For us it has been a haphazard type of start to the summer season with too many “downs” and not enough “ups”, but before we are accused of being just two grumpy old men who are never satisfied, we do admit to experiencing one “up” that actually cancels out all the “downs”, namely a bass of well over the magical ten pound mark. In retrospect it did more than make up for every single “down” and we are quite thankful for it.
But it was not an easy catch to make, and it came after several midweek outings that had produced very few bass, and small ones at that. Maybe it has been the topsy-turvy state of the weather with unexpected high and low pressure systems, cold fronts and early rains that has made the early summer season deliver decidedly poor catches.
And please don’t go on at us about the “joys of being on the water” and spout that nonsense about “a bad day’s fishing is better than a good day at the office” – we’re way past those homilies simply because at our age we do not have that much time left and we want every outing to deliver, if not a new PB, then at least a trophy-sized fish..! And why not? – we’re sure that every single time you hit the water that’s also uppermost in your mind. Besides, the only folks who ramble on ad nauseam about “the beauties of Nature” and “what a nice day it’s been” and “did you see the Fish Eagle?” and “isn’t the scenery spectacular?” are just about always those ones who have not seen a fish all day, let alone hooked one!
But be all that as it may, that one big fish was caught because we applied a strategy out of pure desperation, one that for the past few years we have not even thought of because our catches were quite satisfactory employing conventional strategies. It is a strategy that has been scribbled into our logbooks on quite a number of occasions, but because of the homework required it does reduce your actual fishing time, and (shamefacedly) we have become too lazy in the extreme to employ it.
What we mean by “homework” is that you have to make real good use of your sonar and be prepared to spend more than just a minute or two to actually plot the bottom contours to find off shore ledges, and here we are not talking about “off shore humps”, which are like small, submerged islands. Ledges run almost parallel or almost at ninety degrees to the shoreline, and can be found on the sides of an old river bed or an incoming spruit. Another type of ledge is found up against steep cliffs, and indeed can consist of many ledges, much like a staircase leading to the bottom.
It’s not always the case, but we have found such ledges to be predominantly in the upper reaches of a dam, the area where the river starts to become dam, and of course also where a spruit or smaller river enters the dam proper. The waters in such areas usually have some sort of flow and this strategy does work better when there is a bit of current – it does not have to be a strong flow, but must not be dead still, calm water.
Once you have found such places and put down marker buoys, the basic key element that is crucial to applying this strategy is as follows: the bass on the ledges will mostly be facing into the current and lie mostly just off the ledge.
Boat positioning in this situation is therefore most important because the boat must be positioned in such a manner that you can cast upstream and slightly over the ledge. The reason is simply that the bass will be facing the current, so by casting well beyond them you will be retrieving the bait well within their senses of sight and feel.
To repeat the basic premise: make long casts upstream and beyond the target spot, and retrieve downstream and across the ledge.
If you have used your sonar really well you will know what baits to use – we prefer deep diving/floating crankbaits that can go down to whatever depth we reckon is holding fish. In addition you need to put in really long casts, so use a proper, dedicated crankbait rod and spool on the lightest line you feel comfortable with. Long casts using light line will get the bait down to its designated depth much quicker than a shorter cast and heavier line.
On the retrieve it is also important to get the bait to scratch and bump along the bottom – every time you feel it touch bottom, stop the retrieve and allow the bait to start surfacing for a second or two, then give a hard turn on the handle to make it dive down again.
Okay, when there is lots of vegetation – and this is more than possible when you are targeting shallower spots - this is going to demand some patience and a lot of tugging and pulling to free the bait, but when you hook into a nice big fish all the effort will be well worth your while
The tactic is also quite effective when targeting those ledges on the sides of steep cliffs. Put the boat as close to the cliff as you can manage, and cast the bait parallel to the cliff face. Most likely you will be able to use a really deep diver, and once again the lighter the line and the longer the cast the quicker it will dive to its depth.
Our next best favourite bait in this situation is a spinnerbait with two large Colorado blades – such a bait will helicopter quite slowly down to the bottom and then you just slow roll it back. Then there is the old standby, namely the jig. Let it sink to the bottom and bounce and hop it back, with alternate hops being short and long.
In all these examples patience is a key element – you have after all taken the time and trouble to locate such spots, so follow through and apply the strategy to its fullest extent.
In all cases we prefer to anchor the boat so that we can really work the spot thoroughly, and to do this properly you will need at least two anchors, but three will do the job most effectively.