The way Steve Barnett harps on location, you'd think he was a real estate agent. Actually, the tournament angler/bass guide is most proficient at putting a crankbait in the right spot to make an easy sale to any bass with an appetite.

Historically one of the most straightforward artificial lures, the crankbait is also one of the most broadly appealing. From flittering across the tops of grass beds to puffing up mud or bouncing off gravel or timber, crankbaits do a fine job of imitating the baitfish and crustacean forage common to the bass diet.

Additionally, this versatile lure also catches a range of secondary species including catfish, drum and - in diminutive sizes - crappie and other panfish. Matching lure size and color to indigenous forage is important, as is selecting the right bait for the depth you're fishing.

A common thread beams clearly: Regardless of what crankbait you choose, learning to combine boat positioning with the lure's running depth will keep your bait in the strike zone longer. More time in front of the fish usually means more strikes.

Such was the topic of an enlightening conversation with Barnett during a morning on his homewaters of Pickwick Lake. Our first stop was the mouth of a small cove leading back to a residential area with lots of docks and boat sheds. A high, rocky bluff overlooked the south side of the entrance, and Barnett said he often finds bass hanging along this edge.

Setting up parallel to the bluff may, at first, seem the prudent approach, but that would mean perpendicular casts. The problem there is that the baits would touch down close to the wall, but forward progress would inherently pull them away from the very feature that attracts the bass. Moreover, crankbaits don't fall vertically - they descend diagonally with forward momentum.

Casting perpendicular to a structure where fish are holding tightly and deeply means your crankbait has mere seconds to reach the active depth.

Knowing better, Barnett set up with the nose of the boat roughly 90 degrees to the bluff. This allowed both of us to stand on the bow, cast parallel to the bluff and run our baits along the target zone.

Now comes Barnett's pet point - maximum time at maximum depth.

"When the bait reaches the apex of its running depth, you want to keep it there," he said.

Barnett's simple, straightforward statement encompasses an easily overlooked yet ever so critical element of this tactic.

Sure, chunkin' and windin' can prove effective at finding aggressive fish and ticking off those offended by a boisterous intruder. However, when you can mark fish - or return to a dependably productive spot - you'll enjoy more consistent action than randomly flinging cranks in all directions with little regard for, or awareness of, where they're actually running.

Accuracy starts with boat positioning, and Barnett likes to set up so the fish - or at least the structure he's targeting - sits about midway between his boat and the end of his cast. Look at it like a mountain range: Your boat is one peak, the end of your cast is the other. The start of the retrieve is a declination and the end is an inclination. The target zone is the valley in the middle.

"By setting up this way, the bait has time to get down to its maximum depth when it runs through the fish," Barnett explained. "I usually pick two trees to help me line up on my spot. Then, all I have to concentrate on is keeping my bait in the right depth."

His system is easy to follow when fishing near the bank, but when fishing offshore, Barnett said the lack of static reference points requires improvisation. After marking his spot, Barnett drops a buoy to identify the position. It's not as tall as a tree, but hey, it works.

"When you're on a shoreline, it's easy to line up on your spot, but offshore, it's kind of hard to keep lined up on the cover," he said. "You may only be fishing in 7 or 8 feet of water, but with no (reference points) you don't know if you're staying on the spot. As long as I have a buoy out, I can tell if I'm in the right area."

Tactical point: Keep marker buoys a safe distance from the fishing zone.

"I don't like to keep my buoy right in the area that I'm fishing because you run the risk of getting hung up when you do get a fish on," he said.

For optimal crankbait versatility, Barnett likes a long rod, at least 6½ feet. Not only do long rods facilitate long casts, but raising the tip or sweeping it to one side or the other imparts a wider range of influence on the crankbait. Varying the position of the rod tip during a retrieve alters the crankbait's course, and it's often these variances that best mimic a baitfish frantically fleeing for its life.

As for line size, smaller diameters cut through the water quicker, so your crankbait bottoms out faster. Barnett likes 10-pound test - what he considers a good balance between low resistance and the strength to keep a bass hooked.

Although not the best idea for baitcasting neophytes, Barnett keeps his crankbait reels as loose as possible so he can make long casts when he needs to.

"I just want to give myself the chance to throw as long as I possibly can," he said. "I can always thumb the spool to slow down the cast."

Also affecting crankbait depth is retrieve speed. Fast and furious gets the bait deeper faster, whereas a slow, plodding pace makes the bait dive at a more gradual angle.

Styles may vary, but Barnett warned against lazy cranking.

"The worst thing you can do is just burn a crankbait and not vary your retrieve any," he said. "You may catch a fish now and then, but you want to try different retrieves, move your rod tip up and down, and wiggle it around a little to give your crankbait a different action.

"I always want to run a crankbait so it's bouncing off some cover. The only exception is when the fish are in grass, then I just want it ticking off the top of the grass. Otherwise, with stumps or rocks, I just want it bumping into the cover and reflecting off the cover because that's when it draws a strike."

When his crankbait bumps cover, Barnett will stop his retrieve and raise his rod tip to make the bait float up a little more and wobble like a disoriented baitfish. Such vulnerability is instantly attractive to predators.

"That little wobble makes it look like a wounded baitfish and the bass can't resist it," Barnett said.