Some know it as "drop fishing" and others know it as "ledge fishing for bass" but whatever name you have heard it called, it is the key to being successful on reservoirs during the heat of summer.
What is a ledge? Basically a ledge is a form of structure that can be found at the edge or bank of an old creek channel or the main river channel that remains underwater after the flooding of a reservoir. A quick look at a topographical map of any man made reservoir will show you these old channels. The creek channels will wind their way from the backs of the bays to the old river channel and the main river channel will wind its way thru the reservoir from the headwaters of the lake to the dam.
Seasonal fish migration. To understand why ledges produce you must first understand fish migration patterns. Although it is true that there are always some fish shallow as it is true there are always some fish deep, the most successful anglers will fish in depths and locations that are holding the majority of the fish during any one given time of the year. Bass are predatory fish and as such will follow the main source of food which in reservoirs is baitfish with various species of shad being the predominant baitfish in most reservoirs. Thus the majority of the bass in a reservoir will be found near the majority of the food source. Without going into too much detail about why their food sources and water oxygen content cause the shad to move into shallow water in the spring and back out to deeper water in the summer which is repeated again during the fall and winter months, it is easier for our purpose here to just know that this is the seasonal migration pattern for shad and thus for the majority of the bass.
Why ledges produce. Migrating fish use the old creek channels in reservoirs as their route or "fish highways" as they travel from shallow to deep water and vice versa. The previous statement is probably the most key knowledge to know and remember to be a consistently successful bass angler. If you give that statement some close observation you will soon realize that except for the few weeks that the majority of the bass are very shallow for spawning , that at any given time, the majority of the bass are going to be very near those migration routes or along those migration routes. This is why you always seem to catch more bass in shoreline areas that are near deep water, hence, you are fishing near a migration route or "fish highway". For example: points, docks, laydowns, vegetation, shoreline stumps, and brush piles that are near deep water are well known hot spots for bass. If you take this knowledge and apply the question as to where are the majority of the bass located when they have migrated to deeper water not near the shoreline then it only makes sense that the deeper fish will use the underwater "shoreline" or ledges that provide a similar environment of cover and structure near deeper water.
Which ledges produce? Just as with shoreline fishing, there are ledges or areas on ledges that tend to produce more fish than other areas. The key to identifying these offshore productive areas is to apply the same rules as you would if looking for productive shoreline areas. Structure and cover are the primary factors in finding likely ledge fishing areas just as they are primary factors in finding likely shoreline fishing areas. Structure being the bottom composition such as rocks, gravel, mud, etc. and topographical features such as points, cuts, creek junctions, gradual dropoffs, steep dropoffs,… etc. Cover being that which allows the bass protection from light, camouflage and concealment from the prey, and physical protection. We all know that bass will orient themselves to cover such as stumps, laydowns, brush piles, vegetation, man made structures, overhangs, shell beds, etc.. When you take these two factors (structure and cover) into consideration when searching for productive ledges you can eliminate a lot of nonproductive water just as you can when applying them to traditional shoreline fishing.
How to find productive ledges. Just like shoreline fishing, preparing for the search of productive ledges in open water begins with a good topographical map reconnaissance. Pick an area of the lake you are going to target for your search and then by following the old creek channels and main river channel on your map, note those areas that have prominent structure variations such as you would do if looking at the shoreline areas. That is, look for points, cuts, creek channel junctions, channel bends, etc., These are the areas that have the possibility of holding fish if there is good cover available as well as food supply near. The next obvious step is to get on the water and go to those likely areas and check them for cover and food supply. Finding these prominent underwater areas on open water is not as easy as finding them on the shoreline where you can use the naked eye to assist you with visual reference. A good set of electronics such as GPS units with side scan and/or down imaging plus being familiar with how they work is a must in finding productive ledges. Assuming that you are familiar with your electronics, finding these spots then just becomes a matter of following the edges of the channels with your electronics and comparing the feedback you are getting from them with the map you have already marked. Take note that while doing this you may find some cuts or points or irregular features that are not printed on your map, especially if the map is a few years old. Once you have located one of these areas that you have identified on your map the next step would be to determine if there is sufficient "cover" to hold fish. The best way that I have found to "search" one of these spots for cover is to use a Carolina Rig. The dragging technique employed in using a Carolina Rig will transmit to you thru feel the type cover if any that is present and even the type structure of the bottom such as rock, mud, gravel, etc….The more you practice with the Carolina Rig as a search technique the more familiar you will become with identifying the type cover and structure it is coming over and through. Another plus of using the Carolina Rig to check these spots for cover and structure is that you may just catch some fish too. Once you have found one of these spots that has good cover on it you need to mark it on your map and make notations of what you found and how to locate this spot again. If you have a GPS unit, finding this spot again becomes simply a matter of marking the spot with your unit so that you may return to the spot using GPS navigation. If you do not have a GPS unit, then you can pinpoint the location by using the triangulation method of identifying the location. The triangulation method is no more than taking note of the location in reference to at least three or more shore line objects that are preferably close to 90 degrees in different directions from your boat.
Fishing the ledges. Probably the biggest adjustment you have to learn to make when fishing the ledges is getting used to the fact that you are sitting in open water with the shoreline as much as hundreds of yards away. Although techniques used fishing a ledge are very similar to "pounding the banks" and in many cases exactly the same, some people have a problem at first with not having a shoreline to reference their cast and cannot visualize the spot they are fishing. Just as with fishing shoreline spots you will also find that there are techniques that work better than others at certain times and that there are patterns that work better than others at different times. An example of different techniques used at certain times that is very similar to shoreline fishing would be that you may find that early in the morning and late in the evening that the fish are more active on the top of the ledge in shallower water and will take topwater baits and shallow running baits. Just like on the shoreline you will find in many cases that as the sun gets higher and the day progresses the fish will move deeper on the ledges just as they will move deeper on the points along the shoreline and you will have to fish deeper using deep diving crankbaits, Carolina rigs, Texas rigs, etc. Another key to successful ledge fishing is current. Ledge fish have a tendency to be much more active when there is current present either from wind or from water being pulled through the dam. An important point to remember when fishing a ledge with current on it is that the fish will face into the current and many times be behind a current break such as the down current side of a point or stump and you should position your boat and present your lure accordingly.
Bass Fishing Technique and Tackle for Ledge Fishing
There are several lures and techniques that will consistently produce when fishing ledges. The first is Deep Diving Crankbaits, such as Spro Little John DD, Strike King 6XD and Rapala DT20. I have found the most productive color patterns are Sexy Shad, Chartreuse Sexy Shad and Tenn Shad. Fishing these lures on crankbait rods in the lengths of 7 feet or longer with fluorocarbon line. The long rod will enable you to throw the crankbait further allowing the lure to reach its maximum running depth. The make up of fluorocarbon line makes the line sink which will also allow the bait to dive deeper than mono. You will have to experiment with retrieve technique, but I have found that either a fast retrieve and pause or just flat out burning the bait are the two techniques that produce the most strikes. The second lure I use is a ½ or ¾ ounce jig with a craw trailer. Experiment with color combinations, but I would recommend something with green pumpkin with a craw in the summer craw color. Again there are a couple of techniques that consistently produce. You can try dragging the jig maintaining constant contact with the bottom or “stroking”. Stroking is a technique that works best when the fish are very active. To accomplish this, allow the jig to sink to the bottom and then lower rod to about the 8 o’clock position and quickly snap the rod up to the 12 o’clock position. Allow the jig to fall on slack line. On the fall pay close attention to your line, most of the strikes will occur on the fall. After the jig goes back to the bottom, crank up your slack and repeat the process all the way back to the boat. The third lure to try is a 10” worm in either plum or watermelon red with a ½ ounce tungsten red sinker. Use the same technique as the jig, dragging or stroking. I use 15 lb fluorocarbon when using the jig or the worm, the fluorocarbon gives me much better feel of what my lure is doing and will also give you more feedback when the lure comes in contact with something on the bottom.
I know this is a lot of information to take in, but if you follow these steps, you will discover a whole new world of fishing!!! This type of fishing can be very challenging and can test you at times, but the rewards are definitely worth it!!!!