Ledge Fishing Baits
Deep water bass fishing continues to become more popular with anglers with the advent of electronics which enable fishermen to take the guess work out of the process. New graphs from Lowrance, Humminbird and Garmin all offer different scanning possibilities which deliver more information to fishermen in a much simpler and more logical manner. Those with the right patience can review hundreds of different waypoints all in a days time. Not only can anglers find differences in contours or small pieces of structure, but now electronics clearly show fish even going as far as to render their position to the bottom and to one another. With all these advancements, now the only matter left for the angler is to catch the fish they have located, but when they are stacked up on ledges what's the best way to go about it?
Ledges are defined best as high spots or humps off the main river channel that serve as the last consistent depth before a more drastic depth change. Essentially, ledges can be found where you see a massive concentration of contour lines nearby - whether those surround an island top or a point or just a long bank that quickly drops off. No matter what body of water you are fishing, there is some type of current in the water and that current carries nutrients through the water. The ledges serve as ambush points for bass who await baitfish, crawfish and any other forage that is swept along with the current or having difficulty fighting it. Much of the current is created by the releasing of water through the reservoirs in order to generate electricity. The TVA, Tennessee Valley Authority, manages the dams and water releases that generate hydroelectricity all along the Tennessee river from Kentucky Lake up north to Lake Guntersville in the south and as far east as even Virginia. During the summer months, bass will stack up in huge groups out on these ledges as they have stable, slightly cooler water temperatures with a steady supply of food. They aren't always easy to catch, especially when they become conditioned to current delivering them their meals, but once you get a school fired up, it can happen every cast until you get tired of catching them.
Let's start with the basics first. The most widely used ledge bait is still probably a slow moving worm or jig. How does the old expression go, "Jigs catch pigs?" While it may be just a saying, it certainly has some basis in reality as many bass fishermen would agree. No matter how much other lures evolve and change with technology, the jig seems so remain mostly the same with the same basic design of a lead head poured around a specialty jig hook, decorated with silicone skirts and perhaps some mylar and kept snag-free with a central weedguard. Sure, small changes often lead to some interesting new models, but for the most part the football jig is fine just how it is which brings to mind another expression, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
When fishing a jig on ledges in deeper water, you want to make sure you select a heavy, football head style to maximize contact with the break lines. It's important to fish a heavy jig because it sinks quickly to the fish and it is much easier to drag along the bottom. What's more, it acts as a transmission device for all of the little sweet spots and can be slowly worked over key pieces of structure longer giving fish more time to strike. Most anglers opt for some variety of green pumpkin or watermelon colors during the summer as they more accurately match the crawfish shades as well as bluegill and other small creatures. For a trailer, we recommend a small twin tail grub or crawfish plastic that possesses some swimming appendages. As you drag your jig along the bottom, the skirt will flair and the trailer will swim along mimicking a number of key forage species.
Big Plastic Worm
A big ol' worm. What does a worm ever represent to bass anyhow? Are there just tons of worms and snakes floating around down along the bottom or something? Forget our aimless ramblings because big plastic worms are definitely one of the most productive methods of catching big bass in deep water and are especially effective on ledges. Anyone who has bass fished at Kentucky Lake has probably been given a good lecturing on the benefits of a 10" plum colored worm. Kentucky Lake and plum worms go together like pie and ice cream. Big bass on Kentucky Lake notoriously move out onto the ledges and wait for appetizing meals to be delivered to them via swift moving currents caused by water being released through the dam to generate electricity for the surrounding areas.
So what constitutes a big worm? Well, the standard used to be the
10" Berkley Power Worm which was incredibly popular for a number of applications, but especially effective when fishing ledges and deep water structure. While many anglers still rely upon the 10" worm, bigger seems to be better these days with more popular worms measuring 12" - 15". For ledge fishing purposes, the most effective style of worm will be a big curl tail style that moves a great deal of water. The setup is fairly simple. Most seasoned big worm fishermen rig it Texas style using a 1/2 - 3/4oz tungsten bullet weight and a 6/0 - 7/0 round bend worm hook using 15 - 20lb fluorocarbon line. Perhaps the biggest key in all of the tackle considerations is the hook.
Make sure to use a round bend. Why is that so important? The large gap of the round bend style worm hooks allows the point to penetrate full through the plastic and continue to the roof of the fishes mouth. A O'shaughnessy style will not afford the space necessary to hook fish properly. Finally, when it comes to worms you can't go wrong with a 12" Berkley Power Worm, but recently we've found some other models that are worth considering. The Gambler 13" Ribbon Tail is pretty nice but we really love the Netbait C-Mac Worm in the 13" size. It's a killer worm with all the right features.
New School Baits
After years of relying upon the old favorites of football jigs, big worms and ocassionally the hair jig; bass fishermen sought out new techniques that could maximize their approach out on the ledges. The storied past of swimbaits is well documented. First gaining notariety on the west coast lakes where trout were the primary meal of bass, many swimbait companies and the engineers who craft them, still call California home. Jerry Rago, the undisputed king of swimbait design, Huddleston and Basstrix, among many others, remain headquartered in California and have become commonplace lures among bass fishermen in the golden state. It may have taken the ledge fishermen of the Tennessee River lakes a bit longer to catch on, but once they did the technique spread like wildfire and continues to grow as anglers discover new baits and methods of employing the lifelike lures. Tackle companies are starting to take notice. Even the biggest companies in the world are putting more time and effort into understanding the dynamics of good swimbaits and working tirelessly to develop a suitable option to add into their product line.
Unlike California where most swimbaits are intended to match trout, bluegill or hitch, the swimbaits employed by savvy TVA lake anglers are solely used to mimic big shad that the largest bass feed upon. The increased use of these big soft plastic swimbaits doesn't seem to decrease the techniques efficiency as of yet. In fact, as more anglers begin to experiment with all types of swimmers, the increased use has proven to a large population of anglers just how effective swimbaits can be. A decade ago you'd maybe find a few anglers willing to tie on a big bait, but now, it's a rare occurrence to find a fisherman without one tied on. As a result of big bait acceptance, other lures have evolved and literally grown with worms reaching lengths of 16" and now jigging spoons transforming completely with the likes of the Nichols Ben Parker Magnum Spoon and other companies attempts at replicating it's success.
Swimbaits for Ledge Fishing
As mentioned above, swimbaits have become an increasingly popular choice among ledge fishermen. While Basstrix and the 6th Sense Hollow Core-X 7" swimbaits are the current standard, a number of anglers have ventured outside their comfort zone and started seeking out new options to show bass something different. This renegade group of ledge fishermen have began to use bigger, full body swimbaits such as the
Osprey Tournament Talon Top Hook Swimbait which possesses a larger profile and moves far more water than the Basstrix baits. When retrieving this bait through the water, you can actually feel the tail kicking along. For many California anglers, the 6" & 7" size of the Osprey Tournament Talon actually makes it a pretty reasonably sized tournament bait; especially when considering the 10-12" glide baits that are now the standard in many of the big fish waters of California has to offer. What's funny is how the 7" swimbait is still perceived as too big for many anglers on the TVA system. While most have no problem crawling a 12" Power Worm across the bottom, the thought of a 7" swimbait makes them feel a bit uneasy.
When it comes to matching the hatch, 6" & 7" Osprey Swimbaits are a great option on the famed ledges of the TVA lakes as they match big shad very nicely. It's also important to note, the bigger size of the bait helps weed through some of the smaller fish that could eat the bait before the true giants have a chance to attack. By scaling up just a hair from the hollow belly baits, anglers can now focus on bites from bass 4lbs and bigger making the key frenzies on ledges much more productive. If you're looking to try some larger swimbaits, we recommend the aforementioned Ospreys as well as the
Savage Gear 3D Line Thru Trout Swimbait and the Rago SKT Swimmer 6". All of these baits can be swam slowly along the bottom and draw strikes from big bass.
Big spoons have long been a tactic of experienced ledge fishermen. When shad are injured or sick they fight for life with little bursts of energy trying to swim away from their predators, but often those last attempts at life are all for naught as bass pounce on an easy meal. When it comes to replicating this unique action a metal jigging spoon is hard to beat. When worked properly, the spoon will flutter and swing side to side as it descends through the water mimicking dying shad in its movements, profile and shiny reflections. Anglers work the spoon back with long sweeps of the rod's tip and then follow it down as it sinks - the process is repeated all the way back to the boat. For nearly a decade, the standard for all spoons was the Lake Fork Flutter Spoon, which still today represents one of the top three lures of it's kind and continues to produce big bass for anglers all over the country. While other companies have made similar creations, it wasn't until 2014 that the game was changed forever when Nichols Lures came out with the Ben Parker Magnum Spoon.
Resembling a trolling dodger more than a lure for bass, the
Nichols Ben Parker Magnum Spoons are giant metal spoons designed to imitate injured or dying shad that bass feed upon. Upon first glance, the lure looks like there's no way it should be used for bass fishing - the all metal spoon measures 7 3/4" in length, 2" wide and weighs 3.4 oz. Magnum is the only proper way to describe this spoon. Former Elite Series Bass angler, Ben Parker, who grew up fishing the Tennessee River Lakes, designed this Nichols Spoon to mimic large species of Gizzard Shad that the biggest bass in the lake are feeding upon. After years of development and personal use, Parker partnered with Nichols to manufacture this giant hunk of big bass catching metal. The bigger is better trend seems to be no more prevalent than when glancing at this spoon. Anglers have admitted there is no way to throw it all day, but with 15 - 20 casts at a time, they are still hooked on the lures incredible action and the effect it has on schooling bass. If this massive spoon seems to be a bit too much, check out the wide variety of bass fishing spoons and the different designs they possess.
Ok, so hair jigs aren't new school at all. In fact, using hair for fishing lures is how the first artificial lures came to be. So why call hair jigs new school? Well, in recent years a new generation of fishermen have discovered why these "basic" lures can be so effective. Typically crafted from a mixture of hair, feathers and some type of fabrics or mylar strands, hair jigs look distinctly different in the water from how they appear dry in the hand. When taking a hair jig out of the package, it looks good, perhaps a bit fluffly, but generally it doesn't quite look like anything a bass would eat. However, when in the water, hair jigs come to life replicating the look of a shad almost perfectly. The hair wets down a bit and the lure transforms into the exact profile of a baitfish. Hair jigs do not possess any inherent action of their own, however, and therefore require a bit of work to figure out the best method of working them. Most anglers will use the hair jig almost like the spoon, choosing to reel up the lure quickly and then allow it to fall on slack line through the water column. If you've ever seen a shad swimming in nature it really doesn't have a whole lot of action. In fact, most of the time, you can't even really see its tail kicking. More accurately, the swimming motions of baitfish are best described as diving and darting, which is exactly what the hair jig does when given slack line to sink down.
For years, most devout hair jig fishermen swore that making your own was the only way to go. In fact, even today, there are a number of old school anglers who still seek out animal hair and feathers from the wild to make their own unique jigs - no two the same. While that's certainly a neat process, for convenience a few companies have risen to the occasion and developed hair jigs that are hand tied with quality materials. Of all the models on the market today, the very best is the
Cumberland Pro Lures Prayer Jig. Hands down, of the hair jigs on the market today, the Prayer Jig is the standard for which all others strive to reach. It has the perfect combination of hair and feathers hand tied to produce the right amount of skirt flair. Constructed around a quality hook and smooth jig head, the Cumberland Pro Lures Prayer Jig is everything you want in a hair jig.