Jim Berger, aPennsylvania fisherman, has developed an offbeat method of deep-cranking thatabsolutely slams walleyes in flowing water. And it’s not a difficult techniqueto master. Here’s the lowdown on this productive fishing method.
A 30-year walleyefanatic, Berger refined his unique approach while fishing the Ohio, Alleghenyand Monon gahela rivers, which join at Pittsburgh. On a typical fishing day,Berger’s crankbaits will dredge up four to five walleyes that weigh between 3and 4 pounds apiece, not to mention numerous smaller fish whose appetites arealmost as big as the jumbo bass lures that Berger favors. In an average year,he lands 8 to 10 walleyes that weigh 8 pounds or more.
Berger’sdeep-cranking technique is aimed at walleyes that are feeding in moving waterfrom 15 to 25 feet deep. Arm strength is required, because Berger’s fishingapproach is physically demanding, sort of like trying to crank an old-fashionedBomber plug up-current in a raging river.
Berger’s basic rigconsists of a 2- to 3-ounce egg sinker 5 feet up the line from a deep-divingwalleye crankbait. Essentially, it’s a Carolina rig, except that instead ofusing a barrel swivel to keep the sinker separated from the lure, Berger pegsthe sinker in place with a toothpick. He runs the line through the sinker,around it and then back through the sinker’s hole a second time. Then he pegsit with the toothpick and breaks off the excess.
When he gets inposition, Berger rockets the heavy combination into the distance with a stiff 7½ -foot flipping rod matched with 10-pound-test Berkley FireLine. The superthinline knifes through the water and allows the sinker and crankbait to get deepquickly before the current sweeps them off target and down the river.
The heavy sinkercan pull any live or artificial bait to the bottom, and Berger has tried everywalleye bait or lure in the book. Trial and error has taught him thatdeep-diving crankbaits catch the most fish. He has his best luck with silverand gold patterns when the water is clear, and with chartreuse patterns whenheavy rains stain or muddy the water.
“I thinkwalleyes like crankbaits better than anything else,” says Berger. “Thedeep divers work best behind a heavy sinker because they really grind thebottom. If you’re looking to catch walleyes in the current, you have to be onthe bottom where the fish hold.”
Berger discoveredhis most productive crankbait, the ¾-ounce deep-diving Yo-Zuri Magnum, in abargain bin at the local outlet of a major sporting-goods chain. Although thelure is considered a bass plug, Berger wanted to go after walleyes big enoughto consider the Magnum an average mouthful. So he bought 10 of the plugs. Thefirst time he tried deep-cranking the Magnum behind a heavy weight, thewalleyes mauled it. Berger immediately returned to the store and purchased theremaining 15 Yo-Zuri Magnums in the bargain bin. Berger later struck more goldwhen, in another fishing tackle department, he found a bargain bin that held 48of the crankbaits, which he bought for $1.97 each.
That might soundlike overkill, but Berger regularly snags and loses the crankbaits. He oncebroke off 16 of them in one day while fishing (and winning) a tournament. Hecranks dam tailwaters in the winter, points in the spring and fall, waterdischarges in the summer and any rock-rubble structure he can find on thebottom from spring through fall.
Given the amount ofeffort it takes to cast and retrieve the heavy rig, wouldn’t Berger be betteroff trolling? That would be true if he fished larger structures, but most ofhis targets consist of subtle changes in the bottom. Since he is able to castacross many of these small fishing spots that hold one or two big walleyes,Berger believes casting is more precise and efficient for him than trolling. Healways lets the sinker hit the bottom before he begins cranking. This keeps thebait digging the bottom throughout the retrieve.
“I’d rathercast downstream or up stream, because the crankbait dives deeper than when Icast across stream, Berger says. “Casting across the current sweeps thebait downstream as you retrieve.” Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing,but usually it doesn’t allow the lure to descend to the depths where thewalleyes are.
“I keep thecrankbait moving along at a pretty good clip,” Berger adds. “Walleyesaren’t bashful when they see something they like.” When fishing in thetailwaters of dams, where the current is strongest, Berger must speed up hisretrieve to keep pace with the flow. If the bottom is no deeper than 15 feet,he forgoes the weight because the Yo-Zuri Magnum can reach bottom to that depthwithout any help. Keep in mind, though, that Berger is using fairly light line.Heavier line would keep the lure from achieving its maximum depth.
Otherwise, there’sno science to Berger’s approach. He simply motors his boat as close to a dam aspossible, quickly grabs his outfit, casts and then reels like crazy.
“I idle up tothe off-limits buoys, which is as close as you’re allowed to get to a dam,”Berger says. “I cast across and slightly upstream and run the crankbaitover the bottom as the water swings it down. You have to crank fast to keep thecurrent from overpowering the bait.”
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What’s It Worth?
WWII ARBOGAST JITTERBUG MANUFACTURER: Fred Arbogast Bait Company, Akron, Ohio ISSUANCE DATE OF LURE SHOWN: 1943 CONSTRUCTION: Plastic body with plastic lip CURRENT MARKET VALUE: $45 for the lure and up to $75 for a lure in pristinecondition with its original box
BACKGROUND: A noisy, wobbling surface lure named after apopular dance of the day. First introduced in 1937, the Jitterbug remains a topseller today in the Pradco family of lures. A convincing mimic of a live frog,the Jitterbug was intended to be fished around shallow weed beds and grassyshorelines. Arguably, it is the most effective night lure for bass evercreated–lunkers home in on its thrashing side-to-side action and telltale”plip-plop” sound with a vengeance. The example shown is one of thefirst injection-molded plastic lures ever produced. Earlier Jitterbugs weremade from cedar with a scoop-shaped aluminum lip; during World War II, Alcoadirected all of its aluminum output to the defense effort, and the Jitterbug’smetal lip was replaced temporarily with one made of plastic. Plastic-lippedexamples did not perform as well as lures with metal lips but are highly prizedby collectors. –Don Wirth
GO LONG Astiff 7½-foot bait-casting rod is ideal for Berger’s presentation because ithelps him manage the 5-foot-long lure rig and also make longercasts.