As trees continue to decay and reach the point where they are little more than logs, the strike zone really starts to narrow down. Spinnerbaits, ChatterBaits and topwaters are still great options for these types of trees, but this is where a squarebill crankbait really starts to shine. Taking a squarebill and “scraping the bark off” a tree as my dad likes to say, is one of the best ways to catch high-pressure fish around shallow cover.
Again, you’ll want to approach these laydowns from the end. And if there are a few deeper limbs, I would still start with something other than the squarebill. A spinnerbait is the best bait in a year-round sense, so it’s always a good place to start, especially if there’s a little stain or muddiness to the water.
When fishing a spinnerbait through the end of a tree, be sure you slow your retrieve the closer you get to the boat, especially in cold water. A spinnerbait naturally pendulums back up as it nears the boat if it’s reeled on a steady retrieve. So you don’t want to be right on top of the cover and you want to slow your retrieve a little as you go. That way the bait can continue to bump through those last few limbs.
After you’ve efficiently fished the end of the tree, move to the trunk with a squarebill. You want to let the squarebill help you as much as possible. So let the bait work itself through the cover. When you come up to the elbow of a limb or knob shooting off the main trunk, slow your retrieve slightly, allowing the bait to float up a little but making sure to keep tension on the line so the bait stays nose down and the bill is the only thing to make contact with the cover.
Don’t get frustrated if you get snagged, because it will happen. If you’re not hanging up from time to time, you’re not fishing your bait close enough to the cover. Unless you mistook a limb for a bite, you can usually pop your bait undone. There’s no need for a heavy hookset anyway with a squarebill as the fish will hook themselves. Instead, just treat every bump in the water like a limb and you’ll get hung a lot less but still hook the fish when the bite comes.
If you do get hung to the point you have to go get it, just be stealthy about it. You can often ease up to a laydown (especially in stained water), retrieve your bait, back off the cover and still get a bite. And if you have a lot of faith in a particular laydown, don’t be afraid to fish it from the inside after all other efforts have failed. On rare instances, I have tried this different angle and triggered key bites by positioning my boat at the base of the tree and throwing out through the deeper limbs. But this is definitely not a starting point when fishing a laydown and drastically increases your chances of getting snagged and spooking fish.