Outfit Matches & Misfits – lipless, squarebill

Outfit Matches & Misfits – lipless, squarebill

Aug 3, 2012

Outfit Matches and Misfits: Technique – Crankbait Fishing

Crankbait Tackle Logic with Dan Johnston, St. Croix Rod

 Part II: Gearing up for squarebills and lipless crankbaits…and line logic

Interviewed and edited by Mike Pehanich

In Part 2 of this exclusive Small Waters Fishing interview, SWF  editor Mike Pehanich picks up with. Dan Johnston of St. Croix Rod on a discussion of tackle for squarebill and lipless crankbaits. See Part I for the fundamentals of rod, reel and line selection for crankbait fishing, criteria for rod length selection, and the “Outfit Misfits” – the most common mistakes anglers make in selecting the components of their crankbait tackle. 

Gearing up for squarebills

Mike Pehanich, SWF: Let’s take two of your examples – squarebills and lipless crankbaits – and walk through the logic behind your rod, reel and line choices.

Dan Johnston, St. Croix Rod: Square-billed crankbaits are just a national craze. All the Elite Series guys are throwing them. They use these baits on rods that have a relatively soft taper. You want the rod to bend significantly in the blank.

The reasons for this are several. First, the crankbait gets a lot better action in the water. But more importantly, when a largemouth bass strikes a crankbait, it doesn’t bite down like an alligator. It sucks water in and draws the bait into its mouth. It’s sucking the bait like a vacuum, usually from the side or behind.

If you have a rod that is too stiff, you will take the bait away from the fish when it goes to inhale it. You won’t even know it’s happening! This is one of the intrinsic benefits of a (technique-specific) crankbait rod that average fishermen don’t even know is benefitting them. We are reeling and all of a sudden the rod loads with the weight of a fish.  It doesn’t “kerthunk”; it just loads up. That is what you want. It means the fish has the bait. And this is a big, big, big deal, especially when you are using those small squarebills.

Gearing up for lipless crankbaits

SWF: What are you looking for in your tackle components when fishing lipless crankbaits?

DJ: I demonstrated the biggest point about lipless crankbait tackle to a group of outdoor writers recently.  We threw five different types of lipless baits, all around ¼ ounce, to walleye positioned in two feet of water. Any kind of lipless crankbait would have worked as long as it was light enough so that it didn’t get hung up in the rocks.

What was important was that your bait had to bump something. We wanted to pound the top the rocks in two to three feet of water. When you bumped, you paused your bait for just a split second, and that’s when they hit it.

But it was critical to have a rod long enough to pick up the slack, because the fish were hitting on the pause every single time. If I had had a 6-0 (six feet, 0 inches)rod, I would have had to run to the back of the boat to set the hook. That was the point I was trying to get across to the writers.

The 7-2 medium moderate Rage rod (RC72MM) and the Legend Tournament Small Cranker (7-2, medium moderate) were absolutely perfect. I didn’t have to move to bury the hooks. All I had to do was “sweep set,” because the length of the rod picked up the slack. That was the Number One feature that accounted for the rod performance.

The added benefit was I could cast that light bait a mile! Yes, lipless crankbaits are very aerodynamic, but, with the length of these rods, we could cast these small ¼-ounce into the teeth of a wind over these big, wide-open chunk rock flats. Distance was more important than accuracy, because if you got the boat too close, you would spook the fish. We had the perfect rods for what we were doing.

I should point out that fishing a 1/2 ounce ‘Trap” on this rod wouldn’t be as good. We were casting very small, very light lipless crankbaits. The 7-2 Rage (RC72MM) and (Legend Tournament TBC72MM) Small Cranker were ideal for throwing these lures around that ¼-ounce parameter, but not for a ½-ounce bait and certainly not for a ¾-ounce. The 7-8 medium heavy Rage (RC78MHM ) and (Legend Tournament) Big Cranker (TBC78MHM) would be incredible for those heavier lures!

Q: You discussed the importance of a soft taper on your crankbait rod. For some crankbaits and applications, you still need strength and backbone. And when does “soft” become “too soft?”

Dan Johnston: Good question. And best way I can answer is to tell what St Croix does.

Our basic crankbait rods have moderate deflection. Basically, that means it will bend toward the middle of the rod. Unlike a traditional fast action rod, which bends closer to the tip, the flex in a crankbait rod is spread throughout the rod.

Personally, I use a medium heavy moderate more for cranking, because I can use a bigger bait, cast into the wind a lot better, and can use heavier line. It is also more versatile. You can throw a wider variety of crankbaits with it.

But this is important: though it is a “medium heavy, “ it still has a “moderate” flex, so the rod still bends further back in the blank. If you compare a 7-1/2 foot medium heavy jig rod that bends at the tip with a 7-1/2 foot medium heavy moderate, both will be medium heavy in terms of overall rod power, but each will bend differently in the blank. Having a bend that goes further into the blank is of paramount importance in crankbait fishing.

But we have gone a step further to develop what I think is the best deep-diving crankbait on the market, the Legend Tournament Magnum Cranker. (It is a 7’, 10-inch rod with heavy power and moderate action.) We designed it for deep-diving, hard-pulling crankbaits like the Norman DD22, a lure that dives to 22 feet to reach deep fish out on ledges in a post-spawn recovery pattern, for example. On deep reservoirs, the pros just whack bass on big baits like this, but they haven’t had rods well-tailored to the task.

Until a couple of years ago, a lot of guys had been throwing these baits on flipping sticks because of the length of the rod. The bite was coming 15 to 17 feet down and, with a six-foot rod they had no leverage to get a hookset. Also, a 7-1/2- to 8-foot rod will throw that bait a lot, lot further.

So we took that 8-foot rod, but gave it moderate flex. So if you try to get bit deep with fluorocarbon or braid or even monofilament, the fish is going to take the bait better. All other things being the same, the fish is going to get the bait better with a rod with moderate flex, moderate action.

Couple that with the fact that you can fish this rod effortlessly all day without getting fatigued!

What’s my line?

Q: Line choice becomes a significant decision in crankbait fishing, especially with fluorocarbon, monofilament and superlines (braid) offering very different attributes. What line or lines do you prefer for crankin’?

DJ:  Personally I am not an advocate of braid for most crankbait fishing. Some anglers might disagree, but most won’t. I am an advocate of “stretch” when I’m crankbait fishing. I want it in the rod, and I want it in the line.  Can I feel more with braid? Absolutely. Do I catch as many fish? No! Monofilament or fluorocarbon protect against my mistakes.

Again, I want that “soft load” when a fish hits, the feeling of something spongy like a wet sock. That’s all I want to feel. I catch them real well when I’m feeling that way. That’s what I liked about the extra stretch monofilament line provided me in the past.

But I am using fluorocarbon line more and more, because its sensitivity outweighs potential disadvantages such as its fast sink rate when you are fishing shallow, for example.

Fluorocarbon line is amazingly sensitive – much more so than monofilament. You can feel your crankbait hit the rock and actually feel the hit. “You feel the “thunk” in your hand when they hit on the pause. That’s what fluorocarbon gives you!

And when I am fishing that ¼-ounce ‘Trap with the longer rod, I can hold the rod high, and the sink rate won’t matter.

When we were casting that rock flat for walleye, I could feel the rock, could feel the fish hit. We were not reeling super-fast, but you wanted the nose of the bait to hit the rock and pound it. The strike felt like a jig hit in your hand.


  1. It’s actually a cool and useful piece of info. I am glad that you shared this useful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Met you at Fot Fish & have enjoyed your webb site. I love to bass fish, but am not a real stedunt. Always looking to pick up tips and enjoy hearing pros talk. Thanks,Ed

  3. Fun article, I surprisingly enjoyed studying it, keep doing the good work.

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