Depth Raider

Written on 08/13/2019
Joe Bucher

There were many reasons for the design of the original DepthRaider,  but none as simple as wanting to get a lure down to that special depth zone few conventional musky lures reach.  This depth zone is not necessarily that deep.  It’s just a tad deeper than the rest of the lures go on a typical cast.   To be specific, the 7 to 12 foot range is virtually untouched by most musky anglers using a casting style presentation.   The  8" DepthRaider was designed to tap into muskies at this range.  

Let’s face it -- most musky angler don’t even attempt to run a bait deep.   In-line spinners, topwater lures, and jerkbaits are still the three most used weapons.   Yes, I will admit that the new category of soft plastic swim baits has changed things a bit, and some (anglers) are now probing greater depths with these lures successfully, but this overall number is still relatively small.   These soft plastic swim baits do indeed have the capacity to track deep and attract big fish.   They are certain to be a big producer whenever muskies are deeper.  

But that’s a subject for another day.   This topic is all about the deep diving crankbait.  Whether an angler casts or trolls a crankbait over a spot strictly depends upon the situation at hand.  Casting works best over depths of less than 12 feet and bottom topographies that contain a lot of trashy cover such as weeds or wood.   Trolling excels in most deep water applications including bouncing clean, hard bottom areas and straining open water for suspended fish.   I suggest you take the time to understand the limitations and applications of both casting and trolling crankbaits, and then make it your goal to master both techniques.   

Two things I really like to do with a deep diver are: 1) bottom bouncing, and 2) cover collision.  The specifics bottom bouncing and cover collision, both in a casting and trolling application, are truly one of the best ways to improve your angling skills and learn the water more intimately.  The knowledge you’ll obtain from even one single day of serious bottom bouncing and cover colliding is sure to pay big dividends down the road.  It’s a tactic I learned at a very young age, back in the late 1960’s while following the teachings of Buck Perry and the early pages of Fishing Facts Magazine, and it continues to serve me well decades later.  

The entire concept of this style of crankbait fishing places a high degree of emphasis on making the lure touch bottom or collide with something.   It matters little whether this “something” is weeds, wood, rocks, gravel, sand, or silt until fish contact is made.  Once a fish is caught off a specific type of cover or bottom substrate, more emphasis should then be placed on making your crankbait collide with that cover or bottom type as much as possible.   Of course, you need a lure that can withstand this constant abuse.   Some just aren’t built for this style of fishing.   Instead of complaining about lure lip failure or body damage, simply choose one that can take the punishment.   

Crankin’ Stiks


My favorite rod/reel setup for this style of fishing includes an extra long 7 ½ to 8 ½ foot medium heavy action rod like   St. Croix’s Legend Tournament Musky Split Grip LTM80MXF matched with a low-geared baitcaster like the   Abu Garcia Revo Toro Winch 60 and a responsive low-stretch line such as Stren Sonic Braid of varying diameters depending upon how deep I need the crankbait to run.   For shallow weed lines and stained lakes, I prefer the thicker 80 # braid.  It keeps most musky sized deep divers tracking the 5 to 8 foot range.  When the water is clear and more depth is needed, a reel loaded with thinner gauge 50# or 65 # is a better choice.  

I like the longer rod for bombing baits a long distance, which at times can be a key part of this technique when you need to reach greater depth.  However, I do prefer shorter casts when the weeds are thicker.  The long rod also helps me keep big fish hooked on crankbaits that hit from long distances or great depths.  But most of all, I like the longer rod for this style of fishing because it substantially lowers the pivot point from which your retrieve begins.  In other words, your rod tip will be at a much lower position with a longer rod than with a short one.  This adds more running depth to the lure.  It also greatly aids in performing good figure 8s with the lure at boatside. Once mastered, you might catch better than 50% of your fish this way – on the figure 8 – right at boatside.

Casting Crankers

The true basics of fall crankbait casting is actually quite simple and elementary.  Once you master it, you will easily do it, time after time.   First and foremost, I suggest sticking with floating divers.   They will travel thru cover far more efficiently as well as provide you with a distinct up and down, bump & rise action, much like a jerkbait.  Sinking or suspending style lures can certainly work and catch their share of fall muskies, too, but they simply don’t bump bottom as well without getting constantly fouled.  Floaters travel lip down/tail up.  This protects the hooks from snags.   Most cover contact occurs right at the lip area.   A simple release of rod tension allows the lure to back up and out of the snag or debris.

The actual casting technique is an exercise in seeking out the configuration of structure as well as hunting for a fish.   First, make a long cast in a specific direction noting where the lure lands so you can adjust your cast placement left or right on subsequent throws.  Next, point your rod tip low and begin cranking hard in order to drive the lure quickly toward the bottom.  retrieve speed a tad and let the lure rise up momentarily before resuming the retrieve.  Repeat this process all the way back to the boat.

If no bottom contact is made on the retrieve, simply keep the speed constant and fast.   Any free roaming, cruising, or suspended muskies will likely react more positively to a higher crank speed in this situation.  Plus, you’ll cover water much faster this way, as well as finish up this specific retrieve in short order so you can launch the next cast in a slightly different direction or at a slightly different angle to the structure or cover.

A key thing to master is the ability to instinctively back off a touch on the (retrieve) speed or troll as soon as the lure begins to bounce hard bottom.  This slower controlled speed, once bottom contact is made, usually results in far less hangups than a faster one.  Excessive high speed bottom bouncing tends to jam a lure in rock crevices or under logs and brush.   It doesn’t allow the lure a chance to back itself out of any snag up before it’s driven hopelessly head-on into a snag.  Too much speed on a bottom bouncing crankbait has the same effect as an automobile that’s driven too fast on a narrow winding road with heavily wooded surroundings.  There’s simply no room for error and not enough recovery time.   Understanding this concept is a fundamental basic to good crankin’ form when bottom bouncing.
The right retrieve or troll speed enables the angler to completely control the bump & rise action of the lure as it careens off of various obstructions.  Also, far less rock crevice jamming occurs as a result.   This slightly slower bottom bouncing approach usually triggers more fish, as well.  I personally feel that excessive speeds here are simply unnecessary as a triggering mechanism when the lure is bouncing and ticking bottom.  The violent action of the lure careening over cover is enough of a strike trigger in itself.  Arguable, the fish definitely has more time to check the bait out when it’s traveling at this speed.  

However, if no bottom contact or cover collision is made, keep the speed “hot”.  This means fast.  A “hot” retrieve will maintain good lure depth and strain clean, open water quickly.  I don’t believe a slower retrieve is as productive in open water.  Extra speed triggers ‘em in this case, plus it enables you to cover water faster.   The only time you should consider a drop in speed is once the lure collides with cover or bottom.  

Study The “Vibe”

Always concentrate on crankbait vibration. The best crankbait fishermen I know constantly study the “vibe” of their lure as it is retrieved.  A  8" DepthRaider has a very distinct vibe, in this respect.   Any time it feels like the lure has lost its “vibe”, it probably has collected a few “clinger” weeds, leaves, sticks, or some other bottom debris around the diving lip area.  Simply let the bait float up a bit with a touch of slack line followed by a sharp rip forward on the rod tip.  Usually this action cleans the bait and returns that true vibe.   If this first rip doesn’t clear it, don’t be afraid to rip it in succession several more times.   This extra violent jerkbait-like action can be surprisingly effective at times.

Never underestimate the power of the “rip”.  The sharp rip, used to clean debris from the bait, provides a great fish triggering opportunity.  In fact, you’ll find that the majority of your strikes occur either when the lure is ticking bottom or when you’re ripping it to clean.  A good number of strikes also seem to occur just as a crankbait clears bouncing bottom, and starts traveling over a deeper section of open water.   Very few strikes occur when the lure is freely traveling over open water unless you are doing nothing but open water trolling for suspended fish.  In this situation (trolling open water), make a lot of turns to trigger a similar reaction.

Trolling DepthRaiders Is An Art Form

Trolling deep divers along breaklines is an art form as well as a science.  It should never be confused with open water board trolling.  The later is easy.  Bottom bounce trolling is precise and demanding.  It is truly one of the top techniques in all of fishing because it is so effective at covering depths as well as teaching the angler about the lake’s topography.  It is easily the #1 technique of fall musky anglers on most of the Canadian waters.

 Few other methods can rival fall motor trolling with crankbaits.  It’s the best way I know to cover lots of deep water quickly and efficiently.  Plainly put, if you want to really learn water as well as fish at depths beneath the level of the norm, then take the time to master bottom bounce trolling.  It’s a truly awesome technique and it finds the big fish not catchable with a casting technique.  When big fish are below the casting range, 12 feet and deeper, trolling deep divers is the only way to go.  It also is a highly efficient way to cover shallow, medium and deep water in real cold weather.  

While your favorite casting outfit will suffice as a trolling setup, The ultimate rod & reel matchup for bottom bounce trolling is an extra long rod of at least 8 feet in length, like  " St. Croix’s original Premier Series PM80MHF, coupled with a metered line-counter reel like the   Abu Garcia LC6500 series.  Line distance from rod tip to crankbait can greatly influence running depth.  With a metered line-counter reel you can easily make adjustments on your reel to hit precise depths.   As you feed line out in 5 to 10 foot increments, watch your rod tip respond.  As soon as the crankbait starts to tick bottom note the number on your line-counter.   Anytime a fish hits make it a priority to look first at the LC #.  This  makes it easy to get that lure right back to precisely the right depth again.  

Anyone who’s spent anytime trolling like this knows it takes a great deal of concentration.  You not only need to worry about precision boat control, but you also need to be in constant study of your lure.  While trolling open water admittedly can be monotonous, bottom bouncing is never boring.  It simply takes too much concentration and effort.   Working the boat correctly is only one part of the equation.   Making sure your lure is performing properly at all times is yet another.   This is precision trolling in every sense.   A fish catching system that began with the legendary Buck Perry, yet is only practiced by a select few today.   If you truly want to learn more about the underwater topography in your favorite lakes, plus catch more big fish from deep water, take the time to master both casting and trolling deep diving crankbaits. It’s one of the deadliest ways to catch some of the biggest fish that swim in any lake, river or reservoir system.

Joe Bucher