(Editor's note: The following is the latest installment in a series of fishing tips presented by The Bass University. Check back each Friday for a new tip.)
No serious bass angler needs to be convinced of how effective square-bill crankbaits can be, but Mark Zona thinks that many of us can expand their horizons in our day-to-day fishing.
“If you look at how a square-bill is utilized, generally it’s a very, very target-oriented bait,” he said. That includes a variety of visible cover, but it almost always means short casts and relatively heavy line. In recent years Zona has expanded his square-billing significantly, to areas off the bank where you can’t see your targets, like gravel bars and stump fields. For fish that see a wide variety of lures, this is often a different look.
He’s usually targeting water in the 4- to 8-foot range, so that often requires downsizing his line from the 17- to 20-pound test that many anglers prefer in shallow laydowns or along riprap. “You need to control this bait more than ever with the line,” he said. When he’s looking to get his bait 3- to 5-feet deep, he’ll employ 15-poun Seaguar AbrzX, but when more depth is necessary he’ll drop down to 12, or even 10.
Another difference between this style of fishing and cranking around traditional targets is that instead of making short pitches or roll casts, he’s trying to “launch that thing” like you would with a lipless crankbait. Accordingly, he uses a 7’2” Daiwa Tatula glass rod, which also absorbs the shock of the bite. He pairs it with a lower speed reel, like a 6.3:1 Tatula, but this technique is all about power winding. There’s no moderation at all – he cranks hard and tries to create a reaction bite via speed and deflections. “Speed is what kills with a square-bill crankbait,” he said. “You don’t ever want them to get a look at it or think about it.” He expects hard strikes in any water over 45 degrees.
He’s careful to change his hooks to maximize strike-to-land ratios, always swapping out factory hooks for short-shank Trokar EWGs. He’ll put No. 6 trebles on a size 1.0 lure, No. 4s on a 1.5 and No. 2s on a 2.5.
Another adaptation he’s made to adjust to a different environment is a change in his overall color palette. When cranking shallow visible targets, he tends to utilize shad colors in clear water and various chartreuse patterns in stained or dirty water. When throwing a square-bill offshore, he deviates from those preferences.
“I want that thing to mimic more of a crawdad or a dark bluegill color,” he said. The retrieve is still the same, though. “You cannot reel it fast enough to get it away from them sometimes,” he explained. Additionally, there’s something about that bill shape that makes it come through wood, gravel, stumps and boulders equally well, just about everything but thick grass. “You can literally throw this thing into anything and your chances of snagging it are slim to none.”
If you want to learn some of Zona’s additional tips for maximizing your offshore square-bill success, and see some of the oddball species catches it generates, check out his full on-the-water video, available only by subscribing to The Bass University TV.