Smallmouth candy: square bill crankbaits can create exciting reaction strikes.

Smallmouth candy: square bill crankbaits can create exciting reaction strikes. Photo: Eric Boyd.

Squaring Up Fall Smallmouth
By Eric Boyd

Kayak fishing for river smallmouth bass has traditionally been a game of grubs, small in-line spinners, and floating minnows. As I have grown as a river fisherman, I have moved away from the smaller minnow imitations and learned to match a different forage type, particularly in the fall.

Crayfish and sunfish are a large part of a smallmouth diet. The square bill crankbait is one of the best imitations of this forage. Whether you cast into logjams, pools, or the swiftest of riffles, a square bill can tempt the wariest of bronzebacks.

Deflections off of wood and rock often trigger reaction strikes. The wiggle is so enticing, square bills are also effective in open water, either burned or slow rolled.

Here are a few square bill "rules" to live by while kayak fishing the river:

1. Cast up stream and crank down with the current.

2. Cast to log jams and boulders. When found adjacent, hold on tight.

3. Cast parallel to rock ledges to find patrolling smallmouth.

4. Cast into the v-shaped water between rocks. Smallies hang out on the edges of these funnels awaiting a quick meal.

5. Use your square bill to search for cover. Large boulders often line the bottoms of slower river sections. I like to stand in my Coosa and make long casts with my square bill in order to find these boulders—and fish.

6. Stay in stealth mode by using your square bill instead of your paddle to maneuver your yak into position.  Make a short cast in the direction you wish to go and the resistance of the square bill on the retrieve will take you there.

7. Always remember Rule #1. Then again, there are exceptions to every rule!

Another satisfied smallmouth customer.

Another satisfied smallmouth customer. Photo: Eric Boyd.

The Strike King 1.5 and 2.5, and SPRO Little John are typical of productive square bill designs. For added appeal, I prefer to have my square bills custom painted to match a particular river’s forage. Custom Baits by Drew is one example. The most productive patterns I have found include natural crayfish, bluegill, and even smallmouth bass.

While smallie fishing from your kayak this fall, remember to match the river forage, play by the rules, and hold on—the bronzeback of your life may just jerk the rod out of your hand!

Eric Boyd is a passionate river kayak angler who dreams of fishing every stream in North Carolina. It’ll take a while. Follow the adventures of the Jackson Kayak fishing pro staffer on his blog