July 18, 2012
As summer moves on, bass on most reservoirs have shifted gears and are hanging out deep and smacking shad as they wander by.
Many of those bass have found their way to a water body's ledges, the submerged structure that separate shallower water from deeper water. Find a lake's preferred ledge these days and odds are that you're going to find a school of bass stacked up.
Probably a school of BIG bass stacked up. So how do you go about finding the sweet spots?
Major League Fishing pro Mark Davis, the Arkansas legend who is one of the sport's best anglers at ledge fishing, says the first step he takes is reading a good old-fashioned lake map.
"When I pick up a map, I'm looking for three things," said Davis, 1995 Bassmasters Classic champ. "First, I'm looking for really tight contours where there is a good drop-off and shallow water close to deeper water.
"Second, I'm looking for an irregular feature like an indention on a point or something like that.
"And third, I'm looking for any creek or ditch that intersects the ledge."
In other words, Davis' search for the "perfect" ledge often revolves around finding that ledge's unique imperfection.
Major League Fishing pro Jeff Kriet is another great ledge fisherman, honing his skills on Lake Murray in southern Oklahoma, a deep and clear water body filled with rocky ledges that attract and hold smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Like Davis, when Kriet begins to venture off-shore, he is on the look-out for something that is a little out of the ordinary from the surrounding terrain.
"I try and pick out any irregularity in a ledge, something like guts, little points, high spots, and steeper versus gradual drops," Kriet said.
Given his druthers, Kriet prefers looking for off-shore bass rather than those that are up close and shallow.
"I hate fishing the bank where there might be one fish around a laydown," Kriet said. "But out there (off-shore), with every cast, I feel like I've got 100 looking at it.
"When I find them out there, it's generally a school instead of one three-pounder and that's what keeps me going."
As important as map study is for beginning to locate an off-shore ledge pattern, Davis does note that it can only take an angler so far.
"Unfortunately, the better ones (ledges) are not on a map," Davis said. "You actually have to go out on the water and find those others with your electronics, looking for the little subtle ones and the features that they have."
While many anglers think of finding such off-shore spots as being a key technique during the summer months, Major League pro Kelly Jordon believes it pays to look earlier in the year.
Especially on waters like his home lake, Lake Fork.
"What happens in May on lakes like Lake Fork is that the fish (start to) get on deep structure well (before) summertime," said Jordon, a born-and-raised Texan.
"In May, there will start to be a lot of fish beginning to show up out there, although not as many as in June and July, which are best months for fish on structure.
"May is kind of early, but you can hit the big females out there (early on) before people start going out to look out there for the big fish. Most of them (anglers) are still shallow because the fishing is so good (there)."
There's a solid biological reason that drives Jordon's boat off-shore so early in the year.
"The big females, the trophy size fish, they are the first to spawn in a lake," he said. "And usually, most of the really big fish caught are the first wave of spawning. After that, it's simple. If the big fish spawn first, they are also first to hit the deep structure."
Jordon admits that finding these heavily girthed sows on off-shore structure can be difficult in May.
"Yeah, it can be like hunting a needle in haystack early on," he said. "(But it's worth it). When I was a guide, I’d start in late April, graphing likely spots and looking for them to show. When they did show, they would almost always be big fish."
The key to finding those early off-shore fish is proper use of a boat's electronics.
"Start looking for points, channel bends, humps, (roadbeds), (bridges), etc. that are sticking out in to the main lake area," said Jordon. "Start looking in 16 to 18 feet of water down to about 25 feet of water."
When you actually get your boat in to one of these areas, use your electronics as you idle over them, and then mark them on your GPS as you find schools of fish.
"When you do find those schools, then fish there," Jordon said.
Davis says that the current variety of sonar technology combined with GPS waypoint coordinates has changed the game of ledge fishing from what he grew up learning how to do years ago.
"Before, it took some degree of expertise with a paper map and sonar," Davis said. "But with a GPS and a map, you can drive right to a spot and then drive around looking at your sonar (to fine tune a location)."
Today's electronics has even made it easier to find the more subtle locations that other anglers have missed.
"Sometimes, you can find something good when you set up on places a little bit off the beaten path," Davis said. "It might be 100 yards away (from the community hole). And of course those spots are harder to find."
Keep this fact in mind however: Maps and electronics can only take an angler so far concedes Davis.
"At the end of the day, while you want to use all of the tools at your disposal like maps and electronics, it all comes down to fishing it with an actual lure," he said.
Kriet agreed, noting that he'll spend many hours of fishing to narrow down the best offshore spots.
"The key, on obvious stuff, at first, is to see what they are on," he said. "Then I'll spend as much as 12 to 14 hours a day practicing to find those one or two really good deals out there."
Lures for such spot are the typical summertime off-shore stuff in shad colors, especially deep-diving crankbaits like a Strike King 6XD, a Norman's DD-22 or a Lucky Craft Moonsault CB 250.
After that, don't forget to toss big swimbaits; big jig-and-pig combos; the old "ball-and-chain," or Carolina-rig, and big spoons like the Lake Fork Tackle Flutter Spoon.