Ken Murphy studied his graph, pinpointed one area of a submerged ledge and quickly started dissecting it with his Rapala DT 14.

Murphy was looking for the sweet spot on the ledge and hoping to find a new honey hole as he bounced the crankbait off the bottom and banged it into structure.

Wham!

A bass smashed his tempting offering just as it ricocheted off a stump, and the game was on.

Murphy leaned back into the rod, letting the razor-sharp trebles and rod do the rest. In just a few minutes the accomplished angler put a nice 5-pound spotted bass in the livewell, and his day was really heating up.

"Once the bass go on their summertime patterns, ledge fishing gets really good," Murphy said. "Most of the offshore fish will relate to certain ledges, and you can spend most of your time fishing for the bass instead of looking for them."

And the good thing about that, according to Murphy, is that the bass will target the same ledges and keep coming back year after year unless major changes occur.

With drastic improvements in the electronic equipment on today's bass boats, fishing underwater humps, ledges and submerged creek channels has become much easier. Sure, you still have to put in the time on the water, but finding the "honey holes" is easier than ever before.

"With a quality graph and Navionics Digital Map Fish Chip, anglers are now able to 'see' the fish swimming across the ledges and tell not only if they are there but if they're active," Murphy said. "If you only see isolated fish on a ledge then there's usually not much going on there, and you can move on and find more-productive ledges with active bass."

Murphy has spent a lot of time fishing and competing with the best anglers in the world on several tournament trails around the country, and has learned quite a bit about fishing underwater structure. With multiple top finishes on the regional and national level - and a win at an FLW event on the Detroit River at Lake St. Clair - Murphy has proven he can adapt to a wide range of water and conditions.

"To be successful on any water you've got to learn how to fish ledges," Murphy said. "During June and July, offshore ledges are the place to fish for schools of bass, and you can really mop up with crankbaits once you find them."

What's not to like about catching lunker bass and numbers of bass? But that is just the opportunity anglers have when ledge fishing during this month.

Once you master the nuances of finding the right ledges that hold fish, and then begin catching them, your productivity should increase dramatically.

"Cranking offshore ledges is one of the most-productive means of locating and catching fish that I know of," Murphy said. "You can cover a lot of water fast and pick up reaction bites and locate the bass much faster than using more-traditional methodical techniques."

Different bodies of water have different types of bottoms and ledges, and that can cause the fish to relate to the ledges differently.

"River ledges may have rock or hard clay bottoms, and dredging will create even more varied types of ledges that provide fish with unique holding areas," Murphy said. "Pickwick Lake also has a lot of natural rock ledges and humps that are very productive.

"Tennessee River lakes are some of the best in the world when it comes to ledge fishing, and Pickwick is right at the top. They're usually full of clear water and loaded with baitfish and bass."

 

Multiple species

That makes Pickwick an ideal lake to learn ledge fishing - and largemouths aren't the only species on the menu.

"When you get a little current on the river pushing bait over the ledges, there's no telling what you might catch," Murphy said. "I've caught a lot of largemouths and even lunker smallmouths on the same ledge.

"And sometimes we've caught largemouths, spotted bass and smallmouths from the same ledge."

Murphy has also fished many ledges that are loaded with spotted bass and striped bass, as well.

"June is a great month for deep-cranking spotted bass and catching fish on ledges at Pickwick," he said. "We'll even catch big stripers on the ledges, but they usually run off the largemouths. The spots will stay with them and keep right on feeding, however."

White bass also prowl the ledges, although they can mess up an angler's tournament day.

"I've been fishing ledges on Okatibbee Lake and catching largemouth bass when the hybrids move up and start feeding, and the largemouths just leave," Murphy said. "If you're fishing for pleasure it's fun and a great way for kids to really have a ball and catch a lot of fish.

"It's the kiss of death for a tournament angler, however."

 

Early morning

During the early morning hours, Murphy may start out on the shallow end of some of the ledges, as the bass will roam these areas in the early morning light.

"Sometimes bass will run shad up on main-lake points or on top of the ledges where it's shallower, so I'll work those areas first," Murphy said. "Early in the morning they'll be roaming and feeding and spread out more."

The strategy is pretty straightforward.

"I'm going to stay in the deep water and pull my crankbaits back toward the deep water," Murphy explained. "If I happen to find a main-lake point that is really long and runs way out into the deep water, I'll cast parallel to each side of the point before fan-casting across it."

Once the sun gets up in the sky, Murphy concentrates on the deeper ledges. In fact, he actually prefers more sun.

"I prefer a sunny and clear day because it will position fish like you like them to be: tight to the ledges and concentrated," he said. "You'll catch more bass up during the day, but you'll have a smaller zone to catch them in. So you have to be more precise when targeting and casting to small spots.

"When I find them schooled up tight on the ledges, it can really be good, in both numbers and size."

However, his ledge-fishing forays begin even before he hits the water.

"Before I start fishing a body of water I'll look at a contour map and pick out key areas and water depths where I think the bass will be during June," Murphy explained. "Then I can make my strategy and, once I start catching fish and pattern them, I can translate that information to other similar ledges and different areas of the lake and not have as much wasted time looking for similar locations.

"And the Navionics system gives you a big advantage over anglers of yesteryear or ones that don't have it."

After pinpointing likely ledges, Murphy will take time to use his electronics to further focus his fishing effort.

"I'll try to graph a ledge or key area and see what depth the fish are holding in," Murphy said. "That works much better in clear lakes than muddy, but it can be good in both clear and semi stained water."

After he determines the depth and location in which most of the bass are, Murphy will try to fish those areas and keep his bait in that zone.

"I want to use a 7- to 8-foot-long rod in medium-heavy to heavy action with a reel full of fresh line," Murphy said. "It takes a long rod with plenty of backbone so you can load that rod up and fling that bait way out."

That distance is essential to success, he said.

"You need to make real long casts so that you can get that lure down on the bottom as soon as possible, and it's important to keep it down there in the strike zone," Murphy said. "I want to stay in contact with structure or bottom as long as I can."

By doing this, Murphy will be more apt to draw reaction strikes from bass that aren't actively feeding.

"Almost any reel is good for cranking, but you just have to pay attention to your retrieval speed when you use high-speed reels," Murphy said. "You've just got to be sure and slow down or you'll reel it too fast and miss out on strikes."

He turns to fluorocarbon when spooling up because fluorocarbon line sinks, dragging his crankbaits into the depths a lot faster than would monofilament.

Murphy prefers using 10-pound line in open water deeper than 15 feet. If he's fishing less than 15 feet deep, he'll use 12- to 15-pound line, depending upon the depth and the amount of structure or cover he's fishing around.

"It's important to get down to the fish, but you need abrasion-resistant line when you're working the structure," he said. "Sometimes I'll get that crankbait down there in the brush and just pull my rod slowly, working the lure through there like a worm, and just use the reel to take up the slack."

Murphy also doesn't really set the hook when cranking as he does in other applications such as worm fishing.

"When a fish strikes, I'll just lean back and keep pressure on the bass while reeling in the line real slow," he said. "Any time that I use a bait that has treble hooks on it I'll just lean back and keep a steady pull on the rod when they strike and let the treble hooks do their job.

"If you try to horse the fish he'll tear the hooks out of his mouth or spit the lure out more often than not."

It's a fact that learning to seine the ledges on your favorite lake could mean more success when summer heat settles in.

"If you want to experience some of the finest fishing of the year and catch both numbers of bass and quality, then deepwater ledge fishing is the technique for you," Murphy said. "Just get the proper gear, equipment and spend a little time on the water, and you just might experience the trip of a lifetime."