Editor’s Note: This submission comes from TFO ambassador Burnie Haney, who offers some interesting strategy for smallmouth bass.
Oftentimes in our conversations about smallies the topic of topwater plugs, jerkbaits or the drop shot get the most attention, and yes, they all catch fish. However, one technique that isn’t talked about as much is casting squarebill crankbaits for smallies. In many regions of the country bass anglers are well-versed in casting squarebills in and around wood or over rock rubble for largemouth, but there are also many anglers who have yet to pick up a squarebill when they’re specifically targeting smallies. Below are a few squarebill presentations I’ve used over the past 15 years when I’m out chasing Great Lakes smallies and clear-water smallies in general.
Smallies are a fish with big attitude, and they get pissed off when you hook em, which is why I like them so much. And once you get them in the net or in the boat, they’ll show you just how sassy they can be. For this very reason I have a couple recommendations that can better prepare you for this close encounter. Wear a quality pair of polarized sunglasses; this allows you to see where and how well the fish is hooked as you get it near the boat, and should the fish throw the lure as you attempt to land it, the glasses prevent a treble hook from hitting you in the eye.
Another handy item is a good set of needle nose pliers or a hook-out device. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than trying to pop out a treble hook and it finds the flesh on your thumb or finger with a pissed off smallie still attached to the other end. Now I realize that may sound weird to some folks and you could be thinking if treble hooked baits are that dangerous why throw them at all? I can only say I throw them because they flat out catch fish and that’s what I’m all about. So being prepared for a hook in the hand should the unthinkable occur isn’t all together a bad thing, either. Now having said that, if you use the needle nose pliers, you’ll greatly reduce your odds of getting hooked in the hand.
Rigging Up & The Presentation
I do most of my squarebill fishing with the TPM CB 7105-1, 7-10 MH power rod. I keep two of these rods rigged, one with a 6.3:1 reel and the other with a 5.1:1 reel. Both reels are spooled with 8-pound. Cortland Master Braid (Moss Green). I set the drag so the line slips just a tad on the hookset. What I most enjoy about this setup is it lets me make 35 yard casts or longer which is super important whenever I’m chasing clear-water smallies and the rods moderate action doubles as a good shock absorber on the strike while the braided line provides rock-solid, long-distance hooksets.
As for the two different retrieve speeds, during low light conditions I’ll use the 5.1:1 reel and once the sun gets up good I prefer the 6.3:1. If I notice multiple fish are chasing the hooked fish back to the boat, then I may pull out an 8.3:1 reel and turn-on-the-burn. I’ve found with clear-water smallies you can use speed as a trigger, especially so when you’re around a bunch of actively feeding fish. It seems to make them more aggressive as they race each other to get to the bait first.
Most of my clear-water squarebill fishing for smallies is focused in 3 to 7 feet of water in and around slate shoals or rock rubble areas. And if the area has some scattered vertical vegetation near it, that’s even better. What works for me is firing a cast out employing a steady retrieve trying to contact the hardbottom area. When the lure contacts the tops of any perimeter vegetation, the braided line is great because a hard snap of the rod tip will make the lure explode out into open water, which can stimulate a strike from a following fish.
Early in the season when the water temps are 58-65 degrees, I usually start with a 1.5 squarebill. As the summer progresses and the water warms into the mid-70s to 80-degree range and the bait (baitfish and crayfish) get bigger, I’ll use the 2.5 squarebill more, but even then I usually start my day with the 1.5 and I’ll let the fish tell me what size they prefer.
I use Lucky Craft squarebills; keep in mind there are many brands available and for this style of fishing getting the bait to deflect off the hard-bottom area is what triggers the most strikes. I recommend you find a squarebill bait that you like best then try it out on different size lines and retrieve speeds until you find it regularly bumping bottom. Once you get that dialed in then it’s just a matter of locating what areas of your lake or river are holding the actively feeding smallies.
I try to keep my color choices simple. I’ll use a Mad Craw (Red Craw) early in the spring, switch up to a Chameleon Brown Craw in the warmer summer months and mix in a Perch or Shad imitator as the season progresses. Day in and day out those four colors will usually get you bit anywhere you go.
Remember with squarebills seeking hard-bottom areas that provide deflection opportunities with a steady retrieve is usually the best option, but on some days, they’ll also work along the weed lines with a stop-and-go retrieve. Let the fish tell you how they want it and don’t forget speed as a trigger anytime you’re around a group of feeding smallies because their competitive nature can get the better of them resulting in more hook ups for you.
Good luck and be sure to post photos of those catches. Comments, questions about fishing for smallmouth? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.
About the Author
Burnie Haney is a Licensed U.S. Coast Guard Captain owner & operator of New York Fishing Adventures based out of Henderson Harbor NY on Lake Ontario. He’s a member of the Jefferson County Sports Fishery Advisory Board to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) Region 6 Fisheries Chief and he serves as the Jefferson County Sportsman’s Representative to the NY DEC Region 6 Fish and Wildlife Management Board. Haney holds two International Game Fish Association (IGFA) New York State line class records (smallmouth bass and walleye) and the IGFA All-Tackle Length World Record for Chain Pickerel. You can find out more about Burnie here.