If you drive more than 10 miles from your urban home to catch early season largemouth bass, you're almost surely driving farther than you need to. That's a fact.
At some point in that drive you most likely motor past a small pond in an urban park or industrial area. Those urban waters should be high on your list of local bass-catching opportunities. If they are not, you should make it a point to check them out.
That's because many municipalities now incorporate fishing potential into the design of water retention basins in urban and industrial areas.
"Urban retention basins are modern-day farm ponds," said urban fisheries biologist Tyler Stubbs, "and small ponds can be great spots for big bass. Many cities are realizing that if they make those basins deep enough, design them correctly, and put them in a greenspace with landscaping, or in an urban recreation area like a Little League park or a soccer field, the city not only gets the storm water and runoff retention they need, but it also provides folks with fishing opportunities."
Urban fisheries range from small 1- to 3-acre storm water retention ponds up to renovated 30- or 40-acre sand pits and rock quarries.
As long as the ponds average at least 10 feet deep they can support bluegills, largemouth bass and channel catfish beneath the ice during Northern winters or through the broiling summers in Southern states.
"Bluegills, largemouth bass and channel catfish are the time-proven combination that works best in small bodies of water," said Stubbs. "Some states have programs to temporarily stock trout in urban ponds during the winter months, to provide anglers an opportunity for something different during part of the year, but bass, bluegills and catfish are what you'll normally catch from urban ponds."
SERIOUS BASS FISHING
Veteran bass anglers often dismiss urban fishing opportunities as "kid's fishing ponds." Fisheries Biologist Ben Dodd cautions those anglers against overlooking the big-bass potential of urban waters.
"Some of those urban spots have surprisingly good bass fishing," he said. "The bass have plenty of bluegills to eat, and the bigger bass don't get much pressure. A family fishing for bluegills along the shore with bits of nightcrawlers, with the kids throwing rocks and splashing around the edges, aren't going to have much chance of catching the big bass."
On the other hand "Somebody who knows how to target big bass, knows what to throw and where to throw it, is the guy who's going to catch 4-, 5-, maybe 6-pound bass from those urban ponds. It takes some knowledge and some strategy to connect with the big ones."
Stubbs likes to match his tactics and tackle to the habitat and the structure of each pond.
"I do well throwing frogs into vegetation in the summer," he said. "Those ponds are small enough, often with walking or bicycle paths around them, so it's easy to work the edges, throwing into whatever vegetation I can find. Other spots take a different approach. There's a renovated gravel pit that I drive past on my way home from work that's just a big rectangular basin, not much structure, not much vegetation. I have a tough time pulling bass out of there, but there are other guys who know how and what to throw that catch some really nice bass in that particular pit."
SPRINGTIME URBAN BASS
Early spring is prime time to target urban waters for bass. The smaller waters warm quickly, and bass are active long before their relatives in 1,000-acre lakes.
On sunny days, shallow, south-facing shorelines attract bass seeking warmth. Their appetites and moods are unpredictable. Some days they're lethargic, interested only in slow-moving jigs-and-pigs or plastic worms. Other days they seem mad at the world, and savagely attack crankbaits or spinnerbaits ripped past where they're sunbathing.
Experimentation is part of the challenge and the fun of early bass hunting.
No matter their mood, it's critical to be stealthy when stalking bass in shallow water, and beneficial to play hooky from work to take advantage of minimal activity in urban parks during the school day. By 5 o'clock the local kiddies are running rampant around the edges of the ponds, the water is cooling, and the big bass have grown wary and eased back to deeper water.
That scenario changes quickly as waters warm. Increased recreational activities on walking paths, kids throwing rocks, and the activity at nearby soccer and Little League fields encourages big bass to go nocturnal in summer.
A veteran tournament angler once confided that he consistently caught "huge" bass from an urban pond associated with a Little League baseball complex.
"But it's all after dark," he said. "I don't use any lights I can see well enough to cast from the lights of the ball fields. I work the edges real slow and quiet, use a popper or frog around weeds as soon as they develop. I catch some big bass within sight of those Little League fields."
Industrial parks and "urban campuses" are another opportunity for bass. Industrial parks are now required to control runoff from their acres and acres of concrete parking lots, and many suburban office complexes incorporate ponds and walking trails for employees into their landscaping plans. The challenge for anglers is to identify which private properties allow public fishing.
"Some industrial parks and office parks allow public access, and some don't," said Stubbs. "Locally, we're trying to create an urban fishing atlas to help anglers identify what is publically accessible."
EXPERT URBAN ANGLER
Dave Lochner is an over-the-road truck driver who specializes in fishing in ponds and lakes associated with industrial parks and urban areas. Whenever his schedule forces him to lay over at a terminal or warehouse for more than a couple of hours, he explores nearby fishing opportunities.
"A lot of the newer industrial parks have green spaces, little parks where the employees can eat lunch or take walks, and there often are ponds in those areas," he said. "I start talking to the guys at the loading dock or in the trucker's lounge, and there's usually somebody who likes to fish and can tell me if there's any fishing within walking distance of where I'm parked.
"Fishing beside the interstate with traffic roaring by isn't as relaxing as being on a Canadian lake, but any kind of fishing is better than sitting in the breakroom of a warehouse or in the sleeper of my truck for however long it takes for them to load or unload my truck."
Lochner's roadside fishing strategies emphasize the simplicity of urban fishing opportunities. Anglers who head across the country to fish in a "big lake" feel obligated to take multiple rods and tackle boxes on their journey. Lochner said he has caught hundreds of bass from urban ponds with the single spinning rod and a few "universal" lures he carries in his truck.
"I've got a 6-foot, medium-action rod and spinning reel loaded with 8- to 10-pound-test line," he said. "It fits in my sleeper and will catch anything from crappies to big bass or even huge catfish if the drag is set right.
"For lures I carry a couple of natural-color Rapalas, a few rubber worms and some spinners. My "go-to" lure, the thing that seems to catch fish all over the country, is a white 1 1/2-inch twistertail on a 1/4-ounce leadhead jig, with the leadhead painted red."
Lochner's minimal tackle inventory underlines one of the most attractive aspects of suburban angling opportunities. It takes very little time or effort to have a lot of fun at these small ponds. Stubbs often drops by an urban pond on his way home from work.
"Once I started looking and paying attention, I found there are 12 of those ponds on my way home from work," he said. "That's 12 places where I can stop for maybe a half hour and be confident I'll land some fish. If you overlook those little ponds in urban areas, you're probably overlooking some pretty fair bass fishing."