It's an age-old problem in bass fishing — how to reach inactive bass that are suspended well below the surface and coax them into biting.Bass enthusiasts have wrestled with this puzzling situation practically since boats first floated.
Chad Potts believes he has found a reliable solution, particularly when this dilemma presents itself in the warmer months. He refers to his trick as the "Suspend Rig.""We developed this technique because suspended fish are just so hard to catch during the late spring and summer months," said Potts, a 29-year-old avid tournament angler from Fort Worth. "In my part of the country, the weather gets so hot that the fish suspend a lot of the time. We figured if we're going to do well in tournaments during this time, we were going to have to figure out a way to catch those suspended fish."I don't know of anybody else who's doing what we've been doing. I've heard of people Carolina-rigging crankbaits, but they always use the typical 1-ounce weight and let it go all the way to the bottom, and let the crankbait suspend a foot or two off the bottom. Our technique is a lot different."The answer to hot weather suspended bass is a hybrid form of Carolina-rigging with diving plugs, a technique Potts and partner Jerry David of Pilot Park have exploited to win more than $40,000 in the last two years in local tournaments. It has produced handsomely on several Texas lakes, including Texoma, Whitney, Ray Roberts and Squaw Creek.He explains why this tactic works so well."Big, deep diving crankbaits aren't the answer with these suspended fish, because the baits blow through the schools," Potts theorizes. "And if the bass are below 20 feet, you can't really reach them with a crankbait anyway."The key is being able to get a crankbait to stop at a certain level. Playing with this rig in a swimming pool, we found that we could use a Carolina rig to get a small crankbait as deep as we wanted it and use the buoyancy of the bait to stay at a certain level."This form of Carolina-rigging diving plugs begins with the proper tackle.Potts utilizes a 6 1/2-foot medium heavy action Piranha rod and a baitcasting reel. His 2- to 3-foot leader is made of 10- to 15-pound-test Berkley Big Game line. More importantly is the combination of split-shot and small bullet weights he uses to precisely balance the rig so the crankbait floats well off the bottom and remains relatively stationary at a certain level. Positioned below the weight, the split shot keeps the sinker out in front of the lure. With this tactic, you can either utilize a swivel to create a separate leader or simply use the main line.Unlike most other attempts that combine Carolina-rigging and crankbaits, this technique uses mostly shallow diving baits to approach schools of suspended bass in 15 to 35 feet of water."I like a shallow running bait because you don't have to put a bunch of weight on it to get it down," Potts says. "And the smaller crankbaits just seem to work better in these schools. That may be because bass down deep never see any small-profile crankbaits. If they do see a crankbait, it's a big one. So the smaller ones give the fish a different look."The small shallow divers that work best in this setup include Mann's Baby 1-Minus, Excalibur's Swim'n Image and Bomber's Fat Free Fingerling and Model A.Potts recommends the following weight/split shot combinations to achieve the appropriate descent rates:
Baby 1-Minus — 1/16-ounce bullet weight and one split-shot equals a fall rate of about 1 foot per 2 1/2 seconds; 1/8-ounce weight and four split shot, 1 foot in 8 seconds.
Swim'n Image — 1/16-ounce and one split shot, 1 foot per 2 seconds.Fat Free Fingerling — 1/16-ounce weight and one split shot, 1 foot every 2 seconds.
Model A — 1/8-ounce weight with no split shot, 1 foot per second.
Fishermen should experiment with the weight to better match the water conditions on each particular day, according to Potts.Although the action can sometimes be fast and furious when a well-balanced crankbait reaches a school of bass with this method, it is usually a painstakingly slow technique."I've actually had retrieves that lasted 15 minutes on one cast," Potts explains. "By the time you count it down, that takes a minute or so. You bump it a time or two, and the bait comes up about 4 feet each time. So, it takes time to count it back down."There's really nothing to the retrieve. Sometimes we just free-line it and let the wind carry us, which is like making a long cast. We'll bump it a time or two, and it will take 10 or 15 minutes before you reel it in. It takes a lot patience to work this technique."Basically, Potts makes a long cast and free-spools the reel to get extra distance. Then he counts the bait down as it sinks, typically at a rate of about a foot every 2 or 2 1/2 seconds (depending on the lure and weight). After reaching the desired (and approximate) depth level, he pops the rod upward slightly to make the crankbait hop erratically, then counts the lure back down."The key to making this technique work is being able to use your electronics," Potts emphasizes. "You have to be able to figure out the depth level of the schools and then be able to stay at the right level. If you're marking fish in 60 feet of water and 30 feet off the bottom, 30 feet is where your crankbait needs to be."Other than this technique, there's no other real way to do that. You can't really drop a worm down and stop it at 30 feet. But by using your depthfinder, you can really make pinpoint presentations to these deep schools of fish with this method."This hybrid Carolina-rigging/cranking tactic has proved especially productive for bass that are suspended off bluffs, dams and bridge pilings. But it will also work in situations where there is cover like brushpiles and stumps (using a depthfinder to present the bait above or adjacent to the cover)."As the bait seems to just sit in one place, the current will make it kind of shimmy back and forth like suspended baitfish do," Potts says. "Most of the strikes come when the bait is stationary."You hardly ever feel the fish strike the bait. They just seem to swim off with it. It's almost the same feeling you get when a bass hits a Fluke or Slug-Go-type bait. It just gets heavy, or you see your line moving one way or the other."Despite dealing with suspended bass situations, this technique has produced as many as 30 bass a day, as well as 20-pound stringers in Texas tournaments for Potts and David."The frustrating thing about suspended bass is that you might see a big school sitting off a bluff or point, but you normally have to wait until they come all the way up before you can catch them," Chad Potts says. "But you might have to wait from 8 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon before they come up.With this technique, you don't have to wait."Tim Tucker's Pro Angling Insider: I is a new bi-monthly newsletter with an annual subscription rate of $39.95. It can be ordered by calling toll-free 800-252-FISH. A sample issue can by seen on his Bass Sessions 2001 web site, www.timtuckeroutdoors.com.