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Fishing Ledges

How to Fish The Deep Drop-Offs


Fishing a ledge can be super productive or it can be dead as a door nail. It all depends on how you approach the situation, how you line up with the ledge, and how you anchor on the ledge. If you can determine where the ledge is located and which direction it runs, you are half way home. It is a matter then of determining what fishing method to use and fill your limit!

Why Fish a Ledge

This is the first question that comes to mind. Why do you even want to try and fish a ledge? The answer is that fish are attracted to these ledges - and the answer as to why the fish are attracted is - this is structure, plain and simple. Fish identify with structure and use it either to hide from predator fish or - in the case of a predator fish - as an ambush location. About.com's Freshwater Fishing Guide, Ronnie Garrison spends a good deal of time fishing structure.

So, if the fish will be attracted to these ledges - and they will - it now becomes a matter of learning just how to fish this kind of structure.

Locating a Ledge

Ledges are usually not marked on a "fishing" map and designated as a ledge. It takes some interpretation on the chart to identify a possible ledge and for that reason, many people simply do not know a ledge is down there under the boat.

Have you ever had a fantastic day fishing and gone back to what you thought was the same location only to be shut out? That could be because what you thought was the same location actually was off a good ways.

  • Charts Locations

    Some charts do show what could be ledges. The more detailed the chart, the more likely it is to have depth curves and lines; and, similar to a weather map that has barometric pressure lines close to each other, these charts will have areas where the depth lines are close to each other.

    The closer the lines are on the chart, the more of a drop you have in depth. And where there is a steep drop in depth there is usually some undercut area of some sort that makes this a nice ledge. Instead of a slow drop to deeper water, the quick drop is a ledge, and it can and will hold fish.

  • GPS Coordinates

    GPS coordinates can mark a single location in the water - or in our case, on the bottom. They are just as their name implies - coordinates. One set of coordinates equals one spot on the bottom. An ideally marked (with a GPS) ledge will have a minimum of two GPS coordinates. And, ideally, the ledge will run in a line between these coordinates.

  • Mark the Ledge in the Water

    It's the old "put an 'X' on the side of the boat to mark your location" routine in some people's mind. But really - mark the ledge in the water. Use a small buoy on a line with a heavy weight on it - I use an old plastic milk jug and 1/8 inch nylon line with a lead weight. I paint the jug a visible color - like fluorescent orange - and use it to mark a single spot. Drop the marker on one end of the ledge when you find it. Then motor around to see which direction the ledge runs, or use that second GPS coordinate and drop a second buoy at another part of the ledge. These two markers now give you a perfect surface visual to use while either drifting or anchoring.

Fishing Methods

  • Drifting
    • If the wind and current are perfect, it is possible to drift and have your boat moving directly over and in the same line as the ledge. I have had a few days like that, but they are few and far between. You will invariably drift at some angle to the ledge. The more perpendicular the angle (closer to 90 degrees) the harder it is to fish. If your drift is at a low angle to the ledge, meaning you have more time over the ledge, drifting may be the trick for you.
    • Fish will be at multiple depths, depending on the species, so when you decide which species of fish you are after, drop your bait accordingly.
    • Use only enough weight to get your bait down to the depth you want without letting out too much line. A slow drift with the current is ideal - you want your line as straight down as possible.
    • Free lining live bait for surface feeders can be deadly. Lots of pelagic type fish like to identify with and over a ledge below - so don't rule out surface fishing.
  • Bottom Fishing
    • Anchoring
      • You need to anchor your boat so that you are fishing in front of the ledge. Dropping a bait straight down to the ledge will result in hung lines and lost tackle.
      • You need to find which way the current and winds are moving your boat. Idle up to a point between the two markers you dropped and sit. Wind and current will push you one way or another. Make note of that direction after doing this several times. Your ideal anchoring scheme will be at a 90 degree angle to the ledge on the deep side of the ledge.
      • You want the boat positioned so that your bait will drop in front of the ledge on the deep side - close to but not on top of the ledge.
      • In the unfortunate situation where the wind and current make you anchor on the shallow side of the ledge, you will loose tackle and fish when your bait goes over the ledge to the deep side. It's still fishable, but on these occasions I tend to look for another ledge that runs the direction that allows me to anchor properly.
    • Fishing

      As I said, fish will be at several different depths, depending on the species. Grouper, snapper and other bottom fish will be close to the ledge on or just off the bottom. Other fish may be suspended in the water column, and of course the pelagics will be everywhere, including the surface.

      Make sure your tackle is sized right for the fish you seek. It's very frustrating trying to catch small beeliners or sea bass on heavy bottom tackle - it can wear you out if the water is deep. Try cranking an 8 ounce sinker up from 100 feet a few times on heavy tackle and see what I mean! Just as frustrating is losing a heavy bottom fish to light tackle.

  • Trolling

    Trolling along a ledge can produce lots of fish if you troll the area right. And that means trolling parallel to the ledge. Troll over and along the ledge first one direction and then the other. Marking the ledge with a marker is not as important when trolling because you are controlling the boat position and movement, not the wind and current. A good GPS with a "trails" feature can mark where you have trolled and allow you to come back over the same area multiple times. One thing you want to try and avoid is trolling across the ledge. Your bait will be in the strike zone only for the short period of time it crosses the ledge. Trolling parallel to the ledge is the ideal method.

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