For most, they are the "great mystery fish" in bass fishing. They spend the summer in the open lake, suspended at mid-depths and trailing schools of shad like hungry wolves following lambs. Their seemingly random locations and levels confuse many anglers when it comes to finding and catching these bass.
But "seemingly" is the key word here. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kenyon Hill of Norman, Okla., says there is order in suspended bass' locations and feeding patterns, and he finds and catches these bass routinely in July and August. He adds that anybody with good electronics and plenty of patience can do likewise, turning mystery into mayhem when it comes to hooking up with these free-roaming fish.
He explains, "By midsummer many bass have migrated back to La-La Land (deep main lake areas), and they're hanging around shad schools and feeding whenever the mood strikes them. This is especially true in deep, clear water reservoirs."
Hill continues that many anglers view these fish as "needles in a very large haystack." Anglers don't have the confidence and patience to search for suspended bass in the vastness of the open lake. But Hill counters that suspended bass can be patterned as easily as structure-holding fish, and anglers who know the ropes can find them easily and catch them dependably — even frenziedly — when the bite is rocking. Here is how Hill goes about doing this.
"The first thing I do is check the power generation schedule at the dam on the lake I'm fishing," he begins. "When the dams are generating, the resulting current triggers suspended bass to feed. So I try to learn when they'll be generating, then I plan my fishing day so I'll be on my best spots when the water is moving."
Hill explains that even though bass may be suspended (holding at some relative depth between the top of the lake and the bottom), they will still usually orient to some type of bottom structure: a long sloping point, a bend in a river channel or an old roadbed. For instance, "A typical scenario might be to have a submerged point or a channel swing that's 60 feet deep, and the shad and bass will be holding over it at 25 feet, where the thermocline is located. So the important thing is to remember that while fish do suspend, they still typically relate to these bottom structure features. They just hold above them."
Electronics play a vital role in locating these baitfish and bass. "You simply idle over these bottom features and scan with your graph until you find them," Hill continues. "I watch for schools of shad with bigger-bodied fish hanging around them. Usually the bass (and white bass, stripers, crappie or walleye) will be positioned beneath the shad."
Hill's go-to bait for catching suspended bass is a Zoom Fat Albert grub in smoke or a similar shad color. He rigs this bait on a 1/4-ounce bald jig with a 3/0 or 4/0 hook. He fishes this grub with a long spinning rod and thin diameter line that facilitates long casts.
"My technique is very simple," Hill asserts. "When my graph shows fish that are suspended over structure, I'll start casting in their vicinity. I'll count my bait down to a depth just above where they're holding (see Tackle Tricks sidebar), then I'll engage my reel and swim the grub steadily back to the boat. I try to find a retrieve rate that'll keep my bait in the prime strike zone for the longest time possible as it tracks back in."
Hill keeps two other rods rigged and ready as backups to his Fat Albert grub. He explains, "It's not uncommon for bass to come up surface-feeding this time of year, so I keep a casting spoon rigged up. I actually use it as a topwater bait, working it really fast to make it hop and skip."
And his second backup rod is rigged with a wacky worm hooked on a 1/8-ounce jighead. "If I'm getting bites on the Fat Albert and the action slacks off, I'll work the same area with the wacky worm," Hill explains.
In summary, Hill says this pattern is "a good way to catch a bunch of summertime bass in a hurry. It's also a good big fish producer. It's definitely a pattern that can win tournaments for you."
Gear To Grab
Following are specifics about rods, reels and line Kenyon Hill uses to catch suspended bass in the summer.
For fishing Fat Albert grubs and wacky worms:
7-foot American Rodsmiths Predator Shakie Head spinning rod
Abu Garcia Soron STX-40 spinning reel
20-pound-test Berkley Fireline with a 6-foot Trilene 6-pound-test fluorocarbon leader
For fishing casting spoons:
7-foot American Rodsmiths Team Redfish Elite Big Red Hammer baitcasting rod
Abu Garcia Revo STX-HS baitcasting reel (7:1 retrieve ratio)
20-pound-test Berkley Fireline
Swimming a grub at the proper depth is crucial in Kenyon Hill's presentation for suspended bass. Hill achieves this by using a count-down method, which he says other anglers can easily learn.
He explains, "Hold your rod tip over the water beside the boat, and open the reel bail so the grub drops into the water. Try to get an idea of how fast it falls, then match this rate to a count sequence: one-thousand-and-one, one-thousand-and-two, etc. I learned from doing this that the Fat Albert grub on a 1/4-ounce jighead sinks about 1 foot per second.
"Then, after you make a cast, count it down to the depth you're seeking. To fish at 22 feet, I'll count it down for 22 seconds. Then I'll start reeling the grub back in with a steady, even retrieve to try to maintain that depth."
Work Rocky Bluffs With Shaky Head Worms
If his efforts to catch suspended bass falter, Kenyon Hill will switch to a bluff-fishing pattern that usually produces a few bites. He explains, "I'll start working main channel swing bluffs with a shaky head worm. There are almost always a few fish holding along this vertical rocky structure, and stair-stepping a worm down the ledges is a good way to get some action."
Hill fishes this bait rigged on a 1/4-ounce jighead. He holds his boat a few feet away from his target bluff and makes 45-degree casts to its face. He allows the worm to free-fall until it stops on a ledge, then he closes his bail, pops the worm up, reopens his bail and allows the worm to fall some more.
"I'll work it down to 30 feet or deeper," he notes. "Bass love to hide in a bluff's cracks and crannies, and it's hard for one to keep from sucking in a shaky head worm that's dropping right in front of his nose."
Before You Go
Here is a list of chores Kenyon Hill accomplishes before heading out for a day of fishing for suspended bass.
Call the local dam authority to check that day's power generation schedule.
Preplan the day, picking likely spots to inspect for suspended bass.
Ice down plenty of bottled water and Gatorade to stay hydrated.
Check to make sure sunscreen (high SPF factor) is in the boat.
Dress in a long-sleeve light-color shirt and wide-brim hat to ward off the sun.