David Dudley loves catching bass on ledges – just like many other anglers. Guided by modern electronics and a nose for the sweet spots, he’s pretty good at this game – just like many other anglers. That’s no knock to the FLW Tour pro from Lynchburg, Va.; it’s just a statement of reality that provides the basis for an effective premise Dudley follows to keep himself in the hunt. Simply put, even the hottest of ledge bites eventually cools, but savvy anglers can keep the show going by knowing when and how to adjust.
“When you’re ledge fishing in a lake with current, if they’re there, they’re going to bite a crankbait,” Dudley said. “You can take a crankbait and have the confidence that if there’s a group of fish there, you’re going to catch some of them.
“Typically, though, that’s a short window – maybe a one-month window. When those fish come out (to the ledges), they’re coming out strong. But it only takes a few weeks to sore lip a bunch of them. If somebody gets on that school, they’re going to smoke ’em and then, pretty much the rest of the ledge fishing season (is much slower).”
Using the Tennessee River’s chain of heralded lakes as an example, Dudley said most years see that window of opportunity falling roughly between the second week of May and the second week of June. Postspawn bass are leaving the shallows and feeding aggressively before settling into their deeper summer patterns. Here’s a look at how Dudley approaches his ledge game.
At the aggressive onset of the bass movement out to the ledges, Dudley said he has a ball firing a Bomber Fat Free Shad BD8 toward those little turns and points that seem to hold the big schools of hungry fish. The bait’s effective depth and rattling presentation puts an obnoxious target right in the kill zone and the reaction is generally swift and decisive.
Dudley fishes his crankbait on a 7-foot, 11-inch Lamiglass flipping stick and spools a 6.3:1 reel with 10-pound fluorocarbon. Preferring Foxy Shad and Citrus Shad, Dudley said his best advice for ledge crankers is casting accuracy. Get your distance right for the proper casting length, pick a couple of fixed objects on the shoreline and keep your aim inside that lane.
“You can have your boat in the right position, but that doesn’t mean you’re making the right cast,” he said. “The key is making sure you have a directional point to throw at. GPS will get you on the spot, but you still have to have a target to throw to. That’s where your 2-point reference lineup comes into play.”
By mid- to late-summer, Dudley will have switched from the noisy crankbait to something less intrusive. His choice here is the Fat Free Shad’s silent version – the BD8SF — in the same colors as before.
“I like rattling crankbaits early in the ledge fishing season, but after that initial blast, the silent (crankbait) is best,” Dudley said. “The fish have a bunch of holes in their lips, so you need something more subtle.
“But think about it, you’re not only hooking them once early in the season, but most people are cranking and they’re getting punctured two to four times. It only takes a few weeks to educate ledge fish really quick.”
TIME FOR A CHANGE
If the switch from a BD8F to a BD8SF represents the first level of adjustment on the ledge, then Dudley’s next move involves dialing down the overall look and speed of his presentations. He accomplishes this by switching to a Booyah Football Head with a Yum Mighty Worm Texas-rigged on the ½- to ¾-ounce head. A hefty profile with enticing motion, the Mighty Worm appeals to pressured bass – especially in slower current.
Dudley throws this 10 ½-inch worm on the same rod/reel package, but he bumps up to 15-pound fluoro. His top colors are green pumpkin and watermelon red for the worm and green pumpkin on the head.
When the water’s moving a little better but the bass remain skittish from heavy fishing pressure, Dudley swaps the Mighty Worm for a Yum Ribbontail Worm in green pumpkin, watermelon seed or plum. The added backside motion often triggers reluctant strikes, but with either worm option, Dudley said that nothing benefits your efforts more than a patient, thorough presentation.
“The best thing I can tell people is that I want you to feel every rock down there,” he said. “Read the bottom like you’re reading a book.”
While fishing the football head/big worm package, Dudley likes to hold his rod tip high and turn his reel handle at a glacial pace. This creeps the bait along the bottom and affords him maximum sensitivity that transmits a report on bottom makeup and helps him detect light bites.
Last piece of advice Dudley offers regards timing. Specifically, he notes that decisiveness will help you avoid losing your opportunity.
“If you get them fired up on a bait, try not to wait too long to switch baits,” he said. “Don’t wait until there’s too much time between bites.
“The second you sense it slowing down, you’re still in a time period when they’re fired up. If you wait too long and let them settle down before switching baits you’ll miss out on maximizing the ledge bite.”
By David A. Brown