As the boat idled out of yet another shallow water bay, our day was all but done, and the fishing had been nothing to write home about. A handful of small bass was not the result we were hoping to get out of the hours we had just spent casting.
And then it happened. As that shallow bay transitioned to deep water, the graph showed a large pod of what we could only assume was baitfish suspended over the deep water point the boat was gliding across. I could see the light go off in my buddy’s head as he reached for his rod and fired a cast. One bass; then another, and just like that, our day had turned around. We spent the next couple of hours catching fish that we had originally ignored.
If there is one term that will make even the most hardened bass angler cringe, it’s suspended bass. The misconception that suspended bass are inactive bass is enough to turn anyone off, but the reality is, inactive or not, suspended bass can be caught, and we’ve put together this in depth guide to help you do just that.
Table of Contents (clickable)
Why Do Bass Suspend?
No matter where in North America you’re fishing, predictable spring shallow water patterns will eventually give way to deeper water holding patterns as bass seek out more stable, oxygen rich water.
As that transition begins, bass can still be relatively predictable, feeding on deeper water baitfish or bottom-dwelling crawfish. But then, seemingly overnight, all that changes and those deep water patterns stop working just as quickly as the shallow water approach did.
It’s a scenario that can frustrate the best of us, but not one that can’t be overcome. From water temperatures to incoming storm fronts, there can be more than a few reasons that bass will suspend, but what it comes down to is consistency and stability.
As the water warms, most lakes will stratify, leaving three distinct layers: the top warm water layer, the middle layer that we know as the thermocline, and the much colder bottom layer.
It’s easy to assume that the colder bottom layer is where the fish, the bass, and the bait fish they’re feeding on are going to find the most stable, oxygen rich water. But that's not the case, and with a lack of any current, that bottom layer will not have the oxygen fish need. Instead, it’s the thermocline that provides the conditions needed, and bass will suspend.
How To Find Suspending Bass
When bass are suspended, they can be just about anywhere and aren’t always easy to pinpoint. A good graph is going to be your best friend. Not only will a graph show you the thermocline, but you’ll easily pick up on pods of baitfish that show up as large, dark clouds. Find these bait fish, and there will almost always be bass nearby. Whether they’re actively feeding or not, bass are going to stay close to their deep water food source.
Study The Lake
We don’t all have access to the latest and greatest in electronics, but locating suspended bass isn’t impossible without them. It may just mean you’ll have to put in a little more work.
Suspended bass are going to follow schools of bait fish, but rarely are they going to do that out in open water. Sure, there are some lakes where they might just do that, but on most lakes bass are not going to abandon the structure that we all know they like to relate to.
While a good graph is going to help pinpoint specific structures like deepwater brush or rock piles, a topographic map can show major structures like main lake points, humps, and shoals. It’s going to take some trial and error and more than a bit of patience to narrow it down from there but those are good places to start and with some persistence will usually pay off.
How To Catch Suspending Bass
Depending on the lake you're fishing, bass can be suspended pretty much anywhere in the water column. Deepwater lakes might see bass holding in 20 or 30 feet of water over depths of 40 or 50 feet. Lakes that are overall shallower might have fish that hold at 10 to 15 feet over 20 or 30 feet of water.
This doesn’t necessarily clear things up much, but it’s important to know that when bass are in holding patterns like this, they will rarely travel much deeper to feed. Fishing on the bottom, or having a lure that's running deeper than holding bass, is essentially fishing ‘dead water.’ Sure, you might get the odd fish that will chase something down, but you’re going to dramatically increase your catch rate if you’re fishing at or above those fish.
Jerkbaits are the ultimate search bait for suspended bass. Not only are they fun to use, but they are one of the best ways to find actively feeding fish at any depth.
Let’s say you’ve found a pod of baitfish that is suspended in 10 feet of water. Chances are bass are either going to be stalking them from the side at the same depth or will be directly below them looking up. A shallow-diving jerkbait may not get all the way down to them, but it doesn’t matter. This is a situation where bass will isolate the weakest of the group and chase them down for the easy meal, often using the surface to corner them so they have nowhere to go.
Running a shallow diving jerkbait overtop of suspended bass is an excellent way to induce strikes when the water is clear, as fish can hone in on the lure much easier. But that doesn’t mean the same approach can’t be used in stained water, provided you’re using a lure that throws off a good amount of flash and sound. For this, we like a jerkbait like the Smithwick Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue. It’s a lure that isn’t overly obnoxious and can be used in clear water but also provides enough sound and flash to be effective when the water has some color.
This can all be applied for deeper fish as well, by simply using a deep-running jerkbait like Strike King’s KVD Deep Jerkbait. Diving to depths of 10 or more feet, it’s a lure that can get down to those deeper holding fish without the worry of diving too deep and out of the strike zone.
Back on that fateful day when my fishing partner and I turned our bad luck around, it was a swimbait that did it, and to this day, swimbaits remain one of my favorite and most productive ways to catch suspending bass.
There are two reasons for this, one being the realistic baitfish profile and the other being the precise control of both depth and speed. Whether bass are suspended 10 feet down or 30 feet down, a paddle tail swimbait paired with the right weight can be fished anywhere. Once you know how quickly your swimbait sinks, it’s as simple as counting it down to the right depth and reeling it back to the boat.
The fish will help determine the correct speed. Aggressive, active fish are more likely to chase the swimbait down. Start with a quick retrieve, and if that's not producing, slow it down until you find the sweet spot.
While there are plenty of soft plastic swimbaits that can fit the bill when it comes to suspended bass, a favorite paddle tail swimbait of mine is the Keitech Fat Swing Impact Swimbait. The larger ‘fat’ profile and thumping tail action make it stand out from other swimbaits, but where it truly shines is in its dual injection process, mixing two different salt impregnated plastics to provide perfect balance at any speed without the roll that other plastics can be susceptible to at higher speeds.
On the grand scale of things, the flutter spoon is a relatively new concept when it comes to bass fishing. There are different uses for a flutter spoon, but they work exceptionally well when fishing for suspended bass, more specifically bass in the 10 to 20 foot range.
Flutter spoons are a big lure designed to catch big fish, their extra surface area causing them to to drop at a much slower rate than other smaller profile spoons. That extra surface area creates a unique fluttering motion that big bass perceive as a struggling baitfish, in this case a big shad.
Flutter spoons can easily be worked either above pods of bait fish or directly through them, and while they may seem like a lure meant to target aggressive fish, the flutter and flash can also trigger even the most lethargic bass into striking.
The great thing about flutter spoons is that you don’t need any fancy colors or added attraction. The flash and action are enough to drive bass crazy. That's why we’re big fans of Nichols Lures Magnum Flutter Spoon. Limited to just a couple of colors, this lure doesn't need any fancy bells and whistles to catch big bass. Its effectiveness is in its simplicity.
Spinner baits are by far the most overlooked lure when it comes to fishing suspended bass, and those who do are missing out.
A spinner bait can be worked at any depth and any speed effectively, making it one of the most versatile lures in any fishing situation - and that includes when fish are suspended. Count it down and pull it though schools of bait fish, burn it overtop of those schools for shallower, more aggressive fish, or use a slow pause and retrieve to trigger inactive fish. There isn’t a scenario a spinner bait won’t work in.
Of course, not all spinner baits are created equal, and both size and weight are going to play major roles in selecting the right one for suspending bass. Some spinner baits are also designed to be worked quickly and won’t be right if you need to slow roll it. You could go out and stock up on a bunch of different spinner baits to cover all situations, but it’s much easier to have a few of one that covers it all.
The Booyah Tandem Blade Spinner is a good go-to for suspended bass. Available in several different weights, it’s one of the easiest spinner baits to use. Whether you're burning it quickly for aggressive fish or slow rolling it through schools of baitfish, this tandem spinner does an excellent job of always maintaining the right action and vibration to drive any bass crazy.
Key Points To Keep In Mind When Fishing For Suspended Bass
- Just because bass are suspended doesn’t mean they’re inactive. It’s common to associate the two, but suspending bass can be just as aggressive as they are when up shallow.
- Patience is key. Finding suspended bass without the use of a quality graph can be trying, but even easily finding fish doesn’t guarantee they’re going to be easy to catch. Be persistent and be patient, and you’ll be successful.
- Pay close attention to weather patterns. Quick changes in weather, or incoming fronts, can result in quick changes in bass behavior. Bass that were up shallow one day may not be the next, thanks to a change in conditions.
- Be prepared for anything. When bass are suspended, they can be tough to figure out, even once you’ve found them. Don’t assume fish will be lethargic or inactive. Have at least a couple of options on hand.
Suspended bass can be unpredictable, fussy, and outright stubborn, and because they are, as anglers, we’re sometimes less than excited to be chasing them. But they can also be hungry, aggressive, and just as much fun to catch as they are when in more predictable patterns.
Don’t let the thought of suspended bass scare you away from what can be some great fishing - fishing that a lot of others might not be capitalizing on, leaving more bass for you!
Be sure to leave us a comment and let us know if we helped you successfully target these offshore bass!