The wall underwater
Any place where the bottom content changes from rock to something else is the first place to look. If we know how to use our depth-finder we should be able to discern bottom hardness. The transition from hard bottom to “something else” can be subtle at times. Of course, if there is anything growing out of the bottom or wall, rock, weeds, or otherwise, that's a prime spot to investigate further. When defining, and fishing the “edge” or the “ledge” do so including as close to shore as you dare on out to 25-30+ yards away from what we can see. The adventure continues when our findings branch out to even newer frontiers.
We may want to start with the right” and “left edge first, work the bottom second, and the wall last. A depth finder can tell us if the fish are relating to the wall. Again, there will be pockets, dents, concave areas, cracks, and holes of various sizes in any edge. Watch the abnormal line of entry into the water. Follow the crack , or any other deviation with your imagination below the waterline. Fish generally relate to those or similar differences whether suspended or not.
To begin with, rely heavily on that topographic (above water) map of the area, a lake bottom (below water) map, as well as our eye sight on the water. We then knit the information together as best we can with what we have. There will always be differences, not on those maps, one to the other, and to what is actually there when we see it first hand that will pay big dividends if we find and note them accordingly. This study will tell us what's what above and below the waterline with much greater definition.
If we don't want to do that, we then can look for any rocky looking or color changing, or fauna changing - above water shore feature that drops more or less sharply and vertically into the water. That change can be as subtle as, a different kind of tree or bush growing amongst other flora. Look for any abnormality in the rock formations, etc.. Watch the way any crack, contour, bulge, hole, bigger rock, bigger tree changes to smaller rock, smaller tree any area which is concave , or just a different design from what is around the others. We can even look for how the sedimentary color of the rock layers change, and enters the water, or where the trees shadow casts, or hangs over the water. Then with our imagination again, continue that "entry line" into and under water. We don't necessarily just fish where those indicators enter the water. But we should also fish where we think they are going as well. Many of these changes can extend many yards underwater.
Fish suspending on or near that wall face will relate to one the features mentioned. Sometimes that relationship can be as little as a foot one way or the other. Better, and more accurate than average presentation is in order for these areas. “Near” the wall can mean several yards away from the wall face but still suspended and relating to some grounded feature of that wall or bottom. Please remember, we are not just talking about rock walls here. Let our imagination be our guide. In other words, please don’t limit our thinking in terms of just rock walls when you think of edges. Weeds, Stick Ups, Rock Piles, etc. all have “edges and ledges“.
Other Important Edges:
All edges are important. To cover them all here would leave nothing to our imagination; to the thrill of our own accomplishment. In order to get the feel of what we are trying to do, we should however, cover some of the common “Edges and Ledges“.
River Channel and Other Drop Offs.
River-run reservoirs will most always contain a mid lake or tributary drop-off into the river or creek channel. Also, on the old channel bends, there's usually a more pronounced drop-off at the bend.
Depending on the sophistication of your sonar unit, what we are about to do can be more and more revealing.
We need to follow the river channels edge, watch our depth finder carefully, and drop a marker buoy somewhat off to the side of any irregularity, rise, fall, outcropping, turn, or bottom composition change. . . Again, these are all “edges and ledges“. Then, up on the lip of the drop-off and for several yards away from the channel, zigzag the boat parallel to the same pattern as your drop-off markers indicate. While we are doing this, if we see anything on our depth finder that is different from what we think to be normal (individual judgment), drop another buoy.
Once we make our pass and drop the buoys up on the lip shelf, go back to our buoys up there and do a 90 degree angle pass away toward shore, slowly zigzagging again for several yards either side of the buoy. Now we got it. . . drop more buoys as we encounter depth finder detected irregularities. . . Boy, that’s a lot of buoys! Once we get use to this job, it takes maybe about ten minutes to “Get er Done”. Do we have ten minutes to invest in catching more fish than we could otherwise? As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”
We can use a GPS unit to pinpoint the positions we feel will pay off, make notes as to boat position, compass direction, and distance of casts. We can also triangulate the spots by shore sightings, or even a new way we invent by way of a digital camera (to be discovered in a future article). . . in any case we should not forget to make written notes. By doing all this we will not only have the best spots picked out, but we will have the best lure presentation approach to each spot.
There’s a caution here in seeing fish activity at specific depths. That activity is not always an indication of the same depth of activity all over the lake. Depth patterns don't hold for all fish. It's a good indicator for sure, but other spots have to coincide with other specific conditions, water clarity, water flow, food availability, and or structure/cover circumstances.
What the depth patterns on the drop-off will tell us is something about fish activity level for that spot. Being mostly true in all cases, if fish are on the lip of the drop, they are more neutral to actively feeding - chasing possibly, but not chasing far. If they are up on the shelf away from the drop they will be more active. If they are over the edge the other way and relating to the wall of the drop-off, they will be neutral to negative feeding. If they are on the bottom of the channel they will be in a negative, or at least a much slower feeding and bait presentation mode. Deeper water pressure alone will effect how fast/far fish move at any given depth.
Once we see what we have, we can adjust our bait presentations to accommodate the fish we find. On the shelf fish faster. On the lip, be more accurate with your casts and somewhat slower on the retrieve. On the wall and the bottom, slow way down and be as accurate as you can with your casts.
As mentioned before we can use a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit here as well. Outside of putting out a bunch of bucks for the newer side finder sonar units, a caution is that you may not visualize the lay of the underwater geography on a more conventional depth finder the same way you will with the additional use of marker buoys. It's important that we align the boat, cast in a specific direction, hit a specific splash down target, determine proper bait speed, action, size, shape, color contrast, etc, to keep the lure in the fish catching zone the longest period of time for that particular edge, piece of structure, or cover. The solution then can be to use the fish finder for depth and spotting irregularities, the GPS unit to record the location, and use buoys to guide casting lanes. If we are taking proper notes on what we are doing, we only have to do these things once per spot. Over time, and with experience, we may find we don’t have to drop those buoys on some spots. . . We will just know.
One subtlety we may have missed here is in the top-water edge. The surface of the lake is like any other target edge we can find. The difference is that the surface of this ledge/edge changes before our eyes. If there is any change in the surface of the water, which includes water movement (chop or current), cloud movement, or Sun drift to form a wider under water shadow, that's an edge as well. For example: If we see a land feature that blocks the wind for several yards close to shore, but 15 yards out into the lake the surface is choppy this will tell us that there is an “edge” there ripe for investigating. Where the two types of water surfaces meet. We should move along that line to find one or more of the other changes noted earlier and we’ll find fish nearby.
Underwater humps, or underwater islands have “edges and ledges” as well. There's a wealth of under fished offshore structure that most folks don’t understand. These areas are so under-used that we can sometimes productively fish them for several months.
What is a “HUMP’?
An underwater hump or underwater island is: An offshore, lake bottom distortion discovered on your own -usually buy use of your depth finder, or shown by Lake Map bottom contours. Something, anything that rises off the floor of your lake, or jutts out from the nearby area. Humps can be a matter of a few feet in width, length, and height - to many square yards of underwater real estate. Three dimensionally speaking, “Offshore” can mean at right angles to or from a cliff, shelf, ridge, point or other shoreline features. Offshore humps can mean a section of weeds that grow taller than those surrounding them, or weeds that change variety as you move along the weed line. Some humps have weeds on them - some don’t. In all cases a humps location can mean as little as a few feet to as much as 100’s of yards away from shore. Any outcropping, rise, dent, trough, crevice, or change in any direction is worth investigating.
What are Hump Bass?
Hump Bass are those fish that find it better to relate to deeper, or more out of the way water. While not living shallow up against or in the vicinity of the shoreline by conventional fishing terms, these fish still need a sight where the makings of shallow water are nearly available in one form or another. Hump Bass are connect with - are more or less - glued to - those areas where the rise in the lake floor represent the same kind of depth, water temperature, and light penetration changes found closer to the shore line. If all bass needs relative to food and living conditions are met, there’s no reason for them to go elsewhere. Sometimes humps are just safe havens to bass where they hang out in a laid back state until low light levels occur. At those times they can either start to feed on the hump itself or cross the saddle towards shore.
A Smidge of History about “OUR LAKE”.
If our lake has shallow, clouded water - say less than 20 feet, it is safe to say all the fish will live shallow by definition of that lake. However, if we view all types of lakes, parts of those lakes, and all types of water clarity, some bass will stay shallow, and some will go deep. Keep in mind:
Clear water, with less shallow cover, generally produces deeper fish. Clouded/Stained Water, or cloudy skis, less light penetration, produces shallower fish. More shallow cover vs less cover produces shallower bass. While the above is true in its conventional deep or shallow definition, take this information to the “hump” , or anywhere else, and apply it accordingly. We have to put the combinations of events together to match the situation. . . “Fish on!”
Humps are typically found in an underwater area of long running shelves, cliffs, and points. If we are not familiar with the ways and means of Lake Bottom contour maps, now is the time to become so. Humps found elsewhere will probably not be productive.
In life and underwater, “Timing is Everything”
As with any of the scenarios of “edges and ledges” and with the thought that it is a close comparison, we are not talking about the beat or rhythm of a master at a musical instrument. We are however, talking about when to do things and when not to do them.
The best times to fish humps are, on average, when the surface water temp hits the low to mid 70s upward into the high 80s. Remember however, that the water temperature on deeper humps can be cooler than at the surface. Because of this, some deep-water haunts require that we mentally hold the otherwise normal season back for a time until that deep water warms up. The “When‘ usually starts in April and runs through the summer months. May, through late July/August, early to mid September/October; these seem to be peak times.
Then there’s the fall of the year where humps seem to stack fish like cord wood. The is a phenomena I haven’t quite figured out yet. But, I feel the fish are there because these off-shore locations experience an abundance of migrating food at the time. Maybe the bass are there all along, and just become super active in the fall to store up belly fat for winter. We will have to work on proving that one at a later time. Please don’t forget that some humps and their nearby sanctuaries can be equal to those winter time holding bins/sanctuaries I mention so often.
The presence of rising, or wind blown plankton, baitfish , and current coming over/around/near the hump, coupled with less fishing pressure are the best of conditions. The fish are not involved with conventional fishing pressure, and they have a more natural, less stressful existence. The fish generally have nearby deep water sanctuaries they can retreat to if needed, and they have, more or less, convenient access to the shore line if necessary.
We need to choose our own preference of baits and presentations; let the fishes location in the water column, what they might be eating, and mood tell you what they want. All but the Top-Water approach will normally work on deeper humps. While not often seen in my experience, there are times when fish will rise out of as much as 30 feet of very clear water to hit top water bait.
If we know that there are deep water holding structures, channels, etc. near a hump or that the bottom contours on that hump are steeper on one side more than the other, then we are ahead of the field. I love these “sanctuaries“. . . Can you tell?
We can just pull our boat off the top of the hump and cover those resulting features with our best slow deep-water techniques. The biggest fish for the area will often be found on or near these tighter contour lines. The more tapered , wider contour lined areas of the hump can be good for deep spawning bass. Many times you will find hump bass shifting to and from relatively nearby shore features. Sometimes they will move back and forth through, or over the saddle connecting the overall features.
You’ll probably notice that we haven’t gone into the specifics of the kinds of baits, and the details of presentation to use in each area here. I feel we shouldn’t do that in this presentation for number of reasons. Simply and overall, your experimentation is vitally important to you learning what you are doing. Your experience will, over time, tell you how and what to use. Having said that, I’m going to contradict myself in order to bring up a special situation.
Toward the end of the season, especially in rockier lake bottoms on much deeper clear water humps, small to medium spoons work well. We will also find that the somewhat shallower occurring humps closer to shore can be more productive this time of year. Always first watch for baitfish to tell you which humps to fish. Then again, we may just see a bunch of big ol’ bass stacked like that proverbial cord wood we found earlier.
We should use our depth finder to track the humps, etc., looking for the balls of baitfish with what would appear to be bigger fish under or shooting through them. There are times when the bait balls themselves are the only “migrating” structure the predator fish are relating to. In so doing, the bass merely follow the bait balls around the lake in open water.
There are times when there is no visible fish activity. These times do not prove the absence of fish, nor that you can purposely turn them on through your bait choice and presentation; more experimentation is in order. But, it does say something about the activity/mood of those fish that might be there hugging the bottom. . . remember what we covered before?
When we find these bait balls, vertically jig / work our spoon, or spinner bait, or whatever we choose, beneath the bait. Pull/lift the spoon, etc. up into the bait ball and let it control fall back towards the bass. Stay in contact with the bait as it is falling back towards our target zone. This presentation takes some practice. The bait will lose its action if we are too heavy handed. On the other hand we won’t feel a pick up if we don’t stay in contact with the motion we create with our bait. We need to find the equilibrium kind of balance of and in any of our presentations. We need to make certain we know the count down time in seconds it takes for the bait to get back down to the target zone. If the bait stops before it gets back to that zone, SET THE HOOK. On shallower humps during this same time, plastic baits, crank, and spinner baits work well with conventional retrieves.
Overall if you can find two or more of the features of “Edges” noted here (more is better) all in the same spot you should be able to catch more fish than you need. We should always think in terms of “edges and ledges“, even if it stretches our imagination a little. . . imagination is a good thing if properly channeled.
That‘s it for now.
It’s been a pleasure for me to be your “ParDner” in the boat with you today. Believe it or not You have taught me a lot of things I didn’t consider before, and that‘s the way it should be. . . A give and take so that both of us will be better off than we started. I think we all need reminding from time to time that all we have to do is look for these things in a slightly different way.