Michael Neal's Tips for Summer Ledge Success
By Joel Shangle
July 17, 2017
Growing up on Lake Chickamauga in east Tennessee with a fishing-guide uncle, MLF Select rookie Michael Neal learned the art of ledge fishing like the rest of us learned how to tie our shoes or ride a bike.
Neal, who’s family owns and operates the Dayton Boat Dock Grill and Tackle Shop on Chickamauga, has put his ledge-fishing knowledge to good use, too: 19 Top 10s and three wins in FLW competition, including several on highly regarded ledge fisheries along the Tennessee Valley chain (Pickwick Lake, Kentucky Lake, Chickamauga, Guntersville).
“About 95 percent of the tournaments on the TVA chain are won fishing things you don’t see (with your eyes),” Neal says. “Because my uncle Rogie Brown fished it so much, I learned the offshore-ledge game from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31: how to find them, what they look like, how to get them to bite.”
But even though fish can be found on ledges throughout the year on lakes and rivers from all corners of the country, Neal contends that the summer months are the most predictable and productive for figuring out the intricacies of locating and catching fish around offshore structure.
“Offshore fish are especially current-oriented in the summertime in any place that has current,” he says. “You can get a map of a lake, look at it and see that a spot is in the current, and fish are going to be sitting there facing upcurrent or upstream, letting the current bring baitfish to them.
Here are some of Neal’s need-to-know rules about being successful on a new-to-you ledge fishery:
- A “ledge” isn’t just a ledge: First things first: the term “ledge fishing” is slightly misleading, according to Neal. In his vernacular, a ledge isn’t just a rocky shelf in deep water, as most people picture it.
“A ledge is anything you’re fishing away from the bank that you can’t visually see with your eyes,” Neal asserts. “It can be from 1 foot deep to 30 feet. Whether it’s a bar, a point, a hump, a ditch, a brush pile, a rock pile – it’s a ‘ledge’ if it’s offshore and you can’t see it with your eyes.”
- Identify and study the community holes first: Neal’s first tip for locating ledge fish on a new body is water is to simply identify the most obvious locations (i.e. the community holes).
“Those community holes are community holes for a reason,” Neal says. “Those are spots that 90 percent of the boats in the area fish. Everbody knows about them, everybody knows they hold fish, and they usually hold big fish.”
Once you’ve identified the community holes, get to work identifying the factors that make them such dependable ledge locations.
“You’re looking for the break, and for how the fish are positioned on that break,” Neal says. “They’ll often look different on your DownScan or SideScan, depending on where you’re fishing, and on how clear or dirty the water is. You’re just looking for the break, and for fish positioned on the break. Once you find them and catch a few so you know they’re bass, you’ll know exactly what they look like on your electronics. Now, you can go look for those off-the-wall spots.”
- Fish the evening bite: It’s a bite that he never gets to take advantage of during a daytime tournament, but Neal’s favorite time to target ledge fish is in the evening.
“There’s always current late in the evening – lakes on the TVA, they’re always running water that time of the day, and fish are usually eating,” he says. “A lot of times, fish will eat in the evening and pull off those spots at night. It’ll take them awhile to get back on those spots in the morning.”
- Reacquaint yourself with your spring fish: While bass will migrate from shallower ledges (8 to 15 feet deep) to deeper waters in late spring, they’ll frequently reverse that migration in early summer, a condition that Neal says most ledge anglers ignore.
“They’ll slide out to 15 to 25 feet around the middle of June, but it won’t be long before they start sliding back up into 8 to 15 feet again,” he says. “People tend to leave those (late-spring) fish and then forget about them because they don’t think they’ll come back. But a lot of times, those fish will come right back to those same spots.”