Michael Suggs launched his Pro Craft into the hot water of Okhissa Lake at the crack of dawn on a recent summer day, with surface temperatures reaching the 90-degree mark.
Suggs’ challenge on this day was to locate and catch a limit of bass during one of the hottest, most-brutal fishing times of the year.
Suggs lives a short drive from the lake and usually fishes it daily, either early morning or late afternoon and usually catches quality bass.
“We may pull up on a ledge early in the morning and catch six or seven, or we may catch 20 or 30,” Suggs said. “If the shad are there you’ll usually find the bass and can catch them on this ledge.
“A couple weeks ago, I pulled up on the ledge and caught over 20 bass by 7:30 (a.m.), and then I went on to work.”
Here’s how his day went.
Suggs motored out into the main lake and headed for a submerged roadbed, stopping just short of the old road.
“We’ve been catching some quality bass really early and late in the day,” Suggs said. “When the shad come up on it, the bass will usually stack up and attack them as they swim overhead.
“You can really mop up on (bass) when that happens.”
Suggs worked the top with a Lucky Craft Gunfish, but the wind was strong and the bass probably couldn’t see the lure.
“There’s too much chop on the water this morning for a topwater bite,” he said.
The trophy -ishing angler switched to a swim bait and combed the roadbed looking for a bite. After a few minutes with nothing to show for it, Suggs picked up and moved again.
But before we left he ran over the roadbed and took a peek at the bottom with his Lowrance side scan and down-imaging system, and nary a bass or shad could be seen.
It was obvious that the bass weren’t on their usual early morning pattern on this day.
Suggs moved south of the lake’s ski zone below the no-wake buoys and started working subsurface lures while searching for shad and bass. We were sitting in 60 feet of water with a thermocline present at a depth of 20 feet, so the bass and shad were all showing up at 15 to 20 feet deep on the Lowrance side-scan unit.
Bass started blowing up on the surface in random schools over the deep water, and Suggs quickly closed the gap and started working the area where we’d last seen them.
Suggs worked a jointed Redfin minnow near the surface, and a nice bass nailed it. Suggs fought the fish for a few minutes until the bass made a sharp turn and the hook came out.
His first bass of the day was lost, but Suggs was keyed in to their whereabouts now and things were looking up.
“You’ve got to catch that first one to find out where they’re at and what they want,” Suggs said.
6:45 a.m. — First Blood
Suggs switched to a topwater bait and started casting a Deps Buzzjet shad, working it to the boat in a fast jerk-pause- jerk-pause rapid-fire retrieve.
A lunker bass smashed the lure, and Suggs went into full battle mode, wearing the bass down until he was able to lead it beside the boat and lip it
7:05 a.m. — Lunker bass
Suggs moved out a bit farther, working the 60-foot-deep water with a spoon. He focused on about 29 feet deep.
“I’ll pitch out a 4- or 5-inch spoon and count it down to about 20- to 25-foot depths, and then work it at that depth until I find the fish,” Suggs said.
The deepwater expert was obviously in his element. While smaller fish were schooling all around us, Suggs decided to try for larger fish.
“The bigger fish are usually underneath the schoolies, and those are the ones I want to catch,” he said. “I’ll use a Flutter Spoon or a swim bait and just count down the lure to the depth I want to check, and see if they’re at home.”
Suggs cast out the Flutter Spoon, and was working it back in a rise and fall motion when a lunker bass hit.
Suggs drove the hook deep into the jaw of the trophy bass. After what seemed like an eternity, the angler lipped the bass and lifted the 7-pounder into the boat.
After a quick photo, Suggs released the fish.
7:35 a.m. — Bass No. 3
Suggs graphed some submerged trees as we worked the area over. He pointed out an area that usually holds a few schoolies and lunkers, and suggested working the tree tops.
I pulled out my Carolina rig, put a Zoom watermelon red finesse worm on and worked the submerged wood while he continued searching for more lunkers.
About the second treetop I pulled that worm over came alive when a bass struck my lure and bore down into the cover.
I reared back and jacked the bass’ jaw, and turned it away from the tangled wood structure. In a few minute, I had my first bass of the day and our third fish.
It was still early, but we were well on our way to a tournament limit of five bass.
7:44 a.m. — Bass No. 4
Keeping an eye on his electronics, Suggs pointed out schools of shad and a few scattered bass, and switched gears and picked up another rod rigged with a swim bait.
As he combed over the area thoroughly, he pointed out submerged structure and other submerged features while discussing the finer points of catching suspended open-water bass.
Suggs pitched out his swim bait, which was rigged on a Scrounger jighead, and worked the lure back to the boat while occasionally jigging it slightly.
“I’m always going to search for the bigger bass in a school, and they usually run a little deeper than the ones on the surface,” Suggs said.
It didn’t take long before he enticed another lunker bass into striking. This time the Okhissa largemouth loaded up Suggs’ rod an instant before he reared back and set the hook.
fter another short battle, Suggs brought the fish up beside the boat and lipped her.
“I’m going to release the big bass back and really just enjoy catching and releasing them,” Suggs said. “There are enough people taking them out of here already, so I just want to catch and release here on Okhissa.”
8:00 a.m. — Another lunker
With the sun already up and blazing, time was of the essence if we were going to secure our tourney limit of bass.
Suddenly, bass blew up all around us, slashing the water’s surface and feasting on thousands of tiny shad. Suggs reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out the Buzzjet shad again, and started popping the waters surface in a fast retrieve.
Jerk, jerk, jerk — wham!
Another quality bass crushed the lure. Suggs bowed up on the bass and quickly turned it toward the boat.
“Stay down, stay, down; don’t come up and spit that lure out now,” Suggs said.
The excited angler quickly got a handle on the situation and wore fish down. The 3 ½-pounder boosted our tournament creel, serving as a solid backup to the kicker Suggs had landed earlier.
Suggs moved to a submerged hump farther down the lake, and we worked the area thoroughly with no luck. A quick scan of the bottom showed no baitfish or shad in the area, so we didn’t kill much time, quickly moving on to another point.
9 a.m. — Gravel flat
We stopped at an area that was usually good for a few bass.
“There’s a ledge down here that is loaded with a gravel flat on top, and it usually has a lot of bream on it,” Suggs said. “This is a great bream lake, and this location is a prime spot for bass to get an easy meal.”
We worked the area thoroughly without a bite, and it was time to move on.
9:30 a.m. — Lily pad cove
Suggs motored to the back of the lake and turned up into a cove on the reservoir’s southeast side.
“Earlier in the year, we really caught some good bass in here,” Suggs said. “They were blowing up on frogs and hitting spinnerbaits, too.”
We fished the creek channel quite a ways back in the cove that was lined with pads on either side and held 18 to 20 feet of water in the creek channel.
As we fished our way back, we tried the pads with frogs, swim baits and other shad imitations without a strike.
The sun was blazing now, and there was no movement on the surface. Bream were constantly popping underneath the pads, as evidenced by the telltale sucking sound of the bluegills.
“There’s a lot of bream in here, and that’s usually a good sign because bass will be in the area as long as there’s cover and baitfish to feed on,” Suggs said.
After spending an hour or so in the cove, Suggs picked up and moved back up lake.
11:00 a.m. —Main-lake ledge
After a short lunch break, Suggs motored back up toward the open water, stopping for a try at another deepwater ledge on the southeast side of the lake.
But after working the ledge with Carolina rigged worms and shaky heads without a bite, we picked up and moved on.
Arriving at another submerged roadbed, Suggs worked the area back and forth while reading the side-scan unit looking for baitfish and bass on the screen.
“There’s not a sign of shad or bass,” Suggs said. “If there’s not any baitfish or shad on the ledge, there’s not going to be any bass, either.”
So he picked up and headed across the lake to the west side of the open water just south of the beach cove.
Noon — Ledge bites
Suggs pointed out a shallow-water ledge that went from 8 to 12 feet on top and dropped off sharply after that.
The angler picked up his shaky-head rig and went to work again. It didn’t take long before he drew a nibble, but he missed on the hook set.
So methodically worked the ledge in search pf another hungry bass.
It didn’t take him long to entice another bass into nailing the shaky head.
I followed his lead with a watermelon shaky head and drew a strike, but I lost the bass about halfway to the boat.
After working a few more ledges, Suggs went back into a deep cove on the northeast side of the lake near the emergency spillway. We chased a few schoolies before hunkering down as a line of thunderstorms interrupted our afternoon of fishing.
Once the monsoon subsided, we worked the ledges just off the points of the cove.
2:29 p.m. — Culling
Suggs worked a ledge just off a point with a watermelon/ purple flake shaky head, and another bass nailed it.
This time he reared back and drove the steel home, and the bass came unglued and fought wildly. After a short struggle, Suggs landed the bass.
This quality keeper upgraded Suggs’ limit, which would put him in contention for almost any hot-weather tournament in this part of the world.
3:00 p.m. — Final bass
As the thunder rolled and lightning crackled all around the lake, it was obvious that it was time to leave.
But a final stop along another point was good enough for yet another bass, which I enticed into biting a watermelon shaky head.
The weather was extreme, with mid-90-degree heat in the morning, along with cold, bone chilling, afternoon thundershowers.
With cooling fall temperatures, fishing will get even better — and there are plenty of 8-, 9- and 10-pound bass residing in the lake that will be chasing shad and gorging themselves before the impending winter.
It’s simply a matter of finding the shad and making proper lure presentations to the bass that are sure to be nearby. Try it yourself. and you just might experience the trip of a lifetime.