As I peered through the glass, a lot of information I'd gathered over the years about largemouth bass suddenly crystallized in one image. I was in a scientific viewing room built into the side of a stream and looking through a huge window. In front of me was 3 to 5 feet of water in a small bay full of Lily pads, sand, wood and weeds. My view was 90% subsurface and the entire scene portrayed how largemouth bass relate to edges - a critical concept for any successful bass angler.
Defining an Edge
The edge concept gains most of its notoriety from how bass relate to weeds; however, there's more to this theory than just vegetation. Areas where shadows and light meet and changes in bottom composition are two others. What these examples have in common is that two or more different fish-holding factors intersect, and where they meet lies an edge.
Spinnerbaits are excellent lures for working weedline walls.
Bass relate to these edge-areas because they offer an ambush advantage or provide protection from predators and unfavorable environmental conditions. Understanding how largemouth relate to edges and learning to work these areas with the right lures will earn you more fish. Let's look at some edge examples in more detail.
Pockets in Surface Weeds
These are one of the easiest types of edges for anglers to find because pockets are visible from the surface. What I realized from the subsurface observations I noted earlier is that there is a significant amount of space under Lilly pads. A thick canopy of pads actually gives way to a substantial amount of open water underneath, at least a lot more than I had thought in the past.
Bass inhabit these areas for the protection the pads provide from sun and predators. Additionally, pads serve as prime ambush areas to prey that stumble into the pocket. Not surprisingly, hopping a frog, toad, or soft-plastic jerkbait along the surface of the pads is a sure-fire way to land some largemouth. Make sure you hit as many pockets on the retrieve as you can. Give bass a second to take the bait, then quickly set the hook and get them out of the pads before they dive and wrap the line around the stalks.
Pockets in Sub-Surface Weeds
These edges are also relatively easy to spot with a pair of polarized glasses when conditions are calm. Openings in weed flats are caused by a variety of factors. In most cases they occur when there's an anomaly in the bottom composition (like a rock or log) prohibiting weeds from growing. Largemouth often wait in ambush within the weeds, which again also provide security and shelter from the sun. Tossing in a flipping jig or a Texas-rigged Stik-O style bait or worm is an excellent presentation to fish these holes in the weeds.
Another tip is to key in on rocks found in weed pockets during the fall when the water temperature drops. The rocks hold heat and attract baitfish. If the weeds are still healthy, these spots often hold fat, feeding largemouth. Use a big profile bait in these conditions to better your chances at a trophy.
In the most extreme cases, weedlines resemble a wall of vegetation. In clear water, the edge features of weedlines are extremely apparent. On one side of the edge is a weedbed; on the other side, open water or sparse weeds.
Weedlines exist for various reasons. A change in bottom composition might not allow weeds to grow in the substrate. Alternatively a dramatic change in depth often means that the weedline represents the boarder between areas getting enough light for weeds to grow versus the light-starved sections of deeper water. Of course, current areas can also limit where weeds grow.
The vast majority of the time, bass will relate to the edge of weedlines. Flipping jigs are an excellent presentation to dissect the inside turns and cuts along a weedline. Spinnerbaits brought in on a straight or helicopter retrieve are another good bait for working a weedline wall. Plastics rigged weedless are another option. Don't rule out topwaters. These baits will often take a few active fish in the weeds, while a slower presentation like a flipping jig can result in hooking non-aggressive fish.
On the Edge of Wood
Sunken trees and Laydowns attract largemouth for reasons similar to pockets in pads. Wood regularly offers protection from predators, shade, and offers hiding areas. Wood found in weedbeds can sometimes be the magic ticket and the "spot on the spot".
What's critical to fishing sunken logs is recognizing that not all parts of the log are created equal. Forked areas where the main tree and large limbs intersect often are prime edge areas for fish. The value of this real estate goes up if the wood drops into deeper water.
Laydowns found near deep water also provide a slightly different type of edge for bass. There's a shoreline of laydowns on one of my favorite lakes. There is no weed around the wood. It's an extremely deep drop from shore, and the bottom is rock. Largies relate to these areas for the shade and protection provided by the fallen trees. In this example, the edge is the space where light and open area meets the shad and protection of the tree.
Fishing wood is often best done with a flipping jig or Texas-rigged bait for a precise presentation. In some instances slow-rolling a spinnerbait along the edge of a sunken log can invoke big strikes. Another deadly tactic is working a soft-plastic frog in and around laydowns. Cast parallel to the tree. Next, mimic a frog trying to hop out of the water and onto the log. The commotion can really call up fish and is particularly effective if you know a big one's in the area.
Perhaps no other piece of structure clearly illustrates how important edges are in bass fishing than docks. Like wood, these edges are the boarders between shade and security surrounded by open areas bathed in sunlight. Beyond the basics of the structure noted above, other factors come in to play around docks. Pontoon boats, metal sheets laid down to prevent weeds from growing, and tires are just a few components that increase the potential of docks to be big-fish holding spots.
Flipping and pitching jigs around docks is deadly on largemouth. Aim to hit the shady side first. Try different presentations and don't rush. Neutral bass are notorious for slowly swimming from under docks to investigate baits. Remove a jig too fast and you'll miss the fish. An alternative is skipping tubes and soft-plastic jerkbaits such as the Stik-O. Use this presentation when you need to get a bait deep under the shelter of a dock in areas unreachable by flipping.
Deep Water Structure
In the same way that shade offers security for bass, so does access to deep water. Unlike a lot of the cover-type edges mentioned already, depth and bottom composition are considered a structural edge. Underwater points and reefs are two spots that can hold largemouth, especially during big cold fronts. Combine these structural edge features with key largemouth cover like a deep weedline or sunken timber and you've got a well-rounded largemouth spot.
Carolina rigs, crankbaits, or magnum sized tubes are good deep-water baits when largemouth are active. If dealing with cold fronts in fall or winter periods, consider downsizing baits to subtle presentations like small jig and grub combinations or using bucktail or marabou jigs. Sometimes toning down your presentation is all it takes to fool finicky bass.
Learning to find edges will improve your ability to locate fish on any body of water. This begins with being able to visualize what's beneath the surface. Underwater cameras are one way to get a fish-eye view of structure and cover, helping many anglers find fish faster. Take an edge-based approach on your next outing and you'll find yourself catching more bass.