Outdoors: Drop off into summer bass
by Charles Johnson
Jul 07, 2013 | 1473 views |  0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
FLW pro Casey Martin displays a bass caught off a ledge. (Photo by Charles Johnson)
FLW pro Casey Martin displays a bass caught off a ledge. (Photo by Charles Johnson)
There is one feature all man-made impoundments have in common. Original creek and river channels meander through the underwater terrain across the lake bottom. These features are relatively easy to locate with a map and depth finder. Ledges, or what some old timers refer to as drop-offs, will hold bass during the summer months.

After the spawn, bass will move out to ledges and drops to spend their summer vacations. The ledge is the point where the bottom drops off into the old river or creek channel. Usually along the ledge there can be stumps, rocks or small cuts where the bass will congregate.

One key is locating the spot where the fish are holding. This location can change from day-to-day depending on the current and water conditions. Whether on the Tennessee, Coosa or Tallapoosa chain of lakes, ledges are an important part of catching bass during the summer.

Locating the ledges

The first step in locating ledges is with a quality topographic map. The types of lake maps will have contour lines indicating the change in water depth from full pool elevation. The closer the contour lines are together the steeper or more sudden the drop-off.

“I will use a map to select a few spots to check before I get on the water,” said Casey Martin FLW pro from New Market, Ala. “Once on the water I will use my graph to try to locate a school of bass.”

During the summer months, Martin prefers to start with the top of the ledge in around 10 to 12 feet of water. The drop should progress to a depth of around 20 to 24 feet. Sometimes the fish may hold right at the break or just below.

Recently Martin caught over 30 pounds of bass on the final day of the FLW Tour event on Lake Chickamauga in Tenn. He had located a mega school of bass on a ledge dropping into 22 feet of water.

Key ledge locations to search for bass are where the channel swings into a point of land. Also, channel bends or turns are other good spots that will hold summer bass. Small feeder creeks or ditches that junction with a larger creek or river channel are a top spot as well.

Martin says if the current is present the fish will hang tight to the bottom. He recommends looking for some type of break in the current the fish can use to hold behind.

Ledge position

Martin will use his electronic graph to see how the fish are positioned on the ledge. This will help him determine how to align his boat in relation to the fish. He will usually start out casting perpendicular to the ledge. Martin says you may have to change directions depending on how the fish prefer the bait.

“On day two on Chickamauga, there were a couple of other boats on the ledge and I was more parallel to the ledge then,” said Martin. “But, that is the way the fish preferred the lure.”

Martin says if you know the fish are there, but you are not getting any strikes, reposition your boat at a different angle. Some days the fish will want the lure falling off the ledge and other days they may prefer the lure coming up from deeper water.

A hard bottom is what Martin looks for around ledges. He says a harder bottom will show up as a brighter white on the graph. A sharp point, rocks or gravel on the bottom tend to hold fish better than softer bottoms.

Lures for ledges

There are several types of lures anglers can use to mine bass off of ledges. During the Chickamauga tournament, Martin used a Picasso bait ball. This is a modified Alabama Rig. Martin’s set up consisted of 13 lures coupled together. But, only the back three baits had hooks to comply with Tennessee fishing regulations.

“I would cast the lure out in about 12 feet of water past the lip of the ledge,” Martin said. “I would allow the rig to hit bottom and then start a slow, steady retrieve.”

Martin said the bass were holding just over the lip and they would hit as the bait came past the ledge. He says sometimes the school will become more active after a fish or two is caught. If the action slows, Martin suggests changing speed, casting angles or even lures. When the bite slowed down, he switched over to a drop-shot rig for a more finesse approach.

Another top lure for ledges is a crankbait. Longed bill, deep diving cranks bumped along the bottom will trigger strikes from bass. The crankbait also allows the angler to cover more area along the ledge to locate the fish. Lure size can dictate the diving depth of the bait to keep it in the strike zone.

Strike King has introduced a new super crankbait for a diving depth up to 25 feet. This lure can get down to depths where bass may have never seen a crankbait.

The shaky head-style lure is another bait for ledge fishing. Weights from 3/16- to 3/8- ounce are good sizes depending on the water depth. The lures can be rigged with 4- inch finesse worms or creature-style soft plastics. Anglers should use translucent colors like blue or smoke for bright sunny days in clear water. On cloudy days, darker colors in purple, green pumpkin or black should produce some strikes.

“Some spots may only hold a few fish,” said Martin. “And other spots will have a larger school.”

Martin says the school may change locations along the ledge. They can move a couple of hundred yards from their previous location depending on current, water conditions and fishing pressure. Sometimes leaving the spot for a few hours and returning later, anglers may find the fish more responsive.

Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com
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