July 01, 2021
In Southern lakes, getting crankbaits to deeper cover and structure is critical for catching largemouth bass in the hot summer months. Bass seek cooler water for comfort and food, following the shad and bluegills that also move deeper.
Jigs and weighted plastic lures easily reach hard bottom and mussel-shell beds, but they don’t mimic the baitfish that bass are feeding on now like crankbaits do.
However, even the biggest, most deep-diving crankbaits can struggle to get down to the fish if you’re not set up correctly. Here’s how to get those crankbaits down and catch more fish on the deep crank.
TUNE TO RUN TRUE
Large, deep-diving crankbaits have a hard-plastic bill with a sharp edge. Unlike shallow-running square-bill crankbaits with a wider wiggle, deep-divers plunge more acutely and have a subtler action. However, bumping on rocks or a clay bottom can damage the bill, so check it regularly to ensure there are no significant dings or cracks that can alter the bait’s action during the retrieve. If you find big nicks, change baits or gently shave the edge to remove them.
If the bait is running to one side, the eye (to which the split ring is attached) could be bent. Using needle-nose pliers, gently bend the eye the opposite direction the bait is running. If it’s going right, tune to the left; if it’s running left, bend it right. “Gently” is the key word here. Cast to see how it’s running. If it’s true, keep fishing. If not, bend it a little more.
LIGHTEN YOUR LINE
After you’re lined up on a target and make a cast, it should be easy to figure out if you’re hitting the bottom, as you’ll be able to feel the lure bump along on clay, shell beds or rocks. If you’re not feeling the bottom, you’re not deep enough. While some bass may bite a crankbait not that’s hitting the bottom, your chances are better if it’s digging and grinding.
Your line is the easiest thing to control for more depth. Friction from the water during the retrieve creates drag on the line and bait. Thinner line means less friction and drag. Instead of using 12-pound-test, drop to 8- or 10-pound-test line. You don’t have to horse a 4-pound bass in open water like you do in shallow slop, so heavier line isn’t really necessary. If the fish you’re targeting are in the 7- or 8-pound range (or larger), the lighter line will work but will require patience to get the fish to the boat.
Another trick is to add soft tungsten putty or lead tape, like Storm SuspenDots or SuspenStrips, under the bill or on the belly of a deep-diving crankbait. Adding either to the bill can cause the bait to dive more quickly.
This could also cause it to suspend nose-down, though, altering the action. Lead wire or putty wrapped around the shank of the hook also adds weight. Add a little putty or lead, make a cast and add or remove as needed.
If you’re keen on trolling deep crankbaits instead of casting, lead-core line is an option. This is a tried-and-true method with jerkbaits, plugs and spoons on Northern lakes for walleyes and other species. The braided line has a lead core, which helps it sink. Although not a common tactic in Southern waters, on lakes with no vegetation and deep cover or structure it could be a fun alternative.
A setup that includes lightweight line, a low-gear-ratio reel and a limber rod will help you master the deep.
KNEEL AND REEL
One last option that works is the "kneel and reel" technique made famous by longtime B.A.S.S. pro angler Paul Elias of Mississippi. He did this to win the 1982 Bassmaster Classic on the Alabama River, hitting hard-bottom spots off the channel to catch the winning weight. This technique gives your bait another 4 to 5 feet of depth.
Make a long cast, kneel on the deck of your boat, stick the rod into the water to the last line guide or almost to your reel, and start your retrieve. Do this on your first cast to find out if you’re getting to the bottom. If the bait is grinding hard, stand up and cast to see if you can hit the bottom. If not, kneel and reel.
This technique has a bit of a learning curve since the rod and line are underwater. But when a bass hits the bait you’ll know. Use a low-gear-ratio reel such as the Abu Garcia Revo Winch EXD (5.4:1 ratio) and 8- or 10-pound-test line.