The Woodsman Magazine

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 between.

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 another.

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 ‘Tackle Box Guide’ available at In this little book are ‘Dive Curves’ showing how deep every Rapala lure runs when cast or trolled. That takes away all 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.

Rapala’s new DT series crankbaits include models that dive 6, 10, and 14 feet on a typical 70-foot cast, using 10-pound-test monofilament line. (A new DT04, that will dive about 4 feet, will be available for ‘05.) In-between depths can easily be achieved, too. By plunging your rod tip into the water as you begin the retrieve, you gain additional depth. By holding your rod tip up (say shoulder high), the lure runs shallower.

The DT series was designed by David Fritts, the crankbait king, and Jarmo Rapala, chief lure designer for Rapala, and is a perfect tool for cranking mid-depths. But the Tackle Box Guide will also let you experiment with lures such as Husky Jerks, Shad Raps, Fat Raps, floaters and more.

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 territory.

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.

Note: This article was crafted by the Rapala Pro Staff. For more fishing insights, go to

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