By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Major League Fishing pro Josh Bertrand relies on the kneel-'n-reel technique frequently when fishing crankbaits. In fact, he's almost always got his rod tip plunged several feet below the water's surface when retrieving his initial cast of the day with a diving plug.
He wants to ensure that his opening presentation features some fish-attracting deflection. Dropping to his haunches and pointing his rod toward the bottom of the lake can get him an additional 4 to 5 feet of depth with the bait.
"I'd rather make sure the bait gets to the bottom on the first one rather than waste that cast," he said. "If it ends up grinding really hard, then I'll stand up and fish conventionally.
"It's really about efficiency – I do believe it's a wasted cast if it doesn't hit the bottom and if you're cranking all day, you can save yourself a ton of casts."
He warns, however, that it's a physically grueling routine that may not be suitable for everyone.
"This is no exaggeration; the first time my buddy and I did it in a tournament back in the day, he said he had to have his wife help him out of bed the next morning."
Smaller Profile Possible
Most BassFans know that the kneel-'n-reel technique first gained prominence way back in 1982 when Paul Elias used it en route to his Bassmaster Classic victory. Elias, currently one of Bertrand's fellow MLF competitors, also used it at Falcon Lake in 2008 when he set the 4-day B.A.S.S. weight record (132-08) in an Elite Series tournament.
Bertrand likes to show deep-dwelling fish a smaller-profile bait than they're accustomed to seeing and the kneel-'n-reel technique makes that possible.
Bertrand said he first tried it about 14 years ago in a team event at Lake Roosevelt in his home state of Arizona.
"My buddy and I just found a group of fish and we couldn't get on them, so we started doing it together," he said. "We had good equipment for the time, but the baits didn't cast like they do now and our rods were slightly shorter, so everything was a little bit muted."
One of the biggest advantages is it gives an angler the ability to get a smaller-profile bait to depths that only an enormous plug with a bill the size of quarter-cup measuring spoon can reach conventionally.
"Those fish down there aren't seeing (the smaller offering) over and over and I just think it looks more natural."
It's a much simpler program to run nowadays than it was a decade or more ago due to the ability of modern GPS-equipped trolling motors to keep a boat dialed onto a specific waypoint, which eliminates the need for constant attention from the operator.
"The biggest challenge before was always boat control and you were up and down and up and down the whole time. It can take quite a while to fish a cast with a bait that's going down to 20 feet and even a 5 mph wind would be enough to make you drift totally off what you're fishing.
"With anchor-lock, it's so much easier – the boat's not drifting 20 feet and making you stand up and readjust. It's a nightmare without it."
Dredge 'Em Up
The majority of Bertrand's deep cranking is done with Berkley Dredger baits, which come in six sizes to reach depths of 9 to 26 feet. He uses a 7-foot-10 Abu Garcia Ike Delay Series rod and an Abu Garcia Revo Winch EXD casting reel (5.4:1 gear ratio). Probably 90 percent of the time, his line is 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon.
Retrieving a crankbait with the majority of the rod submerged results in reduced sensitivity, but that's just part of the deal.
"Having the rod under the water that far dulls everything down and you don't feel everything quite as well, but if you're reeling a long and a fish eats the bait and the rod loads up, most of the time the fish hooks itself.
"If you're fishing around shellbeds you can reel as fast as you want, but in brush or trees you might want to slow down a little bit. If you're trying to feather it through a tree, going a little slower makes it easier to feel what's going on. If you try to speed-reel it, those hooks will get wedged."