Story by Tyler Brinks
Deep cranking is a proven way to catch big bass as they roam their offshore feeding grounds. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Combs has the utmost confidence in a deep diving crankbait and credits his two biggest wins to the technique. As the winner of the 2011 Toyota Texas Bass Classic world championship and the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series event on Falcon Lake, Combs used a deep diving crankbait exclusively during those events. His success and confidence in the technique have given him a specific approach to deep cranking throughout the year.
Post-Spawn and Early Summer
The time period after the spawn and into the first part of summer is Keith Combs’ favorite timeframe for the deep diving crankbait. “Right after the spawn is the best time because the fish are moving out deeper and the thermocline of the lake hasn’t really developed yet. This makes them a lot easier to catch because they are near the bottom and not suspended or spread out too much,” says the Texas pro. Combs believes that having current in the lake will speed up the transition process and push the fish very deep right after the spawn.
As the water temperature rises and the thermocline begins to form, Combs will look for current as a good place to start cranking. He advises to try for offshore fish early in the day instead of waiting for the sun to come up. “I usually do well first thing in the morning when the other guys are looking for an early topwater or shallow water bite, and not as many people are offshore first thing in the day. As it gets hotter the fish are harder to catch and tend to suspend a lot more, so that first hour is critical,” says Combs.
Fall and Early Winter
Typically, the heavy current from the summertime will begin to slow down as the air temperatures cool and less electric power generation is needed and summer rains dissipate. With this in mind, Combs will change his focus from the current to the creeks. “I’ll look for the biggest main lake creeks, major tributary arms and channel bends. This is the time of year where you can find good schools of bass and the spots will replenish day after day,” mentions the Elite Series pro.
Rod, Reel and Line
Keith Combs’ preferred rod and reel setup is a Power Tackle PGC170, 7ft fiberglass rod paired with a Shimano Chronarch in the 7.3:1 gear ratio. Combs goes against the grain in choosing a faster reel and believes it offers him some advantages. “I really like the bigger handles on the reel and the fact that if I need to reel it fast to keep tension on big fish, it has the speed to keep a tight line. If I need to decrease my retrieve speed, I will just slow down how fast I reel,” explains Combs.
Keith Combs seldom uses less than 15lb fluorocarbon for his crankbaits as he wants to have as much strength as possible when deep cranking. “If you are fishing the crankbait around cover and trees underwater, your line is going to get nicked at some point. I just feel a lot better with 15lb line,” adds Combs. His line of choice is Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon. “The Tastsu is also very thin compared to other brands, so it is like you are cranking with 12lb line but with the strength of the 15lb test,” says Combs.
The Strike King 6XD is one of the most popular deep diving crankbaits on the market today and Keith Combs is a firm believer in its abilities. “I always start with a 6XD in either the Sexy Shad or Chartreuse and Blue color. It will get down to 18 feet deep on 15lb line,” adds Combs. The recently introduced 10XD from Strike King is a massive bait that will reach depths of 25 feet with 15lb test. “I will use the 10XD as a ‘mop up’ bait. After I have thrown the 6XD in an area for a while, I’ll switch to the 10XD to give them a different look and it will usually get me an extra fish or two,” shares Combs.
Fishing a crankbait with a steady retrieve will catch fish, but the top pros have learned that doing something different is key to catching more and bigger bass. “I really crank fast when I’m using a deep diving crankbait, I am trying to hit something on the bottom and cause that bait to deflect off of things. I’ll also snap my rod every ten cranks or so in case there is a fish following that won’t commit,” says Combs. He will also vary his approach based on the season and water temperature. “When the water is colder, I will slow way down and will actually pull the crankbait with my rod and reel up the slack instead of just cranking it back in,” adds Combs.
The use of his electronics helps Combs both before and after he catches a bass. Prior to fishing an area, he observes the bottom and looks for brush or anything else that might hold a bass. “Brush is always good, either natural or manmade brushpiles. Any type of brush could be a pattern and with my Humminbird units I can actually tell what is green brush and what’s old brush and also if they are sunken brushpiles or old trees,” mentions the Texan.
After catching a few fish and before he moves on to the next area, Combs will always idle over the spot he was fishing to get a better look at what the fish were relating to. “It’s really critical to know the spot and if you figure that out, you can start to run a pattern on other parts of the lake,” admits Combs.
Fishing a deep diving crankbait is one of the best ways to catch big bass offshore. By focusing on having the right retrieve, timing and structure you will increase your odds of running into the right school at the right time.