Crankin’ the Middle Depths

There is an old saying in fishing that, at the beginning of each
outing, you can assume the fish are deep, shallow or somewhere in

Assuming the species you’re after could be in shallow water,
it’s smart to check there first. Catching fish is all about
efficiency, and we are most efficient in the shallows. But what if
your shallow presentations go unbit? Many anglers then make a move
all the way to deep water… bypassing some of the most productive
zones in a lot of waters, the middle depths.

Why is this? There isn’t one answer, but we’ve often thought
it’s because shallow-water fishing is visual and exciting, and
because average anglers have traditionally lacked the lures and
know-how to precisely cast mid-depth flats and dropoffs. Trolling
can be productive on mid-depth flats, but it often takes the use of
in-line planer boards to avoid spooking fish. Many anglers are not
skilled at using boards, or don’t have them.

Once you get below about three or four feet of water, and lose
visual contact with the lure, precision goes out the window for
many anglers. It’s no wonder that a lot of people move on to deeper
structures, where they can use heavier weights or lures and
maintain contact with the bottom to ensure depth control.

Crankin’ the Flats

The middle depths, let’s say water from 5-18 feet, can hold an
amazing share of the fish population in any given fishery, on any
given day. A good mid-depth flat can be anything from a plateau
extending from shore, to offshore humps. Bigger is often better,
but that’s not always true, especially if the biggest flats attract
a lot of fishing pressure. The best mid-depth flats typically have
cover of some kind (weeds, timber, brush or a combination), and
often feed directly into surrounding deeper water.

But simply knowing this is one thing, and fishing them well is

To get a response from many fish, you have to get your lure into
their preferred zone. In order to do that, you have to
experiment-and you have to know how deep each of your baits dives.
Breakthrough lure testing by Precision Angling Specialists, LLC,
led to the development of the reference book, “Precision Casting.”
In this book, intended to be brought out in the boat with you, are
‘Dive Curves’ showing how deep many popular lures run when cast and
retrieved. That takes away most of the guesswork, and lets you
choose just the right lure for every mid-depth situation.

So now consider a typical mid-depth flat…

A good depthfinder will clearly show you submerged cover, such
as brush or weeds, and how high in the water column it extends. If
cover is sparse, you can choose to cast a lure that dives close to
actual bottom, or even ticks it, and deal with occasional snags or
weeds. If weeds or brush are thick, it’s usually better to pick a
lure that runs just over the tops.

You can get very good at precisely positioning your lures. For
example, you can hit ‘in-between’ depths (shallower or deeper than
a given lure runs normally), by going rod-tip-up or by plunging the
rod tip into the water while executing the retrieve. Plunging your
rod tip into the water as you retrieve gets you additional depth.
By holding your rod tip up (say shoulder high), the lure runs

Because it’s common for ‘flats fish’ to spread out and search
for food, it’s often true that an approach that lets you quickly
cover lots of ground is the most efficient way to find success.
That means flats and crankbaits were made for each other! Pay
attention to where you place each cast, and cover new ground with
each cast. As you become more experienced and discover prime
fish-holding areas on certain flats, you learn to saturate those
areas with numerous casts, from various angles.

Sometimes, position your boat in deeper water and cast up onto a
shallower flat, reeling it out over the deeper water as it
approaches the boat. Other times position the boat right on a
dropoff and make long casts parallel to the dropoff. On huge flats,
you will eventually have to motor along the flat to cover new

By studying your depthfinder display, you can often determine
the depth at which weeds stop growing. This is called the weedline,
and it can be a key depth. Find a good weedline, and make long
casts along it, bringing your lure close to it. If you snag weeds,
cast out farther on the next cast. Here’s a case where multiple
casts to the same location can really pay off.

Even good anglers often bypass the ‘in between,’ the middle
depths, and in the process miss out on lots of fish. Learn to work
the mid-depth flats with precision, and you can have many more
memorable days on the water.

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