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Hiya -

On some of the lakes I fish, by mid-July, a pretty good number of the fish I catch are over open water. Can be a real needle in a haystack sometimes believe me.

First should say that I think some smallies probably suspend on most lakes, but only on some lakes do a lot of the smallies suspend more than occasionally. There's probably an easier way to say that, but I have enough Nyquil in me to stun a Clydesdale right now, so I'm not thinking too straight. crazy.gif What I mean is, smallies suspend a lot on lakes where suspending baitfish are a key forage. Even then, it seems like it's only at certain times of year. Lakes with smelt, lots of shiners, shad, or ciscoes are prime candidates for suspending smallies. On lakes where the main forage is crayfish or structure-related forage fish like perch, suspending smallies are less common, and less of an issue because you can usually catch enough fish on structure to keep you happy. Seems too like clear water is a factor, although they do suspend on smelt lakes that are darker like Rainy too.

On lakes where they DO suspend a lot, it seems like, as Superduty and Deitz both sort of indicated, they don't go all that far from structure like points or reefs that hold smallies at other times of year. Sometimes they may be as much as 1/2 mile away, but more often you'll find them within 100 to 200 yards of structure of some kind. They can be as shallow as right on the surface, but rarely seem to go deeper than 30 feet even over very deep water. If I had to guess I'd say 12 to 18 feet is pretty normal on the lakes I fish.

Finding them usually means watching your electronics. Look for bait, and a lot of the time, streaks on the graph that indicate spooked fish. If they're up high busting baitfish, you can catch them on topwaters. Jerkbaits like X-raps or Strike King Wild Shiners are good too, even when they're down a ways. In clear water they'll come up 15 feet to whack a bait sometimes. A lot of the open water smallies I catch though I get on soft plastics. Sometimes it's a jigworm like a 6" Culprit (I used to use 6" Power Bait Ribbontails - until they quit making them and I ran out..grrrr..) Hands down best color is white. Looks like a fish belly I suppose. Black works too, but white's better. I just toss them out behind the boat 80-100' or so and drag them along with the trolling motor. Don't jig them or swim them - just hold the rod. Fireline helps detect strikes, and a lot of the hits feel like nothing more than a little 'tick.' I think on a 1/16 oz jighead, these worms are probably only 6-8 feet down, but the fish seem to come up for them. If I want to be a little deeper I use a soft jerkbait like a Berkley Power Minnow or Northland [jerk-bait] Shad on a jighead. Again, just troll it along.

There are times when trolling cranks like Shad Raps works pretty well, although I don't do it a lot. (I know, I know - trolling isn't allowed in tournaments. I don't fish tournaments, so so what if they don't allow it? \:\) ) I know a couple guys who troll with planer boards and clean house on smallies on some lakes in Wisconsin. More monkeying around that I'm willing to do though, even though I have the boards and stuff.

One thing I tried a little last summer and did ok on was drop shotting suspended fish. I found a school of fish suspended about 12 feet down over a reef that topped out in 25 feet. I could watch the DS rig on my bow mount graph and just drop it on their heads. Kinda like ice fishing. Then got the idea to tie a DS rig with a 15' dropper and it actually worked really well. Just left the sinker and dropper hanging over the side when I landed the fish. Downside is tossing out 15' of Fluorocarbon when you need to retie... I'll probably try the DS thing more this summer, but I suspect for true open water fish it'll be too hard to cover water efficiently. Catching 5 or 6 fish in one area is doing pretty well with suspended fish. They really seem to scatter when they suspend, so the trolling kinds of things with jigworms covers more water.

A few thoughts...hope it helps.


Rob Kimm

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