Elias: King of Kneeling-n-Reeling
Major League Fishing GEICO Select angler Paul Elias prepares crankbait during the Day Three Qualifier of the 2015 Bass Pro Shops Summit Select on Oklahoma's Lake Tenkiller. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
When it comes to fishing for bass in deep, open water, Major League Fishing's Kelly Jordon, Mark Rose, and Mike Iaconelli are often thought of as deep-diving crankbait specialists, especially during the summer months. Maybe so, but truth be known, MLF pro Paul Elias, known as the launcher of the Alabama Rig craze, could easily be known as one of the godfathers of the deep-diving method too. The same method that rules today on structure dominated lakes and during so-called ledge fishing tournaments held during the summer months.
Elias, the Laurel, Miss., fishing legend with seven professional wins (six on the B.A.S.S. circuits and one on the FLW Tour), actually won the 1982 Bassmaster Classic using deep-diving cranks. Before they were cool, mind you.
In the process of claiming the Classic title, the likable pro popularized the term "kneeling-n-reeling" with a deep diving crankbait, the way the technique was known for many years by those who fished for offshore bass.
So good is Elias at the technique that he attributes as much as half of his career earnings to his offshore structure fishing. And true to form, attendees to Elias' "In Depth Fishing Lessons" classes (www.indepthfishinglessons.com) get a heavy dose of how and where to fish such baits. And a variety of other baits, too.
"Oh, yeah, definitely," said Elias. "In any given situation, you might be fishing a swim bait, a jig, a spinnerbait. It all depends on the weather, (the water depth), and a whole lot of other things."
Make no mistake about it, fishing for deeper bass with a crankbait remains one of Elias' preferred methodologies.
"Deep cranking is (one of) my favorite ways to catch them," said the 2012 inductee to the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.
In addition to his 1982 Classic win, Elias has used the technique to build one of the sport's greatest resumes, including 15 Classic appearances and 50 overall Top-10 finishes, an amazing eight of those Top-10 finishes being in the Classic.
Elias also used deep cranks to establish the B.A.S.S. all-time winning weight for a four-day, five-bass tournament when he brought 132 pounds, 8 ounces to the scales at an Elite Series tournament on Texas' Falcon Lake back in April 2008.
Why is deep cranking so good in Elias opinion?
"The crankbait seems to trigger a better response since it is moving through there so quickly and erratically," he said. "A bass is a mean critter and he may take a swat at it just because it is moving through there," he added.
The Classic champ knows full well what he is talking about, riding a crankbait to his career's biggest title on the Alabama River near Montgomery, Ala., back in 1982.
"The crankbait was definitely the main bait for my kneeling and reeling," said Elias of his Classic triumph over Jack Chancellor. Elias’ three-day total of 32 pounds, 8 ounces was good enough to beat the runner-up Chancellor by 8 pounds.
Why the kneeling and reeling technique?
"(Back) then, the deepest crankbait only went about 12 feet deep or so," said Elias. "But those fish were 14 feet down, so I had to kneel down and put the rod in water to get the bait there."
Amazingly enough, Elias didn't find his mother-lode of Classic bass until a nearly last gasp effort on the final day of his pre-tournament fishing.
"I checked that place and it looked really good," said Elias. "But in our pre-fishing, I didn't catch anything."
Still, Elias was so impressed with the location that he decided to give the spot one last try on his final day of practice. It was a good thing that he did.
"On the final day (of pre-fishing), I caught a 4-pounder and a 5-pounder," reminisced Elias. "(And) I won the Classic there."
Even so, open water venues like that are spots that Elias knows that most anglers may not find easily. And even when they do, they are often out of their fishing comfort zones. The first key to success in such spots in Elias' opinion is to use the right equipment for deep water fishing.
Elias recommends a good cranking rod. He uses a nearly 8-foot long rod with a soft tip and bit of backbone about a third of the way down the blank. As for a reel, Elias uses a rugged Pinnacle baitcasting reel that is spooled with 20-pound line.
What is his favorite crank to throw? Throughout his career, Elias has thrown a Mann's Deep Diving 20-plus, or even nowadays a 30-plus, crankbait.
Once the right equipment is in hand, a crankbait must be fished correctly, meaning more than just chunking it out and winding it back really fast. Instead, Elias wants to find a school holding around offshore structure – sometimes a hump, sometimes a ledge, sometimes a shell bed – and get the bait cast well beyond the structural feature. Then he wants to get the bait bottoming out and in the strike zone as it arrives at the spot where the fish are congregating.
"You've got to treat it like you do shallow water and take the time to cover that bottom like you would if you were fishing shallow water," said Elias.
It may take a while to get things zeroed in, but Elias says that it is almost always worth it because where there's one offshore bass, he's almost always surrounded by his buddies.
"You've (got) to realize that you're out there hunting schools of fish and you'll be fortunate to find one (active) school of fish (during the course of a day)," said the king of kneeling-n-reeling.
But when you do find that active school, the results can be downright memorable. Maybe even memorable enough to win the Classic.
Watch Paul Elias during the Day Three Qualifier of the 2015 Bass Pro Shops Summit Select on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller. The show will air Thursday, January 15, at 8 p.m. ET on Outdoor Channel.