The five main styles
1. Shallow diving square bills
2. Shallow diving circuit board bills (bill is composed of different material, though can come in any shape)
3. Shallow diving round bills
4. Shallow diving flat sided crankbaits
5. Shallow diving coffin bills
Shallow Diving Crankbaits
Shallow diving crankbaits can be useful in just about any body of water. From canals, rivers, reservoirs, to lakes shallow diving crankbaits can be fished through all sorts of environments.
Primarily, squarebills are known to perform well around and through some of the most snag-prone cover, such as submerged trees and brush pilings. Squarebills are able to deflect off such objects with little snags due to the shape of their bills. The “square”- shaped bill naturally causes the crankbaits body to role almost sideways (creating a motion of dodging the branch, or stump) when it comes into contact with it. This dramatic wobble of the crankbait causes many reaction strikes from nearby bass. If direct bottom contact or contact with cover does not cause a reaction strike, pausing the bait right after it comes in contact with an object can make that bass more in-tuned with the bait, then as you resume the retrieve that bass is more likely to lunge out. Overall, squarebill crankbaits are great for shallow waters (3-5 ft) and outperform most other crankbaits around timber, rocks pilings, and rip-rap banks.
But when should you be throwing squarebills? Well another characteristic that square-shaped bill provides is a very wide, aggressive wobble. Generally, baitfish have more body movement in warmer water, and being the very thing you are trying to mimic, using a crankbait with a wide wobble in warmer water temps reflects the action of the bait that bass are preying on. But “warmer water temps” is not necessarily referring to the dead heat of summer. Being a very shallow water bait, the squarebill is primarily a springtime / fall-time lure. Therefore using a squarebill during the warmest times of a given day, or week in those seasons is when it shines.
Aside from mimicking a baitfish, you can use a squarebill the intention of creating a reaction strike. This is when color matching matters less and bright, flashy colors work like a charm. Bass cannot stand colors such as bright red, chartreuse, and flashy patterns. So using crankbaits with those colors, and aggressively fishing them to not let the bass get to good of a look at the bait can trigger sudden reaction strikes from those bass that have a bite instinct.
Unlike the aggressive wobble of a squarebill, round-billed crankbaits have a less erratic motion when moving through the water. Most round-billed crankbaits have a tighter side to side wobble due its shape. This makes a round-billed crankbait the perfect tool for highly pressured waters. If you are going to fish a stretch of bank that you know has recently been fished using squarebills, changing it up by using a round bill crankbait will give the bass a different and less invasive action to look at. Aside from horizontal action a round-billed crankbait can dive to its max depth quicker than a squarebill because its bill induces less resistance. This can be a big advantage over a squarebill in close quarters if you need the bait the reach bottom quickly. But are there any other times other than in high pressure situations which calls for a round-billed crankbait? Well they are a good choice to pick, along with other flat sided crankbaits when the water has a temperature drop. this is because the tighter wobble mimic’s a real baitfish’s action when the water temp drops. An example of this is a cold front. If you were catching them on an aggressive squarebill before the cold front, and you think they might attack a crankbait afterwards then a crankbait with a more mild action may “appear” as an easier meal to a bass.
The Coffin Bill
A coffin-billed crankbait essentially is a squarebill crankbait with an extended lip, allowing it to dive deeper than the traditional squarebill. This is useful when you are not so sure what depth you are fishing, or if the bank you are throwing it towards has a steep drop off.
Flat Sided Crankbaits
Flat sided crankbaits come with square-bills, round-bills, and coffin-bills. the difference is in the crankbait body. The body is skinnier or flatter, hence “flat-sided crankbait”. the direct result of this is in the action. The skinny body creates more resistance to the side to side action, resulting in less side to side movement. As mentioned earlier, crankbaits with a very tight wobble scream cold water. So these are great crankbaits for overall cold water, or for short term water temp drops.
Conclusion + Alternatives
Shallow diving crankbaits are meant to be hit against, and bounced off objects to diverge its direction and to create commotion. when this happens any nearby bass can be triggered to attack the crankbait through instinct, rather than hunger. Therefore you can catch bass on a crankbait even when it doesn’t want to eat.
But what is the bass are being finicky? if you cast up into the shallows and see wake swimming in the other direction of the crankbait this can indicate that those bass are very sensitive to aggressive motions. In these situations you can experiment with small spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, or swimbaits.
Spring: relatively slow retrieve, or stop and go retrieve at slow to medium pace
Summer: fast retrieve, or stop and go retrieve at fast pace
Fall: slow back down, or stop and go retrieve at medium to slow pace
Hold your rod tip slightly down (slightly below horizontal) and at roughly a 130-150 degree angle to the line (180 would be parallel to line) to achieve maximum sensitivity or hold the rod tip down for the crankbaits maximum depth
and bottom contact. It is important to experiment with this to find a happy-medium between depth and sensitivity.
- Rod: anywhere from a 6’9″ to a 7’1″ rod is recommended, Power: medium to medium-heavy, Action: medium-fast taper. As far as rod type, some prefer a graphite rod for its sensitivity, I prefer a glass rod for its parabolic action and ability to hold tension with a fish’s head shakes
- Reel: 5:4:1 – 6:3:1 gear ratio reels, although you can use a higher speed reel and just slow your retrieve speed
- Line: 14-17 lb fluorocarbon or 20-30 lb (braid) to a fluorocarbon leader. use lighter line if you want to the bait to achieve maximum depth, and heavier line when fishing the bait through brush and dense cover.