How deep can you go for bass?

Long lining can get you deeper than ever, but what if you don't want to take 5 minutes per cast?

Paul Elias
Paul Elias found the best way to get extra depth out of his crankbaits when he used "kneeling and reeling" to win the 1982 Bassmaster Classic.

About the author

Ken Duke

Ken Duke

Ken Duke is the Managing Editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer and the author of two books on bass fishing. Follow him on Twitter @thinkbass.

With the recent exposure of the long lining technique and the rapid approach of summer, bass anglers everywhere are interested in getting their crankbaits deeper — down to where the bass are living and feeding much of the time as temperatures start to climb.

It seems like the perfect time to cover the specifications of what it takes to get a crankbait to its maximum depth, how to keep it there and just what kind of performance we can expect from our diving baits.

There are four primary considerations that control your cranking depth.

1. Lure

The basic design of your crankbait, its size and how well it's tuned are all major factors in how deep it will go. As a general rule, the bigger and longer the diving lip, the deeper it will go. Larger baits and baits on which the diving lip comes straight out of the lure on more or less the same plane as the body of the lure will typically dive deeper than smaller baits or baits where the lure comes out of the body at a 45 degree or more obtuse angle.

The bait must be optimally tuned to reach its maximum depth. Every inch it strays to one side or the other is an inch of depth it's not getting. Take whatever time is required to adjust your deep-diving crankbaits so they track straight and true.

2. Line

Much has been made in recent years about fluorocarbon line and its ability to get greater diving depths out of crankbaits. This theory is based on the fact that fluorocarbon line sinks while monofilament floats (at least until waterlogged). The problem with the theory is that fluorocarbon sinks very slowly — not nearly fast enough to impact a bait that anglers begin cranking almost as soon as it touches the water.

If fluorocarbon helps crankbaits dive deeper, the effect is negligible.

The aspect of line that most closely impacts crankbait diving depth is diameter. Thinner lines (and therefore lighter lines) cut through the water with less resistance, allowing baits to reach greater depths. More importantly, they allow for longer casts, but we'll get to that in a minute.

In a study on crankbait running depths conducted by Steven Holt and Mark Romanack in 2000, they determined that 8-pound line would cause a crankbait to dive 20 percent deeper than on 14-pound test, and that 20-pound line would make the same crankbait dive 10 percent shallower than 14-pound test. The published their findings in a terrific book, Precision Casting, that is now out of print, though you might be able to track down a copy on eBay or AbeBooks. There was one on AbeBooks (they just took it down) for $249.95, which is outrageous. If you do a little searching, you can probably get one for less than $20. It originally retailed for $24.95.

3. Cast

The length of your retrieve (not your cast — though the two are almost always directly related) is a big part of getting your crankbaits to their maximum depth. The longer your retrieve, the longer the crankbait has to dive and the deeper it will go. That's why you can get a bait so much deeper by trolling versus casting. The retrieve is much longer and you can troll a lot more line than you can cast.

But trolling has a lot of negative connotations among the bass fraternity, mostly because it's against the rules of just about any tournament circuit you can name. Since most bass anglers won't troll, they'll need to focus their efforts on maximizing their cast length or try long lining.

There are lots of ways to improve your casting distance, but here are the keys:

• Balance your gear; if your rod and reel aren't properly matched, they won't work well together;
• Use the smallest diameter (lightest) line you can get away with;
• Fill your high capacity reel to full capacity — you might even overfill it a little;
• Use a long rod (but be aware that many tournament circuits prohibit rods longer than 8 feet);
• Use a crankbait that's aerodynamic; models with weight transfer systems offer great castability;
• Consider tricking out your reel with ceramic bearings to make the spool spin faster; and
• Keep the wind at your back and use it to your advantage whenever possible.

Once you put together the ultimate lure launcher, you'll want to practice, practice and practice some more until you get the hang of things. A backlash with an outfit like this is probably going to require a knife and a new spool of line rather than merely a patient hand.

4. Trajectory

Our grandfathers were wrong. It's not how you hold your mouth that improves your catch; it's how you hold your fishing rod. In 1982, Paul Elias taught us all a lesson in deep-diving baits when he won the Bassmaster Classic with a little known technique he called "kneeling and reeling." Basically, Elias was making a long cast with a deep-running crankbait and then kneeling on the front deck of his boat and submerging his rod tip several feet beneath the surface of the water. Whereas most crankers keep their rod tips a foot or two above the surface, Elias' rod tip was as much as six feet deeper. It made a difference.

Holt and Romanack put it simply and best after they tested the method more than a decade ago: "For every foot that the rod is vertically submerged into the water, the maximum depth increased by approximately that amount." Therefore, by submerging your rod tip five feet below the surface, you can turn a bait that otherwise dives 10 feet into one that dives 15. Kneeling and reeling can bring previously unattainable depths into range.

What Doesn't Matter So Much

For a long time, crankbait lovers believed and were frequently told that retrieve speed was critical in getting a crankbait to its maximum depth. At first it was believed that faster was better; then common knowledge said slower retrieves were best to generate depth. Not so in either case, according to Holt and Romanack, who determined that higher speeds were "offset by equally increasing upward forces of line resistance or drag." So unless you're cranking so fast that the lure is spinning out or so slow that it's wobbling along like a wake bait, retrieve speed is not a critical factor. Feel free to focus on what the bass seem to want.

Another factor that's overrated is lure buoyancy. Neutrally buoyant baits designed to suspend when a retrieve is stopped and baits that float high vary little in the depths they can achieve. Of course, if a bait sinks you can fish it as deep as you like ... until you run out of line.