All of us that fish have enjoyed a leisurely fishing trip to a local pond at one time or another. And we’ve all heard the story of the Leviathan-sized fish that supposedly lived in the middle of the pond, even though all we ever caught were small to medium-sized denizens. At least for my generation, pond-fishing was an important part of growing up, and helped shape us into what we would become. I could write a book on all the fond memories, funny stories and adventures I’ve had pond fishing as a youth. And my tastes haven’t changed. I still love dropping a line in a nice pond or two.
You may not believe it, but there really are some respectable fish living in some of the smallest, most overgrown ponds you can imagine. And they can be caught with the right techniques. The trick is that ponds require special equipment and tactics to be really successful.
Location Is Everything…
To be successful on a pond, you need to understand the structure and basic ecology of that pond. This is crucial unless you are happy with just a Hit and Miss approach. You need to find where the deepest spots are, inlets, shelves, and potholes. Pay attention to the shoreline structure. And most importantly, be sure the pond is not on private property, and if it is, be sure you have permission from the owner to fish there. Nothing ruins a fishing trip like having to deal with an irritated land-owner, or worse, the police. Also, make sure you have a valid Fishing License. Only landowners and their families are allowed to fish on their own property without a license in most states. And in some states, even they have to have a license to fish on their own property. Don’t take a chance. Fishing Licences are cheaper than the fines for not having one.
The Air That They Breathe…
Oxygen is the key to success. Fish may live in the water but they breathe oxygen just like we do. They just get it in a different manner. All things being equal, a larger body of water should hold more oxygen than a smaller one, but this may not always be the case. Many things can affect the amount of oxygen in the water. The first things to look for are inlets and outlets. These carry fresh oxygen and new food into the pond, keep the water temperature cooler than stagnant water would be, supply a little current, and carry waste materials out. These are vital to a healthy pond economy. Fishing anywhere near the inlets and outlets is always a good strategy.
When Fish Go ‘Green’…
The next thing to look for is what type of vegetation there is. Things like cattails, Hydrilla, duckweed, lily pads, lotus, etc… are all good indications that the pond has plenty of oxygen and a healthy ecosystem. These plants put oxygen into the water by the process of photosynthesis. Large areas of floating, slimy, yucky algae, on the other hand, are indications that the water has a very low oxygen level, and will probably only be able to sustain carp, gar, and a few other less desirable fish (I do like carp and gar, but they have to come from clean water to be really edible……).
Other things to look for are crawfish, turtles, frogs, snakes, salamanders, newts, ducks, nutria, geese, beaver, mink, otters, etc… These are also good indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Watch for dragonflies, damselflies, Water Boatmen, whirly bugs, mayflies, helgramites, nymphs, and mudskippers. Even some land animals like racoons, skunks, bobcats, and bears, depend on ponds for a large part of their well-being. If it’s clean enough for them to drink, it probably has enough oxygen for at least some fish.
I mentioned ducks for a specific reason. If there are ducks in the pond, it’s a good bet someone feeds them from time to time. It is an uncontrollable urge we humans have. I love feeding pigeons and ducks. This is important because fish are very opportunistic, and would rather filch a bite from a ducks’ piece of bread than to go get their own. Larger fish will follow ducks hoping for a stray morsel. Large bass and pike will even eat ducklings, so if you see a small duck disappear in a large splash, break out the heavy gear and be ready to do battle. But don’t use bread balls and minnows for bait near the ducks where they can get to it. Not only does a hook hurt a duck, but a hooked or tangled duck can wreak havoc with your equipment.
Fish in ponds tend to be a lot spookier than in a lake or river. They will almost always be near or in cover of some kind. Look for sunken timber, reeds, overhanging vegetation, lily pads, and rocks. Also search out the inlets and outlets. But remember, if you can see the fish, they can see you, and they will hear you a long time before you get close enough to see them. When walking the shoreline, walk very softly, stay low, and try not to have the sun at your back. Avoid casting a shadow on the water. Wearing camouflage really helps around ponds. It breaks up your silhouette. If you can, try to stay at least 10’ from the waters edge.
Fish also have an incredible sense of smell, and can detect odors even out of the water. Avoid wearing strong aftershaves or cologne, try to avoid smoking, and ease up on the sunscreen and bug repellant. Do not use soap to wash your hands. Just use water. Most pond fish can smell odors as dilute as 1ppm (parts per million), especially anything with amino acids.
How To Tackle A Pond
For most pond fishing, smaller tackle is better. The fish have more time to examine things in a pond, and are a lot more wary. Keep your line small, say 8 lb test or less. You probably won’t need any rod bigger than a medium action, and medium reel. Ultralight rigs are great for catching panfish from ponds. Bluegills and their relatives can really put up a fight on light tackle. Most bass and catfish you’ll find in a pond can be handled with medium gear and lures. ⅛ oz jigs and lures are plenty big enough for ponds. If you fly fish, an 8 wt is the biggest line and rod combo you will need. If you want to really have fun, drop down to a 4 wt. rig. The fun increases exponentially as you drop your equipment size.
If the pond is large enough, kayaks, belly boats and canoes can extend your range. Just try to avoid banging stuff on the bottom. A fish can hear a banging tackle box or paddle all the way across a pond. Try not to splash too much when paddling.
Don’t overlook ponds, no matter how small. You may be missing out on some memorable moments….