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Deep Crankin’ Pardee with McAbee

One of the West’s Best Tournament Anglers Reveals His Deep Cranking Secrets at Pardee Media Day

By Craig Gottwals, Outdoor Heritage Inc.

On the last weekend of January, and the first weekend without NFL football in four months, a select group of professional anglers and sports writers journeyed to the Jackson Rancheria Casino and Lake Pardee for the inaugural Pardee Media Day.  Unlike most lakes in the Western United States, Lake Pardee closes on the last Sunday in October and does not reopen until the first Saturday in February.  Professional bass fisherman and host of the Ultimate Bass Radio Show, Kent Brown, organized the event with the lake Pardee’s operators and the East Bay Mutual Utility District.

I fished with crankbait fishing expert, Randy McAbee Jr.  Randy won five boats in a span of three years on Clear Lake with one lure tied onto the end of his rod.  And for the overwhelming majority of casts made in his professional career, Randy held one rod in his hand with that very same lure.  Unless you have been locked in a closet with no access to the bass world, you have heard a plethora of rumors about Randy and his dad (Randy McAbee Sr.’s) crankbait tactics.  In this article we debunk the rumors and reveal the deep-cranker’s recipe for victory.

It was a picture-perfect venue for this event.  The Jackson Rancheria and Lake Pardee are excellent destinations for anglers looking to retreat to California’s foothills for a comfortable and exciting fishing trip complete with first-class lodging, qualify food, gaming, and the State’s best smallmouth bass fishing.  The Rancheria Resort and Casino offers boat-friendly parking with 24-hour security and places you a brief 20-minute drive from Pardee.

On July 3, 2007 the largest smallmouth bass ever caught in the state of California, a 9.83 behemoth, was pulled from Lake Pardee by Harold Hardin of Stockton, California.  That bass climaxed what seemed like an endless barrage of trophy-classed smallies caught in the lake over the previous four months.  And I was going to fish this lake after these fish had not seen a lure in three months with the best crankbait fisherman in the West.  I have a very demanding job, but I suppose somebody has to do it.

To say the McAbees have figured out the crankbait bite, especially on Clear Lake, would be like saying Tom Brady has learned how to toss a football.  REALLY?!?  Ya think?  The last five times these two have fished on Clear Lake as a team, they won.  And in October they fished against each other and 194 other professionals in the FLW Series event and they finished in fifth and sixth place.  These guys are good – and they are doing it primarily with one lure and one rod.

Randy and his dad are testaments to “confidence fishing.”  Learn a bait so well that it feels like an extension of your body under the water when you wield it.  Learn that bait in every conceivable situation, with every angle, on every type of lake, and in every season and you will develop a level of confidence in that bait superior to any of your competitors.  Sometimes I think that we forget how simple fishing and sports can be.  Ultimately, the one that wins is the one that knows he can.  Randy McAbee knows he can win tournaments with a crankbait.

After pulling into Lake Pardee’s immaculate parking facility and launch area (man I wish all of the paces we fished were this nice) I made my way over to Randy’s boat to help him launch.  The first thing I noticed was that Randy only had only brought two types of lures.  He had six crankbait rods and five swimbait rods with him.  That was it.  Randy’s going to dance with the one who brought him; that is clear.

“No jigs or worms for you today, huh Randy?” I asked.

“Nope.  If it were a multi-day event, I would have the back-up stuff with me.  But I always just start with swimbaits and crankbaits and only turn to the smaller or slower stuff once I realize I cannot get bit on these.”  He replied.

“48 degree water doesn’t change that approach?”  I prod.

“Not really.  I’ve won tournaments with a crankbait in 49 degree water.  If we find them, we’ll catch them, but it is definitely a little tougher.  I start to get much more comfortable when the water gets up closer to 55 degrees.  Still, we’ll give it a go this way.”  He responds.

The cold water on Lake Pardee proved to deliver a tough bite to Randy, me, and the approximately 20 other professional anglers and writers that day.  There were not very many bass caught, but the ones that were caught were nothing short of spectacular.  The day was hi-lighted when Dean McDaniel of Sacramento and Allan Fong of Fisherman’s Warehouse brought in twin smallmouths that both tipped the scales at just over 9.25 lbs.  There were also a handful of four to six pound fish caught.  Randy and I had a great time fishing and each landed one chunky bass, but more importantly, he didn’t hold anything back about his cranking escapades.

CG:  Okay, Randy everybody knows that you and your dad have been fishing lights out over the past few years, especially on Clear Lake.  Has it all really been on a crankbait?  What else do you catch them on?

RM:  It’s all been on a crankbait.  Every now and then we may weigh a fish on a jig and we are doing more and more with swimbaits, but it is almost all on a crankbait.

CG: What bait Randy?  You know I have to ask.  [As I’m looking at it and smiling.]

RM:  A Norman DD-22.  A few different colors, but mainly this red one, red black craw is what I think they call it.

CG:  Suspending or Floating?

RM:  Both, this one doesn’t happen to suspend but I will throw both kinds and other colors as well.

CG:  What other brands of deep diving crankbaits do you like?

RM:  None.  I’ve tried them all and Norman just got it right.  There are so many colors and this one just runs the best.  I’ve had no need to use other baits.

CG:  You sponsored by Norman?

RM:  No, I don’t think they sponsor guys – or at least it is really hard to get a sponsorship with them.

CG: [Wow, the endorsement just got more powerful in my mind.]  Are you just deep-cranking Randy, any medium or shallow baits in your arsenal?

RM: I also throw the Normal Deep-Little Ns and Luhr Jensen Speed Traps when a shallower bait is required.  But honestly, I just don’t use those baits nearly as much.  Even on the California Delta this year, I was catching them on the DD-22.

CG:  Really, you were deep cranking in the delta?

RM:  Yep, it was how I found a rock pile that turned out to be awesome for me in the FLW event there.

CG:  Talk to me about line, Randy.  You dropping down to six and eight pound test like I heard?

RM:  No. Those are just more rumors.  Normally I use 10 pound fluorocarbon, but sometimes I’ll go up to 12 pound.  When I’m cranking the trees on Lake Isabella I’ll use 20 pound fluorocarbon.

CG:  Did you use braid in the delta?

RM:  No, I don’t like the way braid feels when I crank.  I was using 10 pound fluorocarbon.

CG:  Okay, I’d also heard that you and your Dad would cast out as far as you could, leave your reel in free-spool, and use your trolling motor to troll all of the line off of your reel so that on the retrieve you could achieve maximum depth.  How about that?

RM:  [Laughing] Never!  How could we have time to do that?  I can’t even imagine how much that would slow us up.  Dad and I have discovered about 20 to 25 spots that we will fish during the day.  Some of those spots are very, very specific.  For example, everyone knows we fish on Henderson Point.  A lot of folks fish Henderson.  But the reality is that there is one spot on Henderson not much larger than a large beach ball that is the only spot there worth fishing.  I know that if I line up at exactly the right angle and make the right cast over that spot, I’m going to catch a 5 pound fish.  And if I stop there and make that cast in the morning and I don’t get that fish, I will come back at least two more times and do the same thing and I know that I will catch a 5 pounder at some point during the day.

CG:  So this is a key, isn’t it?  How often do you run those spots?

RM:  I try to hit those 20 to 25 spots at least three times per day.  And some of these stops are very, very specific casts where I’m trying to make my lure hit one particular rock from a certain angle at a certain speed.  When I do it right, the bass cannot help but trigger on it.

CG:  Rod and Reel?

RM:  Dobyns Rod, 805 Crank Bait Rod and a Abu Garcia REVO STX.

CG:  They don’t make that in a 5:1 gear ratio do they?

RM:  No.  I use the 6.4:1.

CG:  Really?  You throw that deep diver all day on a 6.4:1?

RM:  Yeah, I don’t care for those slower speed reels.

CG:  That 8-foot rod important to your approach?

RM:  Absolutely, I can darn-near cast all of my line off of my reel with that rod.  Gary [Gary Dobyns, owner of creator of the Dobyns Rod Company] absolutely got that rod right.  It is the best rod I’ve ever used for deep-cranking.

CG:  What are you doing to those DD-22s Randy?  Are you sharpening the bills or adding lead suspend dots?

RM:  [Shifts to the side and smirks.]  This is probably the biggest secret my Dad and I protect.  If I tell you this, I’m going to have to leave you in the bottom of Lake Pardee.  Are you sure you want to know?  The water is cold and it is pretty windy out here.

[I nod – a little hesitant at this point.]

RM: [Laughing]  NOTHING!  Not a thing other than changing out the hooks and sometimes putting a red one on the front.  I don’t up-size the hooks.  I just put on a premium hook of the same size because I feel like that gives me a slight advantage over the course of the year as far as a couple fewer lost fish.  I’ve spent many hours in my garage tinkering with the baits too but everything I’ve done to them changes the action and I end up getting less strikes.  I’ve tried adding sand, epoxy, and suspend dots and I don’t like the results of any of that because it changes the action of the bait – and not for the better.  Norman got it right, you don’t need to modify this bait.

Norman certainly did get it right and I don’t think anyone has mastered fishing the DD-22s quite like Randy McAbee.  Eventually, the one that wins is the one that thinks he can.  After spending a little bit of time with Randy, you can just feel that he knows he is going to win tournaments with that crankbait – and he does.

 

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