Gaining An Edge

Published in the August 2012 Issue August 2012 Ask The Expert
"Fishing the edges of lily pad beds can net good catches of a variety of gamefish, including crappie, which hide in the shade and protection provided by the thick growth and wait for minnows to cruise past.

Hunters of practically any game, furred or feathered, know that most animals are creatures of edges. The edge is where the forest meets the open field, the edge is created between two crop types, the edge of a briar thicket or the edge of the tree-line often harbor more than their fair share of critters. Predators know that too, and that's why the animals on the upper side of the food chain also are often found prowling for prey in places defined by an edge of some type.

The same is true of fish. The edge of a weed bed, the edge of a current break, the edge of a drop- off or-this time of year especially-the edge of the thermocline, are often where the densest concentrations of baitfish-and the gamefish that feed on them-are located.

We've discussed the thermocline in these pages in the past: that break between the layer of warm, oxygen-filled water stacked above frigid oxygen-depleted depths that "sets up" during the warmest months of the year on most of our lakes. Offering baits just above the "dead zone" is often the best place to fish this time of the season.

Another "break" or edge that many anglers overlook is the one created by shade. Perhaps it's because natural shade is rarely constant; the sun moves across the sky changing the size, depth and edge created by whatever blocks its rays from reaching the water. Some places remain shady throughout the day-areas under docks or bridges or boats at dock come to mind-and create near-permanent fish-holding cover with the requisite edges. Most shade is fleeting, however, and that makes it harder for most occasional anglers to consider.

Come August, my son and I have patterned the shade "opps" in the reservoir where we keep our pontoon boat. We know to fish the west-facing shale banks before noon and the east-facing cliff banks in the afternoon, taking advantage of the shade each offers at their respective time of the day. We also know to concentrate on the edge, where sunlight meets shade, knowing that bass and crappies often work the transition to their advantage. Sometimes we catch the fish in the bright zone; sometimes the predators are in the dark, so to speak, and waiting for minnows to swim from shade to light where they are easily seen.

During the hottest summer days we often fish in the shade around the bridge abutments supporting the causeways that pass over the reservoir. The sharp cement angles create defined edges of shade and light that hold fish. We discovered these pockets of fish when I happened to glance at the fish finder while passing under a span one sunny summer day and noted the spike in the number of arcs that appeared and disappeared on the display screen as we passed from bright sun, through sudden shade, and back to sunlight. We now quietly anchor back in the shade within casting distance of the edge. We toss our baits beyond the edge of shadow into the light, and retrieve minnow-or crawfish-imitating crankbaits-back to the boat, anticipating hits at the transition.

We do quite a bit of night fishing in the summer as well, using submersible lights to draw baitfish and the predators that follow. We see the minnows, which swim right up to the light or dart through it at regular intervals; what we don't see are the bass and walleye and trout that hang on the edge of the circle of light. Sometimes it takes a slip bobber to drop a live minnow deep enough-fast enough-to get through the smaller white bass or crappie and into the feeding depth of the bigger gamefish that prowl the edge under the cone of light. Vertically jigging a blade bait can be really productive under the lights too. Usually, however, we cast live baits or jigs under bobbers just to the edge of light, testing the depth and the distance from the light source until we find the strike zone where fish feel comfortable attacking the baits.

Often at night using a light we hear the feeding fish crashing minnows and insects on the surface just outside of the glow's perimeter. That's our cue to break out the surface plugs (see last month's issue for a selection of our favorites) and have some reel summer fishing fun as the fish congregate on yet another edge: that which separates the water from the sky.

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