A Simple Approach To Suspended Bass
Written By: Cal Kellogg, September 2, 2013 Species: Bass,
Suspended bass are tough for a lot of guys to catch, but I’ve never found them to be particularly difficult. Now I’m not a super talented bass fisherman. The fact is that in a tournament setting a good portion of the field boasts more talent than me.
So how is it that I’m not intimidated by the same suspended bass that drive so many anglers crazy? Well I think the answer can be found in the fact that I didn’t grow up fishing for bass and while I do enjoy bass fishing, I am a multiple species freshwater and saltwater angler at heart.
For a long time I didn’t have a boat and I did all my bass fishing from the bank. When bank fishing suspended bass aren’t something you encounter and my bait selection reflected this. Typically I carried a bunch of plastic worms and tube jigs for working the bottom, a spook and a popper for working the surface and a couple rip baits for working the middle water.
When I got a boat, I didn’t immediately lay out a pile of coin for a new arsenal of bass lures. Instead I went to work with the baits that had become my tried and true tools for fooling bass from the shoreline. I got my first Gregor in early spring and caught bass well into June by simply pounding the bank.
Back in those days Folsom was my home lake and I seldom went anywhere else when I want to catch bass. One day during my first season of fishing from a boat, when spring had given way to summer, I hit the lake and my bank barrage tactics only produced one smallish spot during an entire morning of fishing.
This left me scratching my head, so I started zapping some offshore points with my sonar to determine if the warm weather had pushed the bass into deeper water. Most of the bass I caught in my bass fishing career up to that point had been hooked on or very near to the bottom, so that is where I looked for fish.
After a good deal of searching I didn’t find many marks setting on the bottom, but I did see quite a few fish suspended off the points that I figured must be bass. I’m pretty sure that Senkos and drop shot rigs hadn’t been invented yet, but if they had been I certainly didn’t know about them. As a result I was sort of dumbfounded as to what I should do to hook these bass holding 20 to 30 feet below the surface in open water. And then it dawned on me…
The bass I was seeing on the sonar looked a lot like the pods of rockfish I’d seen on the sonar units of boats while fishing off the California coast, so I grabbed my tackle box and reached for the same lure I’d used so successfully on suspended rockfish in the past…a tube.
My first choice would have been a pearl colored tube, but I didn’t have any. So I went for the next best choice a smoke colored tube impregnated with silver and blue flakes. Since the bass were pretty deep, I thought a quarter ounce jig head would be ideal, but since I didn’t have any of those either, an eighth ounce model would have to suffice.
A few minutes later with the tube tied to a spinning rod rigged with 6 pound P-Line I fired the tube as far as I could across the area that held the bass. As the tube sank, I left the reel’s bail open and continued to lift the rod tip to pull out more line, allowing the jig to fall as vertically as possible. When I figured the jig must be below the level of the fish I engaged the reel and started turning the handle. I figured on swimming and yo-yoing the jig up through the fish, but things didn’t work out that way.
As soon as I got the slack out of the line I felt a rubbery sensation and realized that a fish had picked off my bait as it sunk. Instantly I drove the hook home and was treated to the rambunctious fight of a 2 pound smallmouth. On the day I picked up a mixed bag of spots, largemouths and smallmouths ranging from 1 to 3 pounds.
All the bass I caught had one thing in common, they’d all hit the bait as it fell. None of them hit the tube while I was actively swimming it and this taught me the first and possible most important rule of tempting suspended bass. They prefer a bait on the fall as opposed to a bait that is on the rise!
These days going on two decades later, my approach for catching suspended bass in canyon reservoirs is much the same. I rely almost exclusively on 2.5 and 3 inch tubes in white, pearl or baitfish hues. Most of the time for fish that are suspended up to 35 or 40 feet deep I’ll use a jighead that is no heavier than an eighth of an ounce. If the fish are over 40 feet deep, I’ll reluctantly rig up a with a quarter ounce head.
A heavier head gives you more control over the bait and when I’m working a tube along the bottom I always go with a quarter ounce head, but when targeting suspended bass, control isn’t the issue. The key to tempting the maximum number of strikes from suspended fish is employing a baitfish shaped bait that falls slowly. What you are doing is giving the bass the impression that a badly injured and dying baitfish has fallen into their laps. In other words, you are providing them with such an easy opportunity to feed that they simply can’t pass it up.
The presentation I use is pretty simple. I start out with a long cast and allow the bait to fall. I don’t allow it to fall on a completely slack line, so that I can tell if a fish picks the bait off on the way down, which will be signaled by the line stopping or moving off in an odd direction. If that happens I reel down and pop the fish that is holding the bait.
If I don’t get hit and I figure the bait has fallen below the level of the fish, I engage the reel, tightened the line with the rod tip near the water and then sweep the rod tip up to the 11 o’clock position. At that point I allow the bait to fall on a semi-slack line until the rod tip is once again down to the water. When that happens I retrieve a couple yards of line, sweep the rod tip up again and allow the bait to fall. I continue this strategy of sweeps and drops all the way back to the boat. When you drop the bait, you’ve got to be vigilant, because that is when the strike will occur.
Back in the old days I didn’t use bait scent and plenty of bass inhaled my tube that apparently smelled line the finest American plastic, but today I do apply a bit of baitfish scent to my tubes and feel that it does help me catch more bass. My favorite scents include Pro-Cure super gel in shad, smelt and shiner. Basically I try to match the scent that I believe the bass are feeding on.