The Summer Conundrum of Suspended Bass
Frankfort, Ky. – The intense sun and summertime temperatures in the 90s stifles the desire of most of us to move around much. A glass of tea in the shade or a nap in an air-conditioned room are much more inviting than digging a hole for a fence post or putting up hay.
Black bass are just like us. Their activity slows down in the heat of a summer’s day. Bass suspend in the water column and rest like a human sitting on the porch in a rocking chair, letting the heat of the day pass. While fishing topwater baits at night, dusk or dawn is an effective way to catch bass, many anglers believe that they can’t catch bass during the heat of a July afternoon.
However, you can effectively target bass suspended over deeper water in the middle of the day by downsizing your lures and tackle, then slowing down your presentation. If you can find the fish, this can be one of the most reliable ways to catch bass than at any other time of the year.
“Bass are going to pick off an easy meal, but they aren’t actively feeding,” said Chris Hickey, black bass research biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “But, once you find them, they’ll spend all summer there.”
Water temperature, dissolved oxygen and the lake’s water fertility all play a role in where bass will suspend during the dog days of summer. “It’s an issue of comfort,” Hickey explained. “They don’t want to sit in 3 feet of water that is approaching 90 degrees. Their metabolism increases as water temperatures increase, and that can stress them. They find a neutral zone of comfortable water temperatures.”
That cozy zone usually resides just above the thermocline – the breakpoint between the warmer, oxygenated water on top and the colder oxygen-depleted layer underneath. Fish rarely venture into this bottom layer because of the lack of oxygen.
“They’ll chase food under the thermocline,” Hickey said, “but can’t hang out there.”
In fertile reservoirs such as Barren, Taylorsville, Nolin, Green and Guist, the summer thermocline is roughly 12 -16 feet deep. Bass suspend over humps, points and channels at this depth in July and August.
A lightweight jig-and-pig combination in green pumpkin, black-and-blue, green-and-brown or brown-and-orange swum just above these structures will produce strikes. The channel drops in the lower one-third of Barren River Lake are a dynamite place to practice this technique in summer. You may catch all three species of black bass. A skirted grub worked in the same manner as the jig is another excellent presentation for these fish. Good colors to try include watermelon with red flake, pumpkinseed or black.
Don’t overwork your jig or skirted grub. Simply swim them just above bottom on a slow, steady retrieve. You want your lure to stay in the strike zone in front of the fish for as long as possible. A lot of anglers would try a crankbait for these suspended bass, but the erratic nature of the lure often turns off idle fish.
“Bass don’t want to spend their metabolic energy chasing prey in summer,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries and former black bass biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “They are in a lazy mode. They aren’t going to chase a lure.”
Things get a little more complicated for clear, low fertility lakes such as Cumberland, Paintsville, Laurel, Dale Hollow and most mountain lakes east of Interstate 75. These lakes can hold dissolved oxygen in their depths. This is the reason they can support cool water fish species such as walleye, striped bass, trout and smallmouth bass.
Black bass, especially smallmouth bass, often suspend 6-10 feet deep over ledges that start at 40 feet and fall off into the old river channel. Bass also hold at the same depths over 25-50 feet deep long, sloping points.
Use a 4-inch finesse worm or a 3-5 inch grub rigged on a 1/16-ounce lead head jig to catch these fish. Cast your lure over a channel drop or long point and slowly retrieve it. If this does not produce a hit, then let your lure sink for five seconds on the next cast before you begin your retrieve. Keep adding five seconds to every cast until you find the active zone of the fish.
Slow down once you find this active zone and watch your line intently. Often the line will suddenly go slack, tighten or move to the side. A bass probably has just inhaled your lure.
Avoid lines heavier than 8-pound test if you’re bass fishing in a clear, infertile lake. Set a light drag and let the fish run. There is little structure in deep, rocky infertile lakes for the fish to hang upon and break your line. Many anglers may balk at using such light line, but in these types of lakes during the day in summer, lures fished on heavier lines simply don’t get bitten by bass.
Slow down and swim a lure for suspended bass during these long, hot lazy days. It may be the fastest bass fishing of the year.