By Tony Grant, Field Editor
Have you ever been on your favorite water and the muskies have seemingly vanished from your normal shallow water and shoreline spots? Whether it’s because of baitfish migration, cold fronts, warming trends or a significant water temperature change, muskies often switch their home range. This movement is generally most related to the baitfish’s reaction to changing conditions. Muskies are, by nature, fish that relate to structure as a major governing factor in their daily existence, and there are few more important structures than ledges and creek channels.
However, there are important factors that anglers must consider about these potential holding places for muskies. First we’ll look at features and facts about ledges, then the techniques that work for the muskies that dwell around them.
What Is A Ledge?
Simply speaking, a ledge is a type of structure that can be found at the edge or bank of an old creek channel or main river channel that remains underwater after the flooding of a reservoir or flowage. Take a look at any hydrographic map of any of these waters and you’ll see old channels. The creek channels will wind their way from the backs of coves to the old river channel and the main river channel will wind its way through the system, from the headwaters of the lake to the dam. Many times these ledges will be lined with structure like vegetation, timber, even man-made cover like cribs and brushpiles. Ledges are different from drop-offs because they are generally associated with channels. Ledges are almost always associated with shallow feeding and spawning areas yet offer immediate deep water access.
Determining when to take your efforts to a ledge can be as simple as it is difficult. Seasonal patterns can help your direction, as the spawn passes and the water warms to its summer temperatures, muskies will follow the baitfish off the flats and backs of creeks to the ledges and then back again in late summer. Late falls cold temperatures send the baitfish movement back to the old channels and the ledges that parallel them.
Not only do seasonal patterns push baitfish and muskies out on the ledges, some muskies spend most of their time in deep water as do others that make the shallows their home, but in all cases baitfish must be present. Pre-frontal or post-frontal conditions at times tend to push the muskies off the flats toward the ledges. Pre- and post-spawn fish use these ledges as staging areas in and out of spawning areas.
Visualizing what’s below the water’s surface is key to ledge fishing. Start your investigation with a good map and depthfinder, and start with small areas of the lake rather than the whole thing. Follow the old river channel, looking for prominent structure variations as you would when looking at shoreline areas. Search out variations in the ledges, such as cuts, points, bends and channel junctions, then determine with your electronics which spots are holding the most baitfish. In many southern reservoirs and flowages, massive weed and/or mud flats, even rock cliffs, are lined with ledges that correspond to the old river channels.
Ledges off endless opportunities for the musky angler, but you should keep in mind that ledges are just that, structure and can be worked with many different tactics and techniques. First off, remember that muskies can be found anywhere along these ledges, from high in the water column to near the bottom. All depths should be explored. When working the surface, I like a larger presentation like the Big Mommas and One-Eyed Willie. Also try Cowgirls, as well as Grim Reaper and C.J. spinnerbaits to cover those muskies near the surface.
Twitching the 4Play Herring Swim & Jerk from Savage Gear in a shad pattern in the South, and perch pattern in the North, has been very successful for my clients along ledges. This triple-jointed lure is very easy to work, and can be fished several different ways and speeds with little effort. Meanwhile, BullDawgs, Red October Tubes and Medusas cover a variety of depths throughout the column, though none better in working the bottom is the Bondy Bait.
Ledges and creek channels offer a barrier to sunlight. The muskies will tend to stage on the shaded sides of the ledge and will often shift as the angle of the sunlight changes during the day. These areas should be looked at as holding areas for muskies, rather than feeding areas, yet to the angler’s standpoint it makes little difference in that you can often prompt a reaction strike when a lure crosses in front of them, so covering all depths is a must.
When following a creek back into a cove, particularly good locations for muskies are where the old creek channel comes closest to the bank. On many southern reservoirs the bluffs along the bank are easy markers of positive productive areas. A major advantage of such a spot is not only the shade effect, but also the land-based food sources, which become prey.
Trolling The Ledges
Trolling ledges involves covering a great amount of water while concentrating on the best food supply. A simple approach is to present a variety of baits at different depths until you make contact with fish, then mimic that effort to establish a pattern. When sampling lure choices, make sure to mix both straight and jointed models, and then modify your approach as the muskies reveal their preference. Try a variety of sizes and shapes. Always keep in mind when fishing ledges that not all fish are deep. Muskies in these areas can be located just a few feet below the surface, so don’t assume you are pulling your lures above the fish. Trolling blade baits shallow can be very effective, so try larger Rabid Squirrel, Grim Reaper, Funky Chicken spinnerbaits and Cowgirls.
Boat control is key when trolling ledges and following them can be no easy task. The snake-like winding of many creek channels makes precise trolling passes more difficult, but making correct turns can make the difference between success or failure. Depthfinders and GPS are valuable tools whether trolling or casting — in the deeper water off the ledges you can actually find concentrations of baitfish and know if larger fish are associated with the food source. Marking those special spots with waypoints is essential.
10 Keys To Success
1.) Current is an important ingredient to contacting fish out on the ledge. Muskies tend to be much more active when current is present, either from wind or the lake’s drawdown.
2.) Search out ledges with about a 45-degree angle or less because they seem to be the most productive. Avoid those with a super-steep incline.
3.) Work ledges just like you would any shoreline, covering areas intensely with a variety of presentations.
4.) Find those variations in the ledges discussed previously, and concentrate on them.
5.) The baitfish connection will almost always be a major factor. When you find active muskies, pick the area apart as many times there will be multiple fish.
6.) To find the ledge in waters with standing timber, watch the trees. Straight-standing trees generally are not on the channel’s edge. Look for those that lean at an angle to find the ledge.
7.) Use your electronics to find bait and mark those spots that are just a little different than most
8.) Concentrate on your boat control, precise turns, and distance from the ledge. Staying on target is crucial when fishing this type of structure.
9.) Lure color selection can be key. Watch for water color change when pulling out on the ledges and adjust when needed.
10.) “Time on the ledges” can be required before they pay off. Stay positive, put the time in, and enjoy the reward.
Fishing ledges is just another tactic for muskies. Spend time learning where they are and try some of the techniques mentioned above, and you may find more consistent success throughout the season. Use ledges to your advantage when that shallow bite isn’t happening, and especially during baitfish migration periods, to put more and even bigger muskies in your boat next season.
For more about Contributing Writer Tony Grant, visit www.tonygrantoutdoors.com or www.kymuskie.com