Bass Fishing With Shallow Diving Crankbaits
Crankbaits allow the angler to pick apart cover while triggering the bass’s aggressive instincts. Few lures can cover as much area with an “all-terrain” attitude as the crankbait.
These lures are great fun to use, too. Bouncing them off cover or submerged structures is almost as exciting as setting the hook and battling a headshaking largemouth.
Like any lure, shallow diving crankbaits are not to be fished 365 days a year, but when conditions suit, there is no better lure to throw. When we refer to shallow diving crankbaits, we’re really talking about lures that swim no more than six feet deep. This depth range allows most nearshore structures in lakes and ponds to be targeted.
Here we’re focusing on shallow diving crankbaits. For information on crankbaits in general, check out our crankbait guide.
Why Use Shallow Diving Crankbaits?
In the world of bass fishing, shallow crankbaits are known as being ideal for fishing structures that will hang up conventional lures. These crankbaits have bills (small plastic protrusions) on their front, which angles the lure down and acts to push snags away from the hook.
The vibration and shock caused by a crankbait crashing into a structure/the bottom triggers a predatory response in the fish. It is this predatory response that the shallow crankbait plays on, making them valuable options when fishing in murky water.
With that said, it is also true that the erratic pattern and increased noise associated with shallow diving crankbaits works well in clearer conditions; especially if bass are not taking to more subtle presentations.
A healthy bass falls victim to a shallow diving crankbait
Types of Shallow Diving Crankbaits
Take a walk down the aisles of any tackle shop, and it will quickly become clear that there are plenty of shallow diving crankbait options available. Shallow diving crankbaits can be classified into two styles: flat-sided crankbaits and squarebilled crankbaits.
These two categories should be fished differently and in different conditions. As such, we will approach the two separately.
How Flat-Sided Crankbaits Work
Flat-sided crankbaits are particularly slim, owing to their flat sides (instead of the more bulbous form of other crankbaits). This body shape creates a tight wobble that produces less commotion in the water and, generally, a reduced flash.
A flat-sided crankbait works wonders
A flat-sided crankbait ready to go
Gear for Flat-Sided Crankbaits
Due to the sluggish nature of bass in the colder months, your setup for flat-sided crankbaits can be scaled-down compared to other fishing styles.
10-12 lb monofilament or fluorocarbon is sufficient for shallow water crankbait fishing. The lighter line allows you to better feel the bottom/cover, which is a real benefit because detecting what the crankbait is bumping into can help locate (and land) more fish.
Slower retrieving reels are best when fishing flat-sided crankbaits. The need to keep the lure moving at a consistent speed, and in this case, a slower speed means a baitcasting reel with a 5.0:1 ratio is ideal.
A medium action 6-7″ rod is a great bass fishing & shallow crankbait fishing companion. You need a rod that can provide plenty of leverage against the fish, while being forgiving enough to stop the treble hooks from tearing out.
Fishing Flat-Sided Crankbaits
Different Spots to Target
Fishing a flat bodied crankbait means targeting bass where they are. Yes, that sounds obvious, but lethargic bass won’t chase lures very far in the winter months. Instead, bass will ambush their prey to conserve energy.
Look for shallow areas that hold heat. Clay banks with the sun’s rays on them will keep the water warmer than surrounding areas, even in winter. Stumps and blowdowns are also ideal cover that retain heat better than open water.
Make Contact With What You Can
The commotion from a crankbait connecting with a piece of cover will alert bass to struggling prey. The sudden change in direction following the collision will often prompt a reaction strike.
Make as much contact with underwater structures or the bottom as possible; this will slow your retrieve and hopefully bring in those reaction strikes.
Retrieve to Use
Cold water fishing with a flat-sided crank calls for a slow and constant retrieve. It’s often a joke, but in the case of a flat-sided crankbait, the old adage of “if you think you are reeling slow enough, reel slower” is 100% true. The slower your crankbait swims, the more chance you will have of a lethargic bass striking it. Even if your crankbait makes contact with an object, maintain the slow and steady retrieve.
Keep your rod tip low and when you feel a bite, set the hook by drawing your rod sideways. Let the flex in the line help you hook the fish.
For more information on crankbait retrieves, check out our total crankbait guide.
How Squarebilled Crankbaits Work
Squarebilled crankbaits have a traditional bulbous body shape and a distinctive squarebill that protrudes from the front of the lure. This combination gives these lures a comprehensive swinging motion and plenty of vibration to keep active fish interested.
Presents like a frantic bluegill
Gear for Squarebilled Crankbaits
12-16 lb monofilament or fluorocarbon line is sufficient for fishing squarebilled crankbaits for bass. Since these baits are buoyant, you don’t need to try and drag them through cover. If your lure gets stuck, pause your retrieve, and let the lure rise up and away from the snag.
A slower ratio reel, like a 5.0:1 or 6.0:1, is ideal for keeping your crankbait bouncing along the bottom. The steadier your retrieve, the more time you have to bounce the lure off submerged structures.
Just like a flat bodied crankbait, a standard 6-7″ medium action rod will provide the flexibility needed to keep pressure on the fish, while not ripping the treble hooks from its mouth.
If your rod is too stiff, you lose the ability to play the fish; too soft and the action of your lure becomes unreadable on the retrieve.
Fishing Squarebilled Crankbaits
Spots to Target
As bass move from their spring beds, they will concentrate on ambush points adjacent to deep water. A squarebill is an excellent choice for fishing a weedline because the bill acts like a plow, enabling it to push through grass and weed. Stumps and docks are also great areas to try out.
For information on deep diving crankbaits, check out our guide to fishing deep divers!
Make Contact With What You Can
As with flat-sided crankbaits, try to collide the lure into any submerged structures or cover. The sound and vibration caused is likely to trigger a reaction bite from any nearby bass.
Waters like these provide so many submerged options to collide into
Retrieve to Use
Squarebilled crankbaits require a steady retrieve at moderate speed. No need to run the lure back to you as fast as possible, as high speeds reduce the lure’s action and make it less effective.
A moderate pace should allow you to feel the vibration from the lure as it is pulled through the water and, at the same time, amplify the sound of the bait crashing into cover.
Top Tips for Shallow Diving Crankbaits
1. Consider Lure Color
Regardless of the style of crankbait, color is important. Look for crankbaits in darker colors like black or Junebug if fishing in murky conditions. Conversely, natural and lifelike options are the best performers in high visibility conditions.
Winter prey like shad makes white and silver flat bodied crankbaits a good choice. For squarebills, go for a pattern like bluegill or perch.
On sunny days, a high gloss finish produces more reflection and fishes better than a matte finish.
Take a look at our guide to selecting the best lure color for more detail.
Several shallow diving crankbaits in various colors, including Bright Beetle, Fire Bug & Green Tiger. Use different colors in different conditions.
2. Keep Your Gear in Check
It sounds simple, but by keeping your hooks sharp, you can ensure more hook-ups. Due to the lighter line used with shallow diving crankbaits, you need to do everything possible to help the fish hook itself. You can’t be yanking back with aggressive hooksets as you would if flipping and pitching.
Check your line frequently for nicks and abrasions. There is nothing worse than losing a monster because of a nicked line.
3. Consider When to Fish Them
The season for fishing each style of crankbait is different, but it depends on the water temperature.
In the winter period, flat bodied crankbaits are the better option. In reality, this means when the water temperature drops to between 40-60 degrees. For summertime fishing, the shallow diving squarebill will work best. Look for water temperatures between 70-90 degrees to fish these faster cranks.
4. Fish at Night
If activity on the water is too much during summer days due to boaters, swimmers, or even just other anglers, try running a squarebill at night. Your retrieve may need to be slower, but the vibrations and collisions on the bottom will draw big bass to hit like a freight train. Not to mention you won’t need sunblock.
You never know how effective crankbaits are at night until you give them a try
Fishing for bass with shallow diving crankbaits is a phenomenal way to continue to target fish throughout the year. By capitalizing on flat bodied or squarebilled crankbaits, anglers can probe shallow cover in the winter or summer for large fish.
Shallow diving crankbaits are not a lure that catches fish every day and in every condition. But when used tactically in the right situation, there is no better way to load up on big bass.