I reckon lure bibs (aka “diving lips”, “bills” or “beaks”) are one of the most misunderstood aspects of making wooden crankbaits. It’s understandable. Bib design is one of the most complex lure making concepts to get your head around. But crankbaits are one of the most versatile and valuable assets in your tackle box, so it’s worth figuring out.
The problem is, much of the info you’ll find about lure bibs is, to put it bluntly, wrong. A lot of BS gets passed from one lure maker to the next, sadly.
So in this article I’ll make the selection and design of lure bibs as simple as possible. Just be aware that there are many factors to consider, many exceptions to the rules and sometimes things just aren’t as predictable as you might expect!
First Thing: It Ain’t Just About The Lure Bibs…..
When it comes to figuring out bibbed lures it’s common to oversimplify. Often people assume the bib is the “be-all and end-all”. Fact: the diving lip is just one factor.
Think about race cars. Getting more power from the engine is the key to making a really fast car. But the brakes, shock absorbers, gearbox, tyres and everything else about the car need to work too. If you don’t adjust these to cope with the new, high powered engine the car probably won’t reach full speed.
The most obvious feature of a diving lure is the bib. But changing lure bibs without regard to body shape, weighting, tow point configuration and other factors is a common mistake. All of these features must work in harmony to give the action and diving depth you’re after. And making a significant change to the bib alone usually won’t get the result you’re after. Adjustments in other areas are almost always needed.
Bottom line: diving lures are about more than just bibs. Try to think of your lure designs as a whole, not as individual parts. A change to any one part usually means adjusting other parts too.
Gentlemen, Size Does Matter! Bigger Equals Deeper.
For lure makers, size is not just some macho, change room ego thing. The size of your….. errr…. lure bibs, really matters – especially their length. So let’s look at why.
Remember Newtons third law? (Bet you never thought high school physics might be useful in lure making!) Well, here’s the fishing version:
The Length Of Lure Bibs Primarily Affects Diving Depth
A floating lure sits on the water surface because the upward force of buoyancy is stronger than the downward force of gravity. For the lure to dive you need to give gravity a hand, which is exactly what lure bibs do. Water striking the bib creates a downward force. The more downward force you create the deeper your lure can dive, all other things equal.
So how do you increase downward force? Simple. Increase the length of the bib. Just as a bigger sail catches more wind or a bigger solar panel catches more sun, longer lure bibs catch more water. That creates more downward force and greater diving depth.
Now, there are a few other factors to consider if deep diving lures are your aim. You might like to check out my previous articles on designing deep diving crankbaits and correct weighting of deep diving hard baits.
Bib Length Vs Width
The other way to increase the force imparted on your lure by the bib is to increase its width. But if you’re hoping for greater diving depth then this strategy might disappoint. The truth is, bib width often doesn’t make that much difference to the diving depth.
The Width Of Lure Bibs Primarily Affects Wobble
Why not, you might ask?
Great question! It’s all about the direction that the force acts. Water striking a long diving lip acts in line with the lure body and creates a downward force. But water striking wider lure bibs tends to turn lure to the side because that’s the easiest path for the water to take. Depending on the shape of your lure body, this can cause a side to side shimmy, a roll or a wobble. Or any combination of the above, of course! As a general rule, the wider the bib, the stronger it will pull a lure to one side.
Lures with chunky, rotund bodies can often handle wider bibs than those with narrow, more slender bodies…. but not always! Once again, factors like weighting and tow point configuration also come into play.
Angle…..The Biggest Lie About Lure Bibs!
OK, now we’ve come to one of my pet hates. It’s the most common misunderstanding about diving lips – and it holds a lot of guys back. Sooner or later you’ll hear this crock of steaming garbage:
“To make a lure dive deeper, angle the bib up closer to horizontal. To make it run shallow angle the bib downwards!”
Frustration and wasted time lay ahead if you choose to believe this codswallop! Think back to Newtons Law of fishing lures…… To overcome buoyancy and make a dive deeper requires a greater downward force. Simply changing the angle of your lure bibs from vertical to horizontal does nothing to increase the force. It just changes the angle that the force acts.
The Angle Of Lure Bibs Controls Stability And Rate Of Dive
So if changing the bib angle doesn’t really affect dive depth that much, exactly what does it do? Allow me to clarify!
Long lure bibs catch more water and create greater force. But if you try and angle a long bib vertically you’ll find the lure doesn’t work. Why not? Because at that angle of the force destabilizes the lure and causes it to roll on it’s side before coming back to the surface.
Angling the bib upwards and making it more horizontal spills some of the water pressure in the initial stages of the dive and ensures a stable action once your lure reaches full depth.
By the way, the opposite is also true. Shorter lure bibs that are used for shallow runners usually need to be closer to vertical. They don’t create a lot of force, so angling them upwards reduces their efficiency and gives a lure with very little action. Angling them downwards ensures that they give the lure maximum action.
The bottom line here? It’s the bib length that creates the force for deeper diving, but it’s the angle of the bib that controls the direction of the force and balances the action needed for the lure to work.
Finally, there is a very important consideration for those who cast deep divers (as opposed to trolling them). The more horizontal the bib is set, the faster the lure will reach maximum depth. A cast lure only has a short distance to travel, so you need it to bottom out fast or it will zip past the fish before it reaches full depth. A horizontal lip helps with this.
Attributes Of Various Bib Shapes
So far we’ve addressed the length, width and angle of our lure bibs and how each of those affects the performance of our lures. But what about the overall shape? How does that affect the way your lures work?
I’m glad you asked, because once again there are plenty of misunderstandings!
Corners On Lure Bibs Increase Deflection And Create More Erratic Action
Bibs with rounded, squared or coffin shaped ends are the most common. There are a few other bib shapes out there, such as willow leaf and clover, but we’ll focus on the basic styles for now.
Rounded lure bibs are great because they tend to give a stable action. Curved edges minimize the problem of fine leaders or strands of weed getting snagged on the bib. On the other hand, square ended diving lips tend to give a slightly more erratic action. The corners can cause big, fish attracting deflections when they strike structure. And since they often have more surface area forward of the tow point, square lure bibs can sometimes give slightly greater diving depth.
Coffin-shaped lure bibs are a hybrid of the rounded and the square bib styles. As you’d expect, their performance is a balance of the pros and cons of each of the other styles. A very versatile style of bib that should be used more often.
You’ll often see square billed crankbaits referred to as being the most snag resistant. But if you’ve read my article on How To Make Lures That Dodge Snags you’ll know that all of these shapes have their place when you’re tossing lures into the woodwork.
Flat Vs Curved Lure Bibs – What’s The Diff?
I’ve discussed the virtues of dished crankbait lips previously, but it’s worth a quick refresher in this article!
Homemade wooden lures, usually have relatively simple bibs made from sheet material. These are almost always straight and flat. However, you’ll notice that many commercial lures sport curved, or even concave bibs. Commercial lure makers wouldn’t bother going to that extra effort if there wasn’t some kind of benefit to be had. So what is to be gained from more complex shaped lure bibs?
Complex Curves And Shapes Can Create A Little More “Oomph”!
Well, the benefits vary depending on the overall design of the lure. But here are the two main reasons for this development:
- Dished out, concave lure bibs create a little more turbulence in the way the water moves around the bib. In theory, this can make the action of the lure a little more erratic than a similar lure with a flat bib. How much effect the shape has depends on the bib design, body shape and weighting.
- To help maximize diving depth, longer bibs that curve upwards are sometimes used. Because of the trajectory of a deep diving lure and the angle of the line when the lure is down deep, this style of bib can keep the lure “burrowing down” that little longer.
Check out my Crankbait Masterclass for info on making more advanced lure bibs. I show the techniques that I use for making polycarbonate lure bibs for action and depth.
How Construction Materials Affect Bib Performance
If you’re in the process of choosing a material to make lure bibs from, here are a few factors to consider:
- Making large bibs from opaque materials changes the silhouette of your lure, which can be an advantage or a disadvantage. A large proportion of fish attack a lure from below, so a large metal or painted lip can make the lure look much bigger to the fish than one with a clear plastic bib.
- Flex in lure bibs results in a loss of power to the lure, usually with reduced diving depth. Many molded plastic lures have heavily reinforced bibs for exactly this reason.
- Clever weighting can overcome the impacts that large bibs have on the balance of a lure. Metal lure bibs are notorious for putting weight forward of the tow point, causing a head down action that may need correction by weighting the belly.
- For medium to deep divers the tow point is almost always situated on the bib, rather than in the lure body. This requires good strength not only of the bib, but the lure body where the bib enters. Metal or polycarbonate are good choices. I usually recommend through wiring diving lures that have polycarbonate bibs
Have I got you thinking about materials for making your own lure bibs? I hope so! But perhaps it might be helpful to provide a quick “pro’s and con’s” summary of the main materials used for this purpose?
Different Bib Materials Give Different Results…. Choose Wisely!
Here we go!
- Polycarbonate (aka Lexan) is my favorite material for making lure bibs. It’s strong, clear, fairly easy to work with and not too hard (or costly) to get. I use everything from 1mm through to 3.5mm thick Lexan for my lures.
- Circuit Board is a fiber reinforced material. It’s not as clear as Lexan, but it’s very strong and pretty easy to work with. Circuit board has the reputation of getting lures down deeper (other things equal) because it is very rigid for its thickness. I do love using circuit board for bibs. But I can’t honestly say I’ve seen significant gains in diving depth compared with the thicker polycarb bibs of the same surface area. The main advantage is the very thin bib slot for a circuit board lip, which doesn’t weaken the wood as much. Complex dished or curved bibs aren’t an option because circuit board can’t be easily bent.
- Stainless steel is a great material for lure bibs. Bulletproof, it increases the profile of the lure and adds flash that often helps saltwater lures. But for the average Joe stainless isn’t the easiest stuff to work with. Often that means accepting the available pre-cut sizes and shapes.
- Aluminum sheet can be cut, bent and shaped pretty easily by recreational lure makers. It dulls quickly, so doesn’t offer the flash of stainless, but can be painted to match the lure body. Aluminum tends to get bent during fishing, but can be bent back to shape pretty easily. In fact, the ability to bend and adjust the bib during fishing can sometimes be quite beneficial.
Troubleshooting Lures: It’s Not Always The Bibs…….
Because of the complexity of lure bibs it’s natural that’s where the problem lies when a new design doesn’t work as expected. Yet, many times it’s not actually the bib design that’s causing the problem. A simple adjustment to the weighting of the lure can often rectify a problem – I’ve seen that one often. I’ve seen just as many lures where an adjustment to the towpoint location fixed a shortcoming.
So here are a few final thoughts on some problems that are often blamed on lure bibs…… but are actually some other design or construction fault:
- Perfect symmetry and proper alignment of lure bibs is super important. An asymmetrical or misaligned bib creates an unstable action that reduces lure performance. Sometimes with careful tuning the lure might reach an acceptable standard. Other times not.
- Before switching out a diving lip on an under performing lure, check that the lure is properly tuned. Misaligned towpoints or hook hangers can throw a lure off balance and can be a lot easier to fix than a bib.
Tip: Check These Before Assuming The Bib Isn’t Working!
- Correct weighting of hard baits can make a massive difference. Deep divers often need a little ballast to stabilize the action and let those long lure bibs do their thing.
- The body might not be perfectly symmetrical. This can overshadow the best bib design and impact on lure performance. Check out my article “How To Make Crankbaits That Behave Perfectly” for tips on how to overcome this issue.
- The shape of the lure body can have a big influence on action, diving depth and other factors. Time and again I’ve shown that two lures with the same bib size, shape and angle as well as the same towpoint location and internal weight can have different actions and diving depths. The only difference is how the body shape interacts with the forces created by the bib.
- The location of the towpoint is all-important. Lure bibs only work to full effectiveness when the oncoming water strikes the lure at the correct angle. The towpoint location is what determines that angle. Moving it forward or backwards to find the “sweet spot” can dramatically change action and diving depth of a lure.
As I said at the very beginning, there are always exceptions and there are often unexpected outcomes. That’s one of the cool things about making your own lures. But hopefully this article has got you thinking. Maybe we’ve cleared up a few misconceptions that might have been keeping you from reaching full potential. I hope so, anyway.
Please remember to view everything as a whole. Whether you’re designing a lure, modifying one or troubleshooting it’s rarely effective to ficus on lure bibs without looking at all of the other factors as well.
Oh, and please feel free to leave comments or questions below!
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