Ask any bass angler when his or her quarry is hardest to catch, and I am willing to be the answer will most likely be, "when they're suspended". Fact is, that when bass suspend, it literally means they are in a state of inactivity, where their only goal is to burn as little energy as possible. This means that chasing down a crankbait or, or diving to pick up a soft plastic offering on the lake floor, is down at the bottom of the list of things those bass would like to do. This presents an interesting dilemma for the bass angler, whose lures for the most part are based on varying degrees of motion.
Years ago anglers discovered through trial and error that if they planned to entice any of these super lazy fish into striking, they would have to slow down their presentation, and keep the bait in the strike zone for as long as possible. The question was how to do this. Enter an entire new breed of lures dubbed "neutrally suspending". These neutrally buoyant baits, were all baits that already existed, but were for the most part modified by various degrees of garage engineering to neither float nor sink, but rather "hover" motionless at a given depth. Anglers discovered that by adding the right amount of weight to the right places on a floating crankbait, or jerkbait, they could achieve this motionless hover with great success. This spawned the technique that is now know as horizontal jigging. Which for all intents and purposes is the exact same thing as vertical jigging, but with the water column turned sideways. The principle of giving the fish a chance to get a good long look at that bait, still remains paramount in this presentation. Now, it is easier than ever to present this technique, as there is a plethora of lures offered that posses this neutral buoyancy right out of the package, which eliminates the hassle of modifying existing baits. Products such as the Rapala Husky Jerk, Poe's Dead Eye , as well as the Suspending Bomber Long A, are all examples of this specialized manufacturing. With this in mind, lets take a look at how you can apply this highly specialized technique to your bass fishing repertoire.
The big mystery surrounding this method of fishing lies in the question of "when should I use it"? To answer that, I think it would be safe to say, "when nothing else seems to work at all'. I say this because chances are if nothing else is working, you have stumbled upon a school of suspended bass. Though there is good news here. Chances are if you can catch one you can catch a good portion of the entire school that is probably there as well. Also, having a good knowledge of what size the average forage is for that body of water will benefit you greatly. With this in mind, boat positioning will be your first concern. You will want to be off the sides of the school, rather than on top of them. For obvious reasons of not wanting to spook or break up the school. This is where a good electronics package will really come into its own. After positioned off the school, you'll want to make the longest casts humanly possible as the farther you can get that bait out there, the longer the retrieve, and the more time it will be down in the crucial strike zone. I recommend a six to six and a half foot medium action baitcast rod, paired with a high quality reel, capable of making the long throws needed for this technique. Through trial and error I have noticed Daiwa's XPS series with the Long Cast Spool, to be more than effective at putting baits out at long range. As for line; lighter is better. Keeping the line light make for less of a line profile, which will spook leery bass, as well as allow your bait to look and act more naturally in the water. Heavy line will many times interfere with the suspension depth as well as the overall action of the bait. I recommend a six to ten pound high quality, low stretch monofiliment line. P-Line's Premium will allow for consistent hook up's with its low stretch construction. Which is another point, here, stretch is bad. On those long casts, you'll really want to be able to sense those light, lethargic strikes at long distance. Your next question will be, what bait should I be throwing. The answer to this is what ever you have that will closely match the actual forage base in that lake. Here is where the fly fishing adage "match the hatch" really shows its true meaning. Matching the forage base in both size and color I have found to have been key in making this presentation pay off. Your choices are certainly not limited with the massive number of baits offered by various manufactures specifically designed for this task, as I have mentioned previously. I have found the Rapala Husky Jerk and Bomber Suspending Long "A", to be the ticket when a stick bait style lure is needed. Where as the Poe's Dead Eye to be the bait of choice when a crankbait style lure is needed.
The actual presentation is very simple once you have located the suspended school, which in most cases is the hard part. After you have made your extra long cast, a few quick cranks will get your bait down to its desired depth, more or less depending on your lure. Once you have your bait at your desired level, short jerkbait like twitches will make this a presentation that nearly any bass would be proud to chomp on. Experimenting with the duration of the pauses between twitches will let you fine tune this presentation as to exactly what that school of fish wants. Though for the most part the twitch and pause technique will come through with flying colors. Another great, though lesser known method of presenting such a bait, is to, again, crank your bait down to the desired depth, then retrieve it steadily at a painfully slow rate. Though doing this can require the patience of a heavily sedated Mahatmas Ghandi, the reward can be well worth it. This technique can really show its stuff come tournament time and no one in the field seems to have found bass of any quality.
Though it should be noted that this method is very effective on lethargic, suspended bass, there is a place for this in the active bass repertoire. Come spring time, when a young man's fancy turns to the emerging grass beds, and the hungry fish that will be cruising them, suspending baits can provide the bass angler with the edge he or she needs to really clean up. Using a quick rippin' style presentation once your bait has reached its suspension depth, can help you pick up active fish cruising the beds with lethal efficiency, as well as help you eliminate a whole lot of unproductive water in a big hurry. This method not only yields numbers, but size as well, with the bonus of, as I have mentioned, helping one cover a lot of water in a shot amount of time. Tournament anglers take note; this technique can make great use of your practice time when it comes to eliminating unproductive water when searching for actively feeding fish.
On a final note, for those Bob Vila type, do it your self-er's, Storm offers several products that will allow you to modify any existing floating bait, to suspend as would a package bought one. They go under the name "Suspen-dots" and "Suspen-strips", are adhesive lead circles and strips that adhere to the bodies of hard baits. When used correctly, they can make nearly any bait suspend nearly anywhere in the water column, depending on the configuration and the number of dots or strips used. Though while my experience with them has been limited, I can say that they certainly do the job, and I have several jerkbaits that I keep with the dots permanently adhered to them. They certainly do open up a whole new world of bait modification, which can sometimes be key on super pressured waters.
With this in mind, the next time the going gets though on your favorite fishing hole, see if you can give this tried and true technique a shot, and who knows, maybe the reward will come in the form of a conversation worthy stringer of bass.
Catch ya' on the water...
By: Nick Ruiz
Want To Advertise Here? Email Us!