The Heat Is On:
Part III: Fishing the Middle
by Bruce Callis Jr
In Part 1 we covered the top of the water column. And in Part 2, we covered the bottom. That leaves the middle section of the water column. The middle can be as little as a couple inches to who knows, depending on the depth of the water. What do we do and what do we throw. Everyone has that special bait they love, or are the most comfortable with. It is all about the reaction baits provoking the bass to strike.
One of my favorite baits is the lipless crankbait. And more precisely, the SPRO Aruku Shad. It can be worked from just below the surface to just above the bottom, and at any depth in between. It can be precise casts to the bank ,out off the points, across grass beds, along bluff walls, or it can be anywhere you want. I prefer to use 10 pound Seaguar Red Label Fluorocarbon on my Bulldog 7’2” lipless crankbait rod and a Quantum EXO reel. The rod and reel allow me to make long casts and I can feel every little bump along the way. Just be ready, for the bass love to just slam it hard. I like to work it a variety of ways, from the slow crawl along the bottom or just ticking the top of the grass. Depending on where the baitfish are relating to, I can work my bait at that depth. I can work it at any speed, but I like to vary the speed with quick burst by turning the reel faster, or even by pulling the lure with my rod. It’s all about trying to find what the bass want at that moment. And it can change from location to time of the day.
I also love to have a one-two punch with my Death Shimmer spinning bait and a chatter bait. I can work them in the shallows and out deep. I especially love to run them both just above the bottom when the bass are hanging deep. Call me crazy, but I don’t like to use braid for them, I still prefer to use fluorocarbon, and depending on where I am, I use either 10 or 12 pound. I don’t feel I as if I lose anything using the lighter Seaguar Red Label Fluorocarbon line, I still have the strength to fight in those big 10 pound bass. Work both around the edges of lily pads and grass lines, making sure to work different depths. I love to work them around the outside of laydowns to help draw a big girl out. And they both work great through stump fields and standing timber.
The jerkbait is one of those lures that works year round. And now is a great time. Shallow running jerkbaits up shallow and deeper diving ones off the drop offs and along the channel. Work around laydowns and the outside edges of the pads and grass. It is also a great choice over the submerged grass beds where bass love to hide and ambush prey. Again, I like to use 10 pound Red Label on a 7’ to 7’2” medium heavy rods. For the lighter, shallow running jerkbaits, I like to use a 7’ medium spinning rod and spool up with 10 pound braid with a 10 foot leader of 10 pound Seaguar Red Label Fluorocarbon.
One lure I don’t fish enough, is a swimbait. Be it a soft plastic on a swim jig, or on a weighted swimbait hook, or one of the hard body models, I just don’t throw it enough. I guess I get frustrated on throwing it over and over without a strike, but like a jig, I know it catches big bass. And I have seen plenty of others who catch those big bass on those big baits. I just don’t have that same confidence. But I am getting better at it, and I will be throwing it more, having one always tied on.
While most people think that a crankbait must hit bottom, I have found that it is also great for working the middle of the water column. I love to run into standing timber with a crankbait, making it jump and dart off of it. It’s all about making the bass react to the sudden change of direction and hit your lure.
Getting Out The Finesse
And then we come to the more finesse methods of covering the middle. Here we go with those baits to trick those finicky bass into biting. And the first I think of is a small swimbait, like a 3.25 inch Missile Baits Shockwave, on a small ballhead jig. Depending on where I am, I will go from 1/16th ounce to 3/16 ounce jig head, and I prefer either a 1/0 or 2/0 hook size. I use a spinning reel setup with a braid main line and a fluorocarbon leader. I like to use anywhere from 8 to 10 pound leader line, but depending on the bass, I have dropped down to a 6 pound leader. And I just reel it back slowly, keeping the bait active with little burst and twitches. And don’t worry, this bait will catch big bass.
The Ned rig is another finesse method. We all think about bouncing it across the bottom, but it is also a great way to catch suspending bass. You can use a short straight worm, like a ZMan TRD, a small Senko, the back end of a used Senko, or something like the Missile Bait Ned Bomb or a little longer 4.25 inch Quiver. Using a spinning rod, cast out and let your bait sink to the desired depth and then reel it back in slowly. Or you can cast it out and let it pendulum back to you on a tight line. It may seem like with it having very little to no action that it wouldn’t work, but bass can’t resist it. Light line is a must, and you can use anything from 4 to 8 pound fluorocarbon.
A spybait is another finesse technique to cover the middle and suspending bass. Using a spinning rod and light line, cast out your bait and let it flutter down to the desired depth. I’ve found a couple methods I like to use. One is the pull and drop. You let it sink, then give it a slow pull with the rod, let it flutter down, then repeat again. The other is the slow retrieve. Cast it out and let it sink, then start a slow retrieve back. I will give it small pulls and let it drop, then start reeling again. Light line is a must also. I prefer a 7 foot to 7’4” medium to medium light action rod for this.
One method that many think of as bottom fishing is the drop shot. But if you look at the setup, the bait is not on the bottom, it is actually suspended above the bottom. And depending on the length of the line between the hook and the weight, it can be 2 feet off the bottom. When fished vertically, you can actually stop the drop of the weight at any depth and have your bait suspended at your desired depth. So don’t always think of a drop shot as bottom fishing.
Covering the middle of the water column is by far more about making the bass react to your bait. We do more of this all the time. Throwing a crankbait to run just above the grass, or ticking the outside edges of the laydowns, it is all about making the bass come to you. What bait are you the most confident in and what will you be throwing? What new bait are you going to try to master to improve your catching?