned about the technique.

Of course, I dismissed the concept as wishful thinking. That is, until a 3-pound bass nailed his spinnerbait. Chalk up one new convert.

Back to the moment at hand, as Erin had been straining the water effectively with her Balsa B, outfishing me handily. I had not been straining the water, forgetting what I had learned and taught her. Then I realized she caught one of her fish on a dock corner while dragging her lure close to the dock while holding the rod tip underwater.

Yeah, now I was totally embarrassed, but delighted at how well she learned.

One of the points of this article is to remind anglers that the square-bill season is just around the corner. Largemouth and spotted bass will soon be running shad and bluegills along rocky shorelines and dock corners.

A square-bill crankbait gets its name from how the bill or lip is square instead of rounded or oval shaped. Because of its design, the square lip helps prevent the hooks from snagging on rocks and submerged wood, whereas a round bill has less deflection; ergo, more snags.

Twenty years ago when this scenario occurred, anglers had few choices for shallow-running crankbaits with square-bills.

Today, anglers can choose from a plethora of this lure style. For some square-bill examples, check out the Bass Pro Shops XPS Square Bill, Bandit Flat Maxx, Bomber Square “A,” Berkley Flicker Shad, Jackall Aska square-bills, LiveTarget Squarebill, Livingston Dive Master, Luck-E-Strike Rick Clunn RC2 Square Bill, Norman Lures Professional Edge Fat Boy, Rapala Scatter Rap Crank Deep, Storm Arashi Rattling Square and the Strike King KVD Rattling square-bill.

Square-bill season also marks colder water and the danger of hypothermia. Anglers should dress for the water temperature instead of the air temperature, wear floatation devices and ensure someone knows where you plan to fish.