Working Deep CranksWorking Deep Cranks Deep cranks are just as versatile as more commonly used shallow-water baits. We reveal how to use them!
By Ronald F. Dodson, Ph.D.
If you are going to fish deeper water for bass, folks often will think of using a weighted soft plastic like a worm, lizard or jig. However the same major advantage that a crankbait has in working shallow-water bass applies to deeper water areas. This of course is the ability to cover greater areas of water in a given period of time. The speed of covering given types of cover, and depths allow you the critical advantage of working through variables which enable you to establish a reproducible pattern.
There are some important concepts that a fisherman needs to understand when trying to factor the type of lure that he is going to use for targeting deeper bass. Not that many years ago the major plugs considered deep divers were oversized versions of the plugs that you would use in casting. There was a slight problem with the concept. While a larger sized Hellbender, Bomber Waterdog, or MudBug would reach deeper haunts when trolled, the same didn't apply when casting the plugs. For starters you simply couldn't get out the same amount of line on a cast and secondly you couldn't get anywhere near the same speed of retrieve with a reel as with trolling. If you tried (and I did), the best reels would die a slow and painful death, not to mention your arms and wrists. I used to throw these types of plugs and on occasion still do. However, it is usually not related to a desire to get the lures deep on retrieve but rather when I am trying to take advantage of their size for increased visibility as when fishing selectively for larger fish. In muddy or stained water, the extra size also permits the bass to detect them more easily as their prey by enhancing their recognition by sight.
In the last 10 or so years there have been an ever-increasing number of true deep diving baits. These have been developed through the application of elongated lips on plastic molded lugs, which in some cases have also been modified by having a slight bend at the end of the lip. This bend enhances the dive of the plug in the water by giving it a steeper dive angle upon retrieve. To a certain degree this concept will work on any plug that dives on retrieve. You can actually alter the dive angle yourself by adding weight to the front of the plug. I do this to some floating/diving plugs by placing a screw into the belly of the plug just behind the lip. This must be exactly on the mid-line or you will change the tracking of the plug on retrieve. You can also alter a plug in somewhat the same way by simply adding an over-sized treble in the front hook position. The bait, by the same logic, will dive at a steeper angle due to its shifted weight. But on the down side, because of the larger hook, it will be less weedless.
If you look at most deep diving plugs there are a couple of things that they have in common. The lip will be proportionally larger in ratio to the body size and the other feature is that many of these, when viewed from the front or back, will have a narrow body contour from side to side. The lip obviously aids in the dive, but its effect would be useless if the body wasn't able to cut through the water with less resistance. Another common characteristic of diving plugs is that plugs with wider wobbles on retrieve are less likely to go as deep on the same speed of retrieve as a comparable size plug which has a tight wobble.
The depth to which a lure is supposed to dive has always been a mythical factor to me. I once had a chance to get the straight scoop on one product from a designer as to how his particular plug was rated to dive to a given depth. The curious question was raised because I had marked actual various depths with buoys and tested the dive levels by assessing when I no longer hit the bottom on retrieve. I was off about six feet from the rating noted on the package. The answer had nothing to do with the length of cast nor the speed of retrieve, but simply on the size of line used in the company test. There wasn't anything wrong with their data, but in the real world you weren't going to cast a 20-foot rated plug on six-pound test very many times due to the stress on the small diameter line. And even fewer if you were in any place where there was underwater structure.
Speaking of structure, many of the deep divers are going to be amazingly more weedless than you might think. The reason for this is the same sharp diving angle is going to keep the hooks protected on retrieve by the body and the lip of the plug. If you simply release pressure upon feeling resistance, the plug will often float back off the hang-up. If that doesn't work getting on the opposite side of the hang-up applying pressure will often get many more freed. I can tell you the more you fish cranks and learn the feel of fish versus brush, the more often you are going to avoid hanging up.
You have probably had someone recommend a cranking rod to use for deeper cranks. It was fashionable for a while to use a glass rod for these baits because it has a soft backbone and the flex enabled you to play the fish with less chance of losing them. I choose a totally different approach in using a medium-heavy or heavy graphite rod because I want to be able to place appreciable pressure on the fish when necessary such as in wooded areas. If you are going to fish deep diving cranks I would suggest using nothing less than a 6-1/2- foot rod. When using the larger and deepest diving plugs I actually go to a 7- or even a 7-1/2-foot rod. These longer rods allow me to make a maximum distance cast (if I choose), and also give me a rod that takes much of the shock from the lure pressure on retrieve (which isn't a bad concept since the other option is wear and tear on the old body parts).
The gears have been beefed up on most quality reels so that you can get a good life expectancy even if you throw a lot of deep cranks. I prefer to use a higher ratio gear reel for the same reason I do a stiffer rod, so that I can control slack and move the fish when needed.
It is most important to keep sharp hooks on deep cranks since you are going to have limited time to detect a strike and furthermore you are going to have to set the hook through a distance underwater. More of a problem is that a fish may not be going in a direction that will take up slack so you are not only trying to get a hook set, but also fighting slack.
Other variations of cranks that dive are those that suspend for periods of time when you stop the retrieve. This is an excellent option since most strikes with any bait, including a crankbait, occur when you begin a stop or start action. Actually you should try variations on retrieve from near constant (which works best when bass are in a chasing mood), to variations of start-and-stop, (which work most of the time when you need to trigger a strike).
Since all cranks pull to some degree or other you might have interest in my own rating as to those who gives you the most "dive depth" with the least pull against the wrists. The winners in my opinion are the Mann's 20+ series and the Excalibur Fat Free Shad series with the Norman DD 22 being just behind.
So you would fish with deep cranks, but you don't like the effort of "driving" a bait to maximum diving depth. Well it doesn't have to float to be a deep crankbait. In fact those with count-down potential are also excellent deep cranks. About 95 percent of fisherman don't work swimming type baits such as Rat-L-Traps by letting them sink to the deeper water. It is too bad since it's a lot less work to count down one of these plugs than to crank a diver to the same depth. Plugs such as these are only as effective as your knowledge of the depth to which you let it sink. That is if you want to use them to establish a reproducible pattern. So don't just throw and let it sink, count it down. While you have less control over the constant depth of a diver-type of crank you can much more easily control the depth on retrieve of a Trap or Hot Spot.
If you are going to seriously fish a deep crankbait consider the advantages of using a snap for attaching the plug to the line. It gives you an advantage of not only being able to change plugs quickly without retying each time, but also gives your bait another pivot point for greater wiggle on retrieve.
A common concern for folks using a crankbait is that they are going to hang up. You are going to hang up, so it is wise to use sufficiently heavy line to feel comfortable that you are going to be able to get most of your lures loose. As I mentioned the more you use a crank the more you will get the feel and the more often you will "feel" your way through brush on retrieve.
Unless you have a friend at the factory you may have noticed that the lures that I have described aren't free. So you may want to invest in buying a lure retriever. It won't take long for these gems to pay for themselves in reducing lost baits. Most tackle shops have various versions or you can build one from a saltwater lead and a couple of dog collar drop-chains dangling from the lead. These will often foul-hook the plug if the lead doesn't knock the bait loose on the drop. Either way, you are usually back in business.
Deep cranks are just as versatile as more commonly used shallow-water baits. If you haven't used them as part of your arsenal then obtain at least one rod suited for this type of fishing and set aside a period on each trip to gain confidence in the technique. Be warned, it can grow on you as you realize the potential and versatility.
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