By Chad LaChance
I recently saw a T-shirt that said something to the effect of, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room”. Interesting thought, even though T-shirts aren’t where I normally look for tidbits of wisdom. Why, you ask, is this simple thought of interest to me? Well it has nothing to do with the extreme lifestyle literally referenced on the shirt, where the edge is that of life and death. After all, I don’t race motorcycles or jump out of airplanes – so what relevance could “living on the edge” possibly have to me? I’m an outdoorsman, that’s what. Let me explain.
Living on the edge is one of the most fundamental aspects of all fishing and hunting. Before you can catch a fish or harvest a deer, you first have to locate said fish or deer. That’s where the edge part comes into play. In short, edge habitat is the most valuable to all forms of wildlife and people too.
With people, desire to own leads directly to monetary value. Much of the most desirable and therefore valuable real estate is located on the edge of a waterway of some sort. Stepping up in scale and referencing my home state of Colorado, notice that all of the Front Range population centers, including our capital city of Denver are on the edge where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains. At the extreme macro level, most of the World’s population is concentrated in coastal regions, with actual beach frontage being the most valuable. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
The concept of an edge takes on a bunch of meanings in fishing. An obvious and profound edge is where water and land come together – the shoreline. It should come as no shocker then that most of the fish in any given lake live somewhere near the shoreline. The ones that don’t live near the shoreline probably live near a drop off – the edge where shallow water meets deeper water or perhaps on a weed line, which is the edge of a patch of aquatic vegetation. The rest of the fish spend most of their time on the bottom – the other edge of water and dirt.
To the angler, edges are good places to fish because fish are often concentrated there. We’ve probably all heard the old saying that 90% of the fish live in 10% of the water. That 10% is the edge habitat. Fishing in the other 90% of the water looking for the other 10% of the fish is a tough proposition at best.
It stands to reason that the best bodies of water (or woods if you’re a hunter), have the most edges. A round lake with a smooth bottom has far fewer edges than, say, Horsetooth Reservoir which has a jagged shoreline and lots of contour changes. In the same way, a manicured irrigation ditch won’t support as many fish as a free stone stream, even though both may feature the same volume of water.
Anglers sometimes talk about the “spot on spot” or the “sweet spot” on any good piece of structure. Well, often that spot is defined by two edges bisecting – an intersection of sorts. Dissimilar edges coming together is even better. An example could be a drop off bisected with a change in bottom content – say, a gravel to rock edge. Or how about a distinct mudline drifting over a channel drop? There’s sure to be at least a few bass or walleyes there. Geez, going back to the macro analogy of Colorado, Denver itself was founded on crossing edges where the mountains/plains edge is bisected by the South Platte River’s edge. A classic intersection!
Another great concept to watch for besides intersecting edges is edge corners – anywhere the edge makes a distinct direction change. The most classic example of this is a channel swing where the drop off created by said channel makes a hard turn. Small pockets along an otherwise straight bank and turns in a weedline are good examples, too. We all know points are good places to fish; a well-defined point is an example of an outside edge corner.
Edges can also be more abstract. The edge of fast and slow water, known as a current seam, is a good place to find trout. The edge of clear and stained water, a mudline, is a great place to find a myriad of warm water fish. Along the coastlines, tide changes are key times to fish; they are the edge of slack tide and flowing water. Even more abstract, dusk and dawn are the edge of daylight and dark and they are a great time to find any kind of fish or wildlife.
Just because your fishing on an edge of some sort doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be catching. One of the most critical things to an angler is the direction your lure is presented in relation to the edge. For instance, if you’re shore fishing you could cast parallel down the bank edge or perpendicular out into the lake. Rarely will both angles work equally well and it’s up to you as an angler to decipher which is better as part of your daily pattern development. It is generally accepted knowledge that fishing more parallel to the edge will keep your bait in the strike zone longer and thus in contact with more fish, but there are certainly times when retrieving across an edge is better. A great example of this is working a bait over a hard drop off where the fish sit in the deeper water and ambush whatever comes over the top. Others are casting into the mudline and retrieving into the clear water or casting into weeds and retrieving across the weedline into open water. All of these are great ambush points.
The next time you venture into the outdoors or invest in real estate for that matter, consider the concept of edges in your approach. It’s probably the easiest decision factor for locating your quarry and a major step in the right direction for consistent results.