Cranking Up Deep Water Bass
The first time I saw the potential of deep water cranking was at a 1993 BASS Top 100 tournament, where I got drawn to fish as an amateur. On the third day of the tournament I got paired with Bassmaster Classic Champion David Fritts. That day we fished the ends of slow tapering points in about 15 feet of water. He was throwing a crankbait and I choose to throw a carolina rig. And although we were both throwing 'search' type baits he consistently drew more strikes. It was then I saw the true duality of deep cranking and that is being able to effectively search deep water and elicit a deflection or reaction bite at the same time. I consider deep water cranking to be anything deeper than 10 feet. My most normal range for deep cranking would be anywhere from 12 to 20 feet. Getting deeper than 20 gets to be a chore. The reason this technique is so good is simple. It is under utilized. Just not that many people feel comfortable throwing a diving plug in water deeper than 10 feet. One of the biggest mental concepts that I came up with to help me get over that 'deep' mental block is to compare the bottom depth with the length of my boat. When you are fishing a break-line in 18 feet of water look back at your boat. Most bass boats are about 18 feet long. That's really not that deep. It helps put your fishing into perspective.
I. A SEARCH TOOL - After that day with Fritts I began to take notice of the deep diving crankbait as a search tool. It allows you to cover vast amounts of water and gives you the ability to read the bottom. That's key. With a crankbait hitting the bottom I can feel where a mud bottom turns to rock or can bump that lone brush pile on the end of a point. Your crank bait is acting not only as a fish catcher, but also as a depth and bottom type finder. Using a deep diving crankbait in conjunction with your electronics helps you find those real isolated hot spots.
II. THE DEFLECTION FACTOR - just as in shallow water cranking, the deflection factor is key in catching about 90% of the fish. With the exception of cranking through suspended fish, your crankbait must change direction or speed to elicit a strike. On every cast I make a conscious effort to cause that bait to change direction (deflect). The most obvious way is to bounce off some form of cover. The ability for a crankbait to crash and bounce off of cover and to trigger that inactive, reaction type strike is uncanny. Even when the bait is running in open water or hitting clean bottom areas, I use techniques to cause that bait to change movement. Changing speeds is my biggest method. Also throwing a jerk or pause into the retrieve will have the same effect.
III. LINE SIZE AND LONG CAST - the use of line size and casting distance are two of the most important factors in deep cranking. On an average expect about a foot and a half depth change with every line size change. The heavier the line the shallower the crankbait will run. The lighter the line the deeper the crankbait will run. Knowing this you can use line size to determine and fine tune the running depth of your baits. Lighter line like 8-10 pound test can help a bait achieve maximum death.
Also casting length helps achieve maximum running depth of a crankbait. When deep cranking, I always try to make the longest possible cast. But I always keep a reference on where I want that bait to hit. I try and keep my designated target a little less than half way back to the boat. This means you should always over shoot your intended target when deep cranking.
IV. ROD POSITIONING - this is also a critical factor in achieving a desired depth. The lower the position of the rod the deeper a crankbait will ride. The higher the rod tip the shallower it will dive. In general when deep cranking I try and keep a low angle of the rod tip in about the 4 or 5 o'clock position. It's almost like your going to lean the rod on your leg. Besides gaining maximum depth, this low rod position will aid in the slight delay in hook set needed with crankbaits. When anything out of the ordinary is detected (pressure, line goes slack, stop feeling the vibration) I either start to sweep up or to the side. If it is indeed a fish I continue through with the sweep motion. If it's not a fish and is just say a stump, then I bring the rod immediately back down to it's original position. As the crankbait gets closer to the boat I will begin to slowly raise my rod tip until the bait is directly under the boat and the rod is in the 3 o'clock position. Use rod positioning to your advantage. Play with the positioning of you rod to achieve the perfect running depth. Also for extremely depth conditions consider the kneel and reel technique. It really does work!
V. RETRIEVE SPEED - This really depends upon the conditions. But as a general rule I use a medium fast retrieve until the bait has hit it's desired depth zone. I then bump down to a straight medium retrieve, occasionally slowing the bait down if I come in contact with cover. More than anything let the water temp. and activity mood of the fish determine your retrieve speed. (colder/less active= slower, warmer,more active=faster)
TACKLE and EQUIPMENT: I select crankbaits on the same principles established earlier. I am choosing an action and color based on conditions. Some of the ones I use include: Berkley Frenzy, Mann's Plus Series, Normand Ns, Fat Free Shads, and Risto Raps. I want to achieve the delay concept in my rods. I am looking for a rod with a soft flexible tip which will do three things. First, it will delay the hook set just a little bit, which is what you want with a crankbait. Second, it will allow me to land many more fish with these treble hooked lures. When the fish surges next to the boat the rod will give with the surge and the hooks will not pull out. And third, the soft tip will allow me to load up the rod on the cast thereby acheiving maximum casting distance. I use a Team Daiwa SLT cranking rod in a 7' length. This rod is a fiberglass and graphite mix. I specifically use the 7' rod when trying to achieve maximum casting distance. I use a medium ratio reel, not the super slow ratios like you've read about for years. I like to have the option to reel fast or slow. I also need a reel with a large spool capacity(for long cast) and great anti-reverse system. My choice is a Team Daiwa Millionaire with a 5.1 to 1 gear ratio.
In line, I most often use Berkley Vanish in sizes ranging from 8 to 14lb. test.
SUSPEND STRIPS - I use these when I want to get a suspending type of lure. I use them in conjunction with bigger hook replacement. I probably do this more in the early spring and in the heat of the summer more than any other time.