B Y THE OFFICIAL START OF SUMMER, bass on most Texas reservoirs are long since done with the spawning ritual. They’re finished with the process of chasing bluegills from their bedding areas and mauling spawning shad.
They’re now ready to move full-time onto deep offshore structure. It’s an opportunity that Virginia pro and Elite Series winner John Crews looks forward to exploiting each year. It might not be as immediately gratifying as the mano-a-mano combat of shallow water fishing, but it makes up for it by the fact that the bass are usually ganged up.
“The deal that’ll really make you get out and try it is that if you catch one or two, you’ll often catch eight to ten from one spot,” Crews said. “Although in July and August they are fully ‘out,’ at this time of year they may still be using the highways and migratory routes to get to the habitat that they use in the hottest part of the summer.
“The best way to describe what I’m looking for is a deep flat adjacent to a deeper drop off,” he said. “Points taper out, then flatten out before dropping off again. That flat part usually has a really hard bottom. They’ll group up on a lip 10 to 30 yards wide, and I seem to catch a lot of really big fish in that 19- to 23-foot depth range.”
Historically, that range was best served with a variety of bottom-bouncing baits such as jigs, Carolina rigs, or even spoons. But over the past few years, the rise of super-deep-diving crankbaits has made a reaction bite possible. That’s even better for keeping the school fired up.
The first in its class to gain mainstream momentum was the Strike King 10XD. It still produces well, but others have joined the fray. Not surprisingly, Crews has taken a shine to his namesake SPRO Little John Super DD for several key reasons.
“First of all, you don’t need different equipment to throw it,” he said. “It’s just a bigger version of our regular diving crankbait. You can use your standard deep cranking tackle. Also, it’s much more subtle, and has a soft thud instead of a heavy rattle, so you can go behind people and catch a lot of fish.”
He fishes it on a Cashion John Crews series, 7-foot,11-inch deep cranking rod, which has a soft tip that loads so it “throws almost like a catapult.” That same action keeps fish buttoned up once he hooks them.
“The rod is so soft, that when you get one, just lean into him and keep the rod loaded. It’ll absorb all of the headshakes. If your rod is too stiff, that’s when you lose fish.” He pairs it up with a Lew’s BB1 bait casting reel (6.4:1 gear ratio) spooled with Sunline Sniper 12-pound fluorocarbon, which allows him to hit the bottom at 24 feet on a standard cast.
His primary color is Cell Mate, although he added that “It’s hard not to mix in Citrus Shad, which provides a lot of flash on an overcast day.”
Because the fish are grouped up, he can spot them easily with the DownVision feature of his Raymarine graphs. He noted that spotted bass tend to “stratify” while largemouths “will be in a row.” So, if you’re targeting one type over the other, that’s a key consideration.
Sometimes they’ll be mixed together, along with other species. Just because you catch two or three white bass, or even barfish, that doesn’t mean you should take it as a cue to leave. “That’s what they’re feeding on” much of the time, he explained, so stick around, match the hatch, and work your way through the madness to a big bag.
Once he finds the group, the key to his retrieve is to maintain at least intermittent bottom contact. Sometimes a steady retrieve works, but it pays to vary the cadence until you find the posture that triggers the bites.
“You don’t have to crank it 100 miles per hour,” he explained. “I’ll crank it down, stop it, regain bottom contact and then stop it again—except a lot of times they’ll stop it for you.”
He does caution that you should bring a plug knocker. Despite a big bill that pushes its way through even some of the gnarliest trees and bushes around, these cranks do still have two sticky-sharp treble hooks.
Furthermore, if you’re fishing rock or shell beds all day, be sure to check those trebles regularly. Sometimes you can make it through a full day without changing them, but often a new set at the appropriate interval can be quick, cheap and easy insurance that you won’t lose the fish of a lifetime.
Email Pete Robbins at [email protected]