This is part 1 of a 3 part series I will put together in an attempt to relay what I know about ledge fishing. This article is in conjunction with a YouTube video I put together and can be found at the bottom of the page. Part II will cover equipment and techniques that I use to target bass on ledges. Part III will just be a video where I will go on the water and put everything together. I hope you find this informative and helpful, and please hit those follow buttons above! Tight lines!
Let’s start with a few things to get your mind right and help you visualize what I am talking about. The first thing we need to do is to define just exactly what a ledge is. A ledge is the banks of an old creek or river channel that exist in a lake, think of a flooded shoreline. I always try to imagine what the banks of an old river or creek looked like before the dam was built and it became buried by the waters of the lake. Also, think about what types of cover and structure may have existed on that shoreline.
Why are there bass on and around ledges? Bass typically have one thing on their mind, nearly all the time: food! In most reservoirs and especially along the TN River Chain the primary food source for bass is the shad. There are many different species of shad including gizzard and threadfins. Shad require certain levels of oxygen and temperatures to be comfortable and survive. 70-75% of all the shad will be in predictable places at certain times of the year. During periods of cooler water temperatures, the shad will venture shallower. Under warmer conditions, they will tend to stay deeper. Shad will usually be found in the deepest, coolest and most oxygenated water available.
This water will be your original river, creek and ditch channels. These baitfish will migrate from shallow to deeper water at predictable times of the year, and they follow the old river and creek channels of a flooded reservoir to do so. Much like we would take I-75 to Florida on summer vacation predictably every summer. You can rely on the fact that the bass will be near the shad, and this is where we typically hear the phrase “find the shad, you’ve found the bass”. Bass will follow these channels like a road to the buffet line. They will use the natural cover along these ledges as ambush points or feeding zones and that is exactly where you need to be to catch them! During the late spring/ early summer the baitfish will have made their migration back out to deeper water, or at least the majority of them, which is where you should start looking for the bass that will be following them.
Now you know what a ledge is and why they matter, let’s get into what makes a particular ledge better than another.
Cover & Structure
When you are trying to determine if a ledge would be good or not you need to consider the same exact things you would consider when deciding if a particular bank would be good or not. You need two key components: structure & cover.
Structure is your humps, points, two creeks coming together, drop offs near channels etc.
Cover would include stumps, roadbeds, brush piles, grass, shell beds etc. Find one without the other and you might luck into a bass or two…find them both together and you can really start to catch quality bass on a consistent basis.
Not all ledges are created equal. Structure and cover as well as proximity to a channel can make some ledges night and day better over others. A rule of thumb I use is that I will not consider or spend time fishing a deep-water area or piece of structure that is more than 100’ away from a river, creek or ditch channel. When scouting out new ledges I always try to find some sort of cover. Some don’t have any cover, and you really have to weed those out. Some ledges will have rows of old stumps, others will have shell beds covering them and others will have brush piles. The really good ones will have all three. Sometimes an old submerged roadbed can present some interesting cover too. The trick is to try to find as many of these variables all in one place. If you can find a creek channel running along an old bank edge with stumps, shells, brush piles or roadbeds you probably will find bass very close. Too many times, you may be scouting out that perfect ledge on KY Lake sitting at your computer and pouring yourself over maps and you think you have found the perfect spot where that channel wraps right around an old hump and you head out to scan it with your sonar and nothing, nada. No bait, no fish just bare bottom. This happens more often than we would like for it to. You really need to have the cover aspect present along with the structure of the ledge to get those really great spots. When I find a ledge with no cover or very little cover, it immediately is crossed off the list. You might catch a fish on it but is it really where you want to be fishing when you are trying to put five keepers in the boat during a 2-3 day tournament? No, not really. Go find another ledge with better cover!
On KY Lake, for example there are literally hundreds and hundreds of miles of actual ledges. There are not fish on all of them or even most of them! You need to find ledges with the most abundant and diverse forms of cover that you possibly can. It’s a numbers and odds game, the more variables you can find in one area the better your odds of finding numbers of bass.
Types of Ledges
There are two different types of ledges you should concern yourself with, the first being resident ledges. A resident ledge is one where bass live most of the time, they have everything they need in one nice little area and can be found nearly year round. They have the structure of the ledge near the channel (deep oxygen rich water), food sources due to the proximity of the deeper water, cover to hide in and available current to bring food sources to them. These ledges are the high percentage areas where I really like to target bass for tournament purposes. Even if they are not in an active feeding mode, they are still there and can be coerced into biting. The other type is feeding ledges, which can be what I call lottery tickets. The feeding ledges are typically deeper than resident ledges and are more or less devoid of cover as they are closer to the main river channels and the current has washed out much of the cover over the years. They are much more difficult to identify and the bass are either present or they are not. If they are present and feeding then its game on and you are probably going to win yourself a tournament. If they are not there then you are simply fishing empty water and you need to move on. Fishing the feeding ledges is a crapshoot. Odds are you will probably strike out but if you hit it at just the right time, you will put 25lbs in the boat. I do not fish these often and only know of a couple that I have found by accident, so for tournament purposes I concentrate on the resident ledges simply based on the law of averages and probabilities. If I have a good limit and the current fires up, I may take the gamble and go hit a feeding ledge with the hopes of landing a giant. However, when you are fishing competitively you need to fish where you have the highest percentage and probabilities of being near the majority of the fish. It sounds simple, but you really need to recognize that at all times there are fish shallow and there are fish deep, but ask yourself where are the majority of the fish at the given moment? If you can answer that question, then you have won half the battle.
There is no magic wand to discovering where the ledges with sufficient cover occur. The best way to find ledges with good cover is get on the water with good electronics and scan around until you find them. If you don’t have electronics or don’t know how to effectively use them you can always use the original fish finder, the Carolina rig! I’ll get more into techniques in part II.
Finding good ledges with cover can take up valuable time that you may or not have when pre-fishing for a tournament. You can get a good feel for finding the right ledges by getting yourself a good lake map, and I am not talking about Navionics or Lake Insight or any of the electronic mapping chips. These have their place and you should definitely be using them in your electronics but for the sake of research, I trust the old paper maps. These paper maps readily show old roadbeds, stump fields and other key details very clearly.
Current makes the world go round on the TN River chain, or in this case makes the life cycle work. Following the TN River from its headwaters where the French Broad (Douglas Lake) and Holston River (Cherokee Lake) meet in Knoxville, you start a series of lakes: Starting with Fort Loudon/Tellico, Watts Bar, Chickamauga, Nickajack, Guntersville, Wheeler, Wilson, Pickwick and finally KY lake just before the TN river dumps into the Ohio. The important thing to think about is that these are not really lakes. It’s one giant river system that back in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s the TVA dammed up for power generation and flood control. When this happened, the natural flow of the river essentially ceased to exist, at least in any constant form as it had been for millennia. Now the current is completely reliant upon when the TVA decides they need to generate electricity. Always keep in mind the TVA has only a few goals in regards to these lakes: 1) power generation, 2) flood control and 3) commercial barge traffic. If you keep this in mind you can understand the why behind all of the TVA’s actions as it pertains to lake levels and current.
When they open up the gates to pull water, it creates a chain reaction of current pulling all through the lake. Bass don’t want to work harder for their meals than they have to, so they will position themselves facing into the current and wait for baitfish to be washed up and over these ledges and humps. The more current being pulled usually means the tighter the bass will congregate and you can get feeding frenzies where the bass will get extremely competitive over food and devour anything that gets in their path. This is where folks like KVD can crush souls with a crankbait or other fast-moving baits and load the boat.
When I notice the current picking up, I always like to position my boat facing into the current and bring my lures from the upstream side and then up and over the ledge or hump that I am fishing. The bass will sit with their face into the current waiting to pounce on anything that comes to them. When the current is up and running this is prime time to go to any feeding ledges that you have found nearby. One other thing to look for are bends in the channel near these shallow ledges, often times under certain current levels eddies can form. Bass love sitting in eddies and waiting for an easy meal to come right to them. These are a little harder to find and are usually where you have a tight underwater bend in the channel with a shallow ledge right in the bend.
On the flip side when they shut off the turbines and the water goes slack, it’s time to put the crankbait, spinnerbait or swimbait up and go back to the jig or worm and start probing the stumps, shell beds and brush piles in a much slower more methodical manner. The bass will spread out and seek cover during the slack water periods.
How to do it from a kayak?
The first thing I will do when I know I’m going to fish a large body of water, be it KY Lake, Lake St. Clair or Toledo Bend, is to locate on a map where all of the launch locations are. It does you no good to find a place you want to fish but have no reasonable access to get to it.
Next, I try to find an area that I can get access to that has a large variety of habitat available. Something that has a back of a creek; hopefully more than one, primary and secondary points along with creek channel and river channel structure all within reach whether you are pedaling or paddling; the odds are the fish are somewhere within reach if you have all of those different habitats.
Boat control when out of the ledges can be crucial. I like to face into the current whenever I can. Sometimes this isn’t needed or even possible. The Hobie MirageDrive does make it a very simple task. Sometimes the wind blows so hard and from the wrong direction that you simply can’t face into the current, that’s fine. Just think about how the fish would be positioning themselves and try to maneuver to where you can bring it to them.
For paddling it may be beneficial instead of fighting the wind and current to let it work for you. Try drifting, its something I do on Lake St. Clair all the time and can be very effective. Turn your boat into the wind and cast into the wind, feed your lure enough line to get it down to the bottom and drag it with the wind or current using your paddle to slow you if needed. You can also use a small drift sock. You’ll eventually get out of the strike zone and will have to paddle back over the ledge and start another drift. Without a pedal drive ledge fishing in strong wind/current can be a real challenge but this method works and can be very effective, especially with a Carolina rig!
Think about the time of year and the water temperature and take what you know about bass fishing and make a good decision on where to start your search. No matter the time of year or water temps there will always be catchable bass on river and creek ledges, the majority of fish in the lake may not be there but there are always quality fish to be had. For that reason, I usually like to start on deeper ledges and fish my way to shallower water until I find the largest concentrations of fish. Wherever I find the largest concentrations of fish is where I will focus my efforts.
I always ask myself if these fish move where will they go? If the water keeps warming will they move shallower or deeper and what if a cold front comes thru how will they react? Keep asking yourself questions until you feel like you have the answers. That will build your game plan and also give you B and C plans without you even realizing it.
Part I re-cap:
- We now know what exactly a ledge is.
- Why bass are near ledges at certain times of the year. I.e. food!
- Cover & Structure requirements
- Feeding vs Resident Ledges
- How to locate high probability areas by locating structure near channels.
- Use of Paper Maps is not obsolete.
- Current makes the world go round!
- How to do it from a kayak
Ledges are not as difficult as people think. The biggest part to get used to is that you are out in open water as opposed to running down a bank. You are still essentially fishing the same; it is just a flooded bank instead of the banks of the lake that you can see. Part II we will talk about equipment and tackle you will want to consider when heading out targeting ledges. Part III I will head out on the lake, bring you with me, and I’ll show you how to put all this to work.
I hope you found this informative and helpful, be on the lookout for Part II where I go into detail on the equipment and techniques I use to target ledges. I have also included a link to my video covering these same topics below. As always, I certainly appreciate it if you would give me a follow on all of my social media outlets and be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel to keep up with my latest content. I will have more to come all throughout the season! Be sure to leave comments and questions below, tight lines!