July and August are "dog days," when temperatures are hot and fishing is slow; well, for some perhaps. But not for Boyd Duckett and other anglers who know how to mine offshore structure for some of the heaviest, most consistent catches of the year.
Duckett says, "After the spawn, when the water is warming and oxygen content is dropping, most bass in mainstream lakes migrate to deeper water, and the bank fishermen struggle. But this is the time I wait for all year. This is when the fish collect in big schools, and they feed in locations that are very predictable and fairly easy to find. If you know where to look and how to work these places, you can load up. I've caught many 25-pound bags (five fish) doing this."
And Duckett isn't bragging. He has the stats to back this statement up. This Demopolis, Ala., resident is a Bassmaster Elite Series angler and the 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion. He finishes consistently high in tournaments on Lake Guntersville, Kentucky Lake, Lake Eufaula and similar large lowland reservoirs.
Duckett says other anglers can log similar hefty catches if they follow the pattern that's brought him success. He says his "formula" has three parts: knowing where to find bass in midsummer; having onboard electronics to pinpoint likely spots; and knowing how to test-fish these spots to identify the good ones and eliminate the unproductive ones. After doing this, according to Duckett, the catching is the easy part.
First, location: "This time of year most bass in these big lakes move out to the main river channel, and they hold in very specific types of spots," Duckett says. "Many anglers refer to these as 'ledges,' but they're not always a sharp vertical drop.
Basically, a ledge is where the river channel meets the old shoreline, but it's underwater. It's a sudden change in bottom typography. It can be a cut, dip, point, bend, island, etc. It's where current flowing downstream pushes water up onto shallower structure." Duckett says typical depths may be 8 to 20 feet of water on the shallow side of the ledge. Depth in the channel doesn't matter.
Second, electronics: Duckett is adamant about having the right equipment. "To fish this pattern, you must have quality electronics. With quality electronics, you can find good spots quickly and efficiently, and you can mark them for return fishing. I'm talking about a high-resolution graph, mapping and GPS. If you have side-imaging sonar, that's even better." (Duckett uses a Lowrance HDS-10 unit with StructureScan.)
Third, test-fishing: During the course of a practice day, Duckett covers a lot of water. He may mark and fish 20 to 25 places, and he doesn't stay too long on any given spot. "I'll fish it just long enough to give it a good test, to feel my bait go through the cover. That might be four casts or 30. If I make the right cast and hit the goods, if the fish are there, I'll catch one." He says that in test-fishing 20 spots, if he finds two that are holding bass, he considers his day's effort a success.
When he finds a spot with the right ingredients (topography change, cover objects, baitfish), Duckett tests it with a diving crankbait (white, white/blue back or white/green back LaserLure). He will position his boat over the break or just off the deep side, and he will angle his casts across the ledge to the shallow side. He explains, "I cast close to the drop so my bait runs barely across the top of the ledge. Usually the prime strike zone will be within 5 feet of the dropoff." Also, he typically casts upstream and retrieves his bait back downstream with the current.
In summary, Duckett says learning to fish ledges is an investment that produces big dividends. "This style of fishing takes a lot of work and patience, but it can really pay off. If a weekend angler will just dedicate two or three days to locating a few spots where bass are holding on the ledges, he can win every local tournament he enters in the summer."
Gear To Grab
Following are specifics about rods, reels and line that Boyd Duckett uses to catch ledge bass in the summer.
7-11 medium action Duckett Fishing Micro Magic Crankin' rod (model No. DFMM711-CC-B)
Abu Garcia Revo SX casting reel; 7.1:1 retrieve ratio
17-pound-test Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon
7-6 heavy action Duckett Fishing Micro Magic Casting rod (model
Abu Garcia Revo SX casting reel; 7.1:1 retrieve ratio
Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon; 20- to 25-pound test, depending on the cover
Boyd Duckett says when fishing ledges, it's crucial to keep a diving crankbait digging the bottom, and he follows several rules for doing this. First, he uses a bait that is designed to run deeper than the ledge he is fishing. For instance, if he's fishing a ledge that is 12 to 14 feet deep, he uses a bait that will dive to 18 feet. Second, he uses a long rod (7-11) to make extremely long casts, providing more "run time" on the bottom. And third, he uses sinking fluorocarbon line to help keep the bait down.
Football Jigs on Ledges
"If the bass aren't biting, if there's no current and no evidence of feeding on the ledges, I'll work the same ledges with a 1/2- or 5/8-ounce football jig and a Berkley PowerBait Chigger Chunk trailer. I won't fish a ledge in a tournament unless I know the bass are there. So if they are there, but they're just not feeding, I'll work the same spots with this slower presentation. I feel like this is my best chance for catching a few strays," Boyd Duckett says.
Before You Go
Following is a list of chores Boyd Duckett accomplishes before heading out for a day of ledge fishing for summer bass.
Respool reels with fresh line. "Cranking all day on the ledges can cause a lot of nicks and frays."
Replace hooks on crankbaits with a new set of needle-sharp hooks. "If a fish breathes on my bait, I want to hook him."
Stock a cooler with bottled water and Gatorade. "It's crucial to stay hydrated on hot summer days."
Pack a nutritious lunch. "You've got to keep your energy level up. If your energy level drops, it's hard to focus. I'll pack sandwiches, high-energy bars and high-protein shakes. I consume a minimum of 4,000 calories a day during a summertime tournament.''