By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
(Editor's note: This is part 2 of an occasional three-part series detailing deep-cranking tactics of pro anglers. To read part 1, click here.)
It's only natural to assume that when faced with the blistering heat that Arizona is known for, largemouth bass are going to hunker down in deep water, regardless of the season.
Bassmaster Elite Series competitor and Arizona native Josh Bertrand grew up throwing crankbaits to reach those sorts of fish, a technique he attributes several of his early tournament wins to.
"I won a lot of fall and winter tournaments when I was younger fishing team tournaments at home with it," he said. "That gave me a lot of confidence in throwing it."
It's a technique that served him well in his second career Elite Series event at Falcon Lake in 2013. Every fish he caught there came on a deep crankbait.
"It's just a great big fish technique," he said.
When It Shines
Growing up in Arizona, Bertrand learned early the value of probing deeper water (18 to 23 feet) with a deep-diving crankbait.
On the Elite Series, it's become an important tool at venues on the Tennessee River system when targeting giant schools of bass. He'll grind a crankbait through shell beds and on other bodies of water, he'll feather it through tree tops trying to pick off isolated fish.
"It draws the biggest bites of any of the mid- to deep baits," he says.
Bertrand heavily relies on his Garmin 7612 units to find key fish-holding structure to crank.
"I use Garmin Panoptix to see trees," he said. "I love cranking trees, which is what I grew up doing. To be able to see the target in front of the boat and hit it on the first cast is really important."
Panoptix tells him just how far in front of the boat his target is and helps him to judge how far to make his cast to get it to dive to the required depth.
"A lot of times, a deep crankbait is a great way to catch them, but a good search bait, too," he added. "You can get up on the side of a ledge, a break, a long point, and start grinding and that can be your way to finding bass."
Angles are Everything
Anglers might have an idea how bass are positioned on structure, but it's difficult to really know. What's most frustrating is seeing fish that won't bite. For that, Bertrand suggests changing the casting angle.
He'll use his GPS and a marker buoy so that he can stay locked on a spot continually after catching a fish. It's not uncommon to fire up an area just by hooking the first fish. When the bass stop biting, swing the boat around to a different angle.
"Sometimes, it's just one magical tree," he noted. "If you don't hit the tree you don't get bit but if you hit that tree, you feel the crankbait coming through it and you catch one every time."
Cloud cover, wind and current help to create a chop on the surface which helps to distort just how good a look bass can get at his crankbait, especially in clear water. The only anomaly to the situation is when he's cranking the Great Lakes. Bertrand has found big water bass actually eat a crankbait better when it's calm and sunny.
Bertrand favors a bait that casts well into the wind and has a tighter wobble since he thinks it appears more natural when swimming in deep water.
He'll start with a rattling crankbait, but when bass turn off he'll switch to the silent version to fire up the fish in the area again. A silent version excels in super clear water or when he's faced with heavy fishing pressure.
At tree-infested Falcon, he favors a rattling plug while in Mexico the more obnoxious the action, the better they perform. He'll also go with the deepest diving Berkley Dredger crankbait that will ensure he consistently plows the bait along the bottom. Sexy Back is his favorite color with Honey Shad and Irish Gold not far behind.
If (and when) he gets snagged up, he'll use a Lure Retriever or a 3-ounce rig made from catfish weights that his friend makes in an effort to free the bait.
Losing a crankbait could mean losing the tournament. Patience is key, and Bertrand said should he break off, he'll wait for the crankbait to float to the surface before tying it back on.
Bertrand prefers to deep crank with a 7-foot, 11-inch heavy-action Abu Garcia Veracity casting rod paired with an Abu Garcia Revo Winch with 5.4:1 gearing. He'll rarely crank with anything other than 10-pound Berkley 100% fluorocarbon line unless he's fishing heavy cover.