Suspenders & Heavy Metal
By Tom Redington
As the spawn wraps up, many big females are in transition from shallow water spawning sites to deep water summertime locations. On Lake Fork, many of these bass will be suspended off the bottom during the months of May and June. By suspended, I mean the bass will be hanging out about 10- to 30-feet below the surface in water that is 20- to 50-feet deep. These bass are holding in the middle of the water column instead of on the bottom or near the surface. Many anglers assume suspended bass are inactive, non-feeding fish and nearly uncatchable. On the contrary, suspended bass are feeding heavily during the postspawn and early summer and often holding near big schools of baitfish. The trick is finding a lure that you can keep in front of them.
Finding suspended bass is the easy part. Big schools of suspended fish show up well on your depth finder over main lake structures such as points, humps, and roadbeds. Simply mark the school on your graph, drop a marker buoy over the side and you're set. In addition, many bass suspend in the timber over deeper water near spawning areas and on main lake points and flats. These fish are somewhat harder to mark on your graph, so it'll take some time scouting to find the best places. To shorten your search, start in timber close to coves where lots of bass spawned in March and April.
Choosing the correct lure to catch suspended bass is a more complex decision, determined by the depth of the bass, how much cover is present, type of forage the bass are eating, and weather conditions. Following is a list of my favorite baits and presentation for suspended lunkers.
The first category of baits is for more open water areas. If the conditions are windy or overcast, a shad or bluegill colored deep diving crankbait is hard to beat if the bass are holding 10 feet to about 18 feet below the surface. If the bass are too deep to reach with a crankbait, then shad- or bluegill-shaped swimbaits will go as deep as you need to go. Simply count them down to the desired depth and reel them through the fish on a steady swimming retrieve or with a hop and drop retrieve to simulate fleeing prey.
One of the most productive baits on Fork over the years for suspended bass is a Lake Fork Tackle Magic Shad rigged on a 3/8- to ¾-ounce jighead. This year, the new 3.5 inch and 4.5 inch Live Magic Shad in the Barfish, Magic Shad or Albino Shad colors, rigged on a 1/8- to ¾-ounce jighead gives even more action to this old favorite and will work for suspended bass eating shad or yellow bass in any depth range. Just like swimbaits, count the Magic Shad or Live Magic Shad down to the depth of the fish and slow roll your bait through the school.
No discussion of suspended bass would be complete without mentioning the old standbys of heavy metal-jigging spoons and tail spinners-especially if the bass are eating shad. While hopping these lead dudes through schools of bass often work well, a new category of baits, called underspinners, will often catch them even better. Try one of the new Sworming Hornet Fish Head Spins or Blackmore's Rollin' Runner tipped with a shad colored Magic Shad or Live Magic Shad and you'll give the bass a totally new look.
For bass suspended in heavy timber, there are several very good options. First and foremost, a jig pitched to deep timber is a lethal weapon. I use a 3/8- or ½-ounce Mega Weight jig with a Fork Craw or Flipper trailer. For bass chasing shad, a white jig and trailer works best, while a more bluegill looking color scheme works best for those that are chasing sunfish. Go with a pumpkin pepper, watermelon, green pumpkin, or black/brown amber jig along with a sour melon, watermelon candy, watermelon/chartreuse pepper, junebug or green pumpkin trailer.
You want your jig to drop vertically next to trees, so let it fall on a slack line and trim down your trailer to a more compact size (for example, I cut off the antennae and the legs on the Fork Craw). The streamlined trailer and slack line prevent your bait from gliding horizontally and keep it in the strike zone.
Another great option around trees is a Ring Fry, Magic Shad, Zig Zag, or Live Magic Shad rigged on a 1/16- to ¼-ounce weighted hook. Hooks with the weight pre-mounted on the shank will allow the lure to remain horizontal while slowly falling vertically next to cover, a deadly tactic when less active bass won't chase a fast falling jig. Finally, a Carolina rig with a 3/8- to 1-ounce weight and a short 12- to 24-inch leader will crawl through branches and over trees very well. Lighter weights come through the trees better, while heavier weights allow you to work the bait faster in more open water.
Make a long cast into the timber and let the bait fall all the way to the bottom. Slowly crawl the bait up through the trees, letting it fall back down on slack line once you come over a limb, repeating this process all the way back to the boat. Most strikes come as you approach a limb or just after you come across it. I prefer baits with a lot of swimming action for this setup, like the Lake Fork Tackle Baby Fork Creature or Live Magic Shad. Shad or barfish colors work well for the Live Magic Shad, while watermelon red, watermelon candy, bull bream and purple haze work best for the Baby Fork Creature.
This summer, if you can't catch the bass shallow or deep, give suspenders a try and you might like the results. Here's hoping you catch the lunker of your dreams. Here's hoping you catch the lunker of your dreams. If I can be of assistance, please contact me at 214-683-9572 (days) or 972-635-6027 (evenings) or e-mail me through my website, www.LakeForkGuideTrips.com.
Tom Redington is a full time bass guide on Lake Fork and is sponsored by Ranger Boats, Diamond Sports Marine, Lake Fork Trophy Lures, Minn Kota, Humminbird, and P-Line Fishing Lines.