Suspended bass have gained a reputation as being one of the toughest bass to catch. Their elusive and nomadic behaviors, especially when in deep water, have frustrated bass anglers for years. Two-time Bassmaster Elite Series winner Jeremy Starks has learned to successfully catch suspended bass by relying heavily on his electronics and monitoring the behavior of the bass he sees on the screen.
Why Bass Suspend
The reason that bass are suspending will impact how active they are and in turn how difficult they will be to catch. “If the bass are suspending because of a high pressure system or a cold front they will be harder to catch than if they are suspended because they are following the baitfish. If you see streaks all over your screen along with baitfish, there is a good chance that they are active bass,” says Starks. Usually the bass will still be relating to something, even if they are suspended in the middle of the water column. “Even though they are suspending, the will usually be over cover like brushpiles or above a breakline,” adds Starks.
The use of your electronics is vital when targeting suspended bass, both to see the baitfish as well as to locate the bass. With so many different arches and blips on the screen, how can an angler tell if what they are seeing are even bass? “I get that question probably more than anything when I’m talking about fishing. The real answer is that there is really no way to tell until you experience it, bass can look so many different ways on the screen and you have to have some experience catching them after seeing them on the screen to tell what a bass looks like,” says Starks. While that might not immediately help someone looking for a quick answer, the underlying message is that anglers have to spend time on the water using electronics to really get a good gauge of what they are seeing underwater. “The biggest thing that helps me is to set up my Lowrance to where it is a quad screen, one with sonar, one with map, one with downscan and one with sidescan. By doing that you can start seeing what it looks like from different angles and teach yourself what it looks like below and you will start to figure it out much quicker,” adds the West Virginia pro.
For Bassmaster Elite pro Jeremy Starks, suspended bass can be targeted with two main bait categories all year long depending on water temperature:
- Soft plastic on a drop-shot rig – During the warmer months Starks will use a drop-shot almost exclusively for suspended fish because of its effectiveness and ease of staying in the strike zone. “For largemouth and even smallmouth, the Strike King Dream Shot is my favorite bait to use; I used it for suspended fish during the Elite Series season from FalconLake all the way up to the St. Lawrence River. Another good one is the Keitech Sexy Impact, it’s a really unique design and works great on a dropshot,” shares Starks. Like he alluded to earlier, different species will react differently when they are suspended. “For spotted bass, I have had more success with finesse worms like a Roboworm straight tail. I’ve also found that all of the different species suspend differently, smallmouth for instance will often suspend very close to the bottom,” acknowledges Starks. His dropshot setup consists of a 6’10” L action Okuma C3-40X spinning rod and Okuma Helios reel. “The Light action is lighter than what a lot of guys use, but in this day of superlines and fluorocarbon you want your rod to be able to take the load. I use 10lb Seaguar Kanzen braid and 6lb Seaguar Tatsu for a leader and you just don’t lose fish with that line and that rod,” claims Starks.
- Deep-diving crankbait – “Any time the water is below 70 degrees, I will be using a crankbait for suspended bass. A Strike King 5XD or 6XD are my go-to and I only need three colors to cover all of my bases: 1) Chartreuse Blue Back, 2) Sexy Blueback Herring and 3) Green Gizard Shad,” mentions Starks. Each of those colors is well suited for different water clarity and he is comfortable carrying only those colors no matter where he goes across the country. His crankbait setup varies based on the bait, an Okuma 7’6” Cranking Rod for the 6XD and a Okuma 7’ Medium for the 5XD. “I fish both crankbaits with an Okuma Komodo 5.4:1 reel with 12lb Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon,” shares the Elite Series pro.
Keeping the Bait in the Strike Zone
Once Starks notices what depth the bass are relating to, he will drop his drop-shot to the bottom and reel up to where the fish are. “One thing you have to do is know how many inches of line per crank your reel is. If it’s 34” inches, that’s about 3’ so you have to crank it as many times as you need to, it may be 4 or 4.5 cranks depending on where you see the fish,” shares Starks. By doing a little math, you can make sure you are in the strike zone with your bait and that is the biggest battle. “Once you are there and shake your finesse worm in front of the fish, if they are active they will bite it,” adds Starks.
If Starks is using a crankbait he will still pay close attention to where the fish are relating to and make sure he has the right crankbait for the depths needed. His win at the Douglas Lake Elite Series event was by targeting suspended bass with a Strike King 6XD and using the “longlining” technique. At that event, he watched his electronics and made very long casts and let line out even further to ensure that his bait would dive deep enough to be seen by the bass suspending in very deep water. It required an extreme amount of time and patience, but he was able to catch bass that most of the field ignored or failed to catch.
Fishing for suspended bass can be frustrating or extremely rewarding depending on how you target them. Since they are not obvious targets with multiple anglers fishing for them, they can offer an untouched population of bass. To be effective, anglers have to utilize their electronics and understand the baits and techniques they are using.