LEDGES AND DROPS, THE STRUCTURE BASICS
by Jim Porter
Probably the first structure features the new bass angler hears about are `ledges' and `drops'. The Summer season makes it essential that he understands structure, for most fish, particularly the bass clan, take up residence at these locations during the warmer months. The angler must also recognize the two primary rules for fishing ledges and drops: first, determining if the area has any real degree of bassin' potential; and, secondly, how to properly present a properly selected lure.
Ledges and Drops, The Structure Basics
Let's begin with a few very basic definitions for starters:
Bass are structure-oriented fish. That is to say, they tend to be found around abrupt change features on the bottom. Ledges and drops are the most common of these and usually the more productive. However, not all structures appeal to fish. There are other factors which tend to have a strong influence on whether bass will use a specific feature for holding and feeding.
- DROP - In bassin' terminology, a 'drop' is any rapid contour change of the bottom resulting in deeper water.
- LEDGE - A 'ledge' is defined as the upper lip of a drop. (It is possible to have a series of drops and ledges, like stair steps progressing down towards the deeper water.)
- FISHING LURE - A carefully selected fishing 'tool' which is chosen by first considering depth and speed requirements, in that order.
- LURE PRESENTATION - The act of presenting the lure in a deliberate manner, after considering the characteristics of the location, water, weather and seasonal conditions.
- COVER - A place a fish may hide for safety.
- STRUCTURE - A location usually associated with a feeding area.
The most significant of these factors is the relationship of deep water access. Except for the Spring spawning season, a bass will nearly always key to structure that is adjacent to, or in the very close proximity of, the deepest water in the general area. That is not to say the bass, himself, will be deep. His usual range in a normal body of water will be eight to 15 feet. (In exceptionally clear waters, a good rule of thumb is to double those numbers.) Deep water undoubtedly satisfies
his need for a readily available haven of safety.
The next influencing factor is the availability of a food supply. Therefore, the presence of some current flow will present an ideal situation. Why go looking for your groceries if the moving water will bring it up to your doorstep? This is precisely why certain structure features in 'dead water' areas become hotspots under windy conditions, or when water levels are rising or falling (with the associated induced currents). An artificially induced current is just as good
as a natural one, so far as the bass is concerned. If current is not present, the ledge or drop requires nearby cover, such as a stumps or weeds, to hold food and be potentially productive. Should the structure feature, itself, be gravel or rock, the crayfish population may satisfy the food requirement.
The actual depth of the ledge is critical in determining if the bass will be found in large numbers (a school) and whether they will hold there for a period of time. Active, feeding bass will move into very shallow water on occasions. However, they will not normally remain there for very long. For safety and to preclude outside disturbance, bass will always move back to positions near deeper water when not actively pursuing food. This depth range, as we stated before, is usually between eight and 15 feet. Therefore, the most potentially productive ledges will be within that range.
The quickest way to locate good ledges and drops is to consult a well-defined topographical map. Start your map analysis near river and feeder creek channels (for moving water possibilities and depth) and look for strong bottom irregularities and rapid contour (depth) changes. Key to those that fall within the 8-15 foot range and mark them with a black pen. Now, survey the general area for indications of cover close by. A good map will show old timber areas, which
will tip off the remains of stumps and brush. Mark these in red. Take a close look at your handiwork and, wherever the black and red are adjacent, further mark them with a star or 'X'. Give added attention to those potential locations closest to deep water. The final step becomes to prioritize the list. To do this, select the locations with the sharpest drop-off and deepest adjacent water and number them. You now have a plan of attack which has been thought out in a logical manner.
The next phase of locating our potential 'honey holes' is to back away from the old channels and look for similar contour variations and cover features in back-water sections of the lake or river. Apply the same rationale as before, but be especially conscious of the proximity of the deepest available water.
Bass, particularly the larger ones, will invariably be found near the edge of the drop-off and where the deepest water is readily available. If there are stumps or large rocks on the ledge, they will use them for cover. If the ledge is barren, look for the bass to be just below the lip, hiding in the shadows. If a cold front has recently passed through, we can expect the fish to be somewhat deeper along
the side of the drop or holding on a deeper ledge of the structure feature.
Even with the use of the topographical map, it will be difficult to actually pinpoint intended structure fishing locations without a depth finder. To be consistently successful at bass fishing, the angler simply must become proficient with that invaluable tool of the trade.
In order to successfully fish a ledge or drop, the angler must select the proper lure. The word 'proper', as used here, is synonymous with 'depth'. For example, if the depth of the ledge is 12 feet, we certainly would not expect a shallow crank plug to be the best choice. Bass habitually stay on, or very near, the bottom. Therefore, proper lure selection simply means selecting one which operates near that specific depth. The same rule applies if we suspect that the fish are holding off of and even with the lip of the drop line--select a lure which operates at the intended depth.
The second lure selection criteria is speed. This is related to the time of year or the weather conditions prevailing at the time. If it is the Winter season, or soon after a cold front passage, we can anticipate that the fish will be somewhat dormant and reluctant to chase a lure. Therefore, we would choose a bait that we present slowly, such as a plastic worm or jig. Any other time, a faster moving lure should prove to be better. Keep in mind that most bass lures do not resemble natural foods too closely, either in appearance or action. Artificial baits generally agitate and invoke a predatory response from the fish. It really doesn't matter too much if you choose to use a diving crank plug or a bottom lure, such as the worm, so long as you apply the principles of depth and speed to your selection process.
Once the proper type lure has been chosen, it is all- important to present it properly to the intended target or structure. In order to do this, we need to have a constant 'picture' in our mind of the shape of the structure feature and exactly where the ledges and drops are located. We do this by the use of floats, or marker buoys. NEVER place these markers directly on the target. They are just going to be your reference points. Instead, lay them a constant distance away, say 20
feet. By doing so, you will not spook the bass and will decrease the chances of having a fish tangle you in one of the lines.
Start out by casting across the most shallow portion of the structure feature, gradually moving deeper towards the edge of the drop. (The more shallow the bass, the more active he will be and we want to get these fish first.) If necessary, change lures as you do this to maintain proper depth control. Once you have worked out to the edge of the drop, move the boat in over the drop-off edge and start to make your casts parallel along it. This is particularly effective when using diving crank plugs. Using the depth finder, ease the boat along slowly along the
edge of the drop, covering the lip thoroughly with overlapping casts. Next, go to a deeper lure and work the area below, and along the side of, the drop. Finally, if there are deeper, secondary ledges down the side of the drop-off, change to an appropriate lure and cover them. These areas have an excellent potential of having schools of fish; the trick is to locate exactly where they are holding at that particular time.
Ledges and drops are the most predictable of all locations to find bass. Learn to locate and fish them properly and you will virtually never go home empty-handed.
The following is a short list of `truisms' regarding bass fishing structure. They have been found to be accurate in lakes, rivers, and ponds, and even in saltwater use. If any are unclear, please consider re-reading the accompanying article. To become fully proficient as a structure angler, each element must be readily understood and practiced.
The terms 'cover' and 'structure' are NOT synonymous. They are different features. The potential of a given structure feature can be reasonably determined by: The nearby availability of 25 feet or more of depth; And, the 'steepness' of the drop-off associated with the access to that depth.
Structure, even if it consists of weeds, brush or timber, is not used to hide the bass, nor is it used for his protection. Cover is for hiding; structure is for feeding.
A productive structure feature is one which provides ready availability of food or serves as a reference point during periods of inactivity.
When a bass experiences fear or senses danger, his instinctive reaction is to dash for deep water.
Unless actively feeding, a bass will always hold near the edge of the drop into deep water.
Of all available structure features, ledges and drops are the most common AND the most continuously productive.
A `drop' is a contour change resulting in deeper water and has a downwards angler of decent of 30 degrees, or more. Any change less than 30 degrees is considered a slope and will not be as productive.
A `ledge' is the upper lip, or edge, of a drop.
While ledges and drops usually exist throughout a body of water, those associated with submerged channels and the deepest water in the area are always the more consistently productive.
`Pattern depth' is a term used to define the location (depth) the majority of bass schools can be expected to be found in a given body of water.
It is dependent upon the coloration/ clarity of the water.
The `pattern depth' of the normal, lightly-stained reservoir is 12-18 feet.
The clearer the water, the greater the `pattern depth'.
Evaluating and selecting structure is a four step process:
- Consider the season, weather and probable bass activity.
- Determine the approximate `pattern depth'.
- Using a map, identify and prioritize selected structure.
- Perform an on-the-water evaluation of the prioritized locations, identify significant features and re- prioritize.
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