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Bass on the Ledge
by North Alabama Guide Troy Jens

As we search to consistently catch more bass, we are often lead to open water. River and creek ledges are perhaps the most productive open water bass habitat in which fish can be caught during any season. The dilemma is finding the most productive stretches and patterning bass on literally miles of ledges that wind through our lakes and rivers. In many of the lakes I fish you can actually put the trolling motor down and fish for 30 or more miles on a single ledge non stop. Trying to narrow down the search can be a real task especially on unfamiliar lakes or when you happen to be short on time. However, once ledge patterns are discovered, they can often work on a variety of similar lakes and rivers. Learning and remembering certain general ledge patterns will carry over from lake to lake and can greatly reduce wasted time in dead water.

Winter river ledge fishing. In late fall and winter, many bass begin to relate to steep drop-offs. River ledges are perfect for the late fall and winter season search for bass. From late fall up until pre-spawn, I find many bass on the steep, river channel side of ledges. I really prefer shallow ledges that have sheer drops. A ledge that is less than 6 feet on top and drops nearly straight down into 20+ feet of water will hold winter bass. I find several things important on these types of ledges as to what stretches will be best. Much of the work can be done with a good map. As always, the map is practically a priceless tool. Permanent cover on a ledge drop such as stumps is an important part of the search. Anything on a ledge that creates a current break is likely to hold fish. I search the top of a ridge for the shallowest water stretches with the steepest drop possible into the main channel. If a river ledge has a general 6 to 8 foot depth on top but in one stretch, comes up to 3 and 4 feet (such as a hump on the ridge), this is a good location to start looking. Changes in the depth of the top of the ridge are often critical to finding bass holding on the ledge. Anything that creates a change in the current flow such an eddy created by a creek channel, mouth of a pocket or bend in the river is also important to look at.

Anytime a creek channel intersects with a main river ledge there will usually be bass. The mouths of creek channels provide a travel route into and out of areas for both bait and bass. Often in the winter, bass will be on the points on either side of a creek channel intersection.

My favorite winter time methods of catching bass on river ledges are big crank-baits, spinner-baits and jigs. I like to crank parallel to the ledge on the deep side. I normally work the bait with the current. In water temps below 50 degrees I slow the presentations down. I generally use a 3/4oz spinner-bait on ledges in the winter. With the spinner-bait I normally throw it on to the top of the ledge and let if fall slowly into the deeper water. The jig is my top favorite of all and usually Iíll throw it onto the very top and work it down the ledge. I like a 3/8oz black and blue jig in the winter most of the time. Hair jigs and spoons also get some attention on steep ledge drops when the fish are holding deep. Carolina rigs and Texas rigs are also productive.

Often times the bass on the deep side of the ledge will be in 10 feet or more during the winter months. Work baits from top to bottom to determine the depth range the active fish are in. Knowing what depth the bait fish are holding will also help determine the depth feeding bass may be in. Again, along with bait fish, stumps, brush or other types of permanent cover will help hold better concentrations of bass on ledges.

Changes in the ledge such as indentations, washes, or changes in bottom make up such as going from sand to rock are good areas to look at. Wood cover washed up on the ledge that may provide a current break should also be looked at.

Current plays a role in how bass are positioned on ledges. Normally, the more current, the closer to the actual drop the bass will be. Bass will normally be in the feeding mode and more easily caught when current is present. The good thing about river and lake ledges that have current on them is that the bass must feed more often. Even in the coldest weeks, having to fight the current requires more food in order to keep swimming in the current. Bass will rest during periods of little or no current on lakes and rivers that have scheduled power generation times. Current also positions bait fish on ledges as well as in areas that may provide a change in current or current direction. This is important to keep in mind while looking for areas that will consistently hold bass.

The backside of the main river ledges are often over looked during the late winter and early spring. Most people believe all bass move into pockets or to the bank to spawn. This is not the case. A lot of spawning activity takes place in shallow, open water when conditions are right. Backside bass will have spawning on their mind. Normally, the backside of the ledge will fall off much slower then the front side of the ridge. Many bass spawn and live on top of shallow ledges and, just on the backside of ledges. Often, I find the fish on the backside of the same ridges or, stretches of ridges of which I find them on the front side. Although Iíll find bass on the 1st break line on the backside during the winter months, they will move up shallower onto the ledge for feeding and spawning. Bass will push bait fish up onto the shallow ledge from the backside when they are active and often can be caught in very shallow water even in very cold water. A rattletrap or a spinner-bait worked down the slope, throwing toward the main channel from the backside of the ridge produces many good winter bass for me. Rattle traps and crank-baits are very effective for backside pre-spawn bass. The bass will adjust up and down the back slope according to activity levels and seasonal changes. Sometimes, especially during cold water and low water periods, bass will be found in the deeper parts of the back channel. Again, it is important to locate permanent cover such as stumps or large trees that have washed up onto the ledge. Old grass beds in deeper water or on break lines will also be likely to hold bass.

Bass will move up on to the top of the ledge to spawn if the ledge is shallow enough to provide an adequate current break or, if there is plenty of solid cover to provide a current break. Bass will also spawn and hold during the pre-spawn and spawn times on flats that have adequate cover on top of the steep ledges. Sloughs and the backsides of islands just off the main ledge are prime pre-spawn and spawning areas. Post-spawn bass and mid-summer fish will often move back onto similar areas on which they hold in the winter months.

In late winter and early spring, when the water temps get into the low to mid 50s, I begin the search for BIG pre-spawn bass on top and just on the backsides of the ledges. They begin their movement much earlier than many people know. Late January through early March is a prime time frame for really big fish on the shallow flats and backsides of the main ledge. Of course this depends on the role the weather plays this time of year and, the amount of rain which effects the water levels.

When fishing lakes or rivers where current plays a critical role, I often spend time in sloughs and creeks fishing for bass if there is no main channel current present. Bass off the main channel are less current dependent. Then, when the water flow starts Iíll move to prime locations on the main ledge.

So, some things to look for before you start ledge fishing are:

  • The rate at which the drop falls on the front and back sides of ledges.
  • Changes in the top of the ledge.
  • Indentations, irregular features and creek channel intersections in the main ledge.
  • Current breaks such as large wood cover, thick grass, areas just below islands or shallow humps.
  • Changes in bottom make up.
  • Areas that may have changes in current such as channel bends or the mouths of creeks and pockets.

The best ledges will have everything bass need to hold in all seasonal conditions. A steep drop on the front, a shallow hump or flat on top, a sloping backside into a back channel or ditch, Solid, permanent cover on both the front and back sides and will often be in the bends of the main channel.

Study the map and make a plan before going out on a ledge. Make sure your plan considers seasonal patterns and includes several adjustments. Try to pick active days such as periods of stable weather or, periods of low pressure to hunt. Try to pick days where you know the water generation schedule. Remember the things you find that work for you and apply them to other parts of the lake and, to other lakes and rivers. When you catch a bass on a ledge, especially a big bass, he was in that particular area, at that particular time for a reason.

Author Information.

Troy Jens is a full time professional fishing guide as well as an accomplished tournament angler.  Troy's beeen fishing since his Dad first took him at three years old. Sharing the knowledge he's learned since then remains his one true passion. He most recently appeared in Bassmaster Magazine in the July/August 1999 issue and January 2000 issue.  On the web, Troy is a regular contributor at the Bass Fishing Home Page.

With over 10 years of guiding experience on many various waters, Troy is versitle and committed.  Troy spends over 250 days a year on the water and specializes in tournament tactics, big fish, and grass pattern techniques.  He guides on a variety of lakes in North Alabama and spends most of his time on Guntersville, Wheeler, and Neely Henry.  Troy is experienced in guiding beginners through full time pros and works hard to help others improve their fishing skills.  He continues to share fishing knowledge through guiding, published articles and published fishing reports.

Give Troy a call: 256-534-4359
Visit Troy on the web at
Email Troy at

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