DIY: Building Bass Ponds
If you have the land, equipment and time, building your own bass fishing pond can be very rewarding; here's why and how to get started
I remember the spot like I was there just yesterday—a scenic cove on a beautiful, back-forty farm pond owned by my Uncle Julius.
In shallow water along the bank, button willows grew. Beyond the button willows, in slightly deeper water, were many inundated stumps and logs. Big largemouth bass haunted this cover-filled flat. I knew because I had caught numerous 4-, 5- and 6-pounders there. I was certain, however, even bigger bass swam there.
A foot trail circled the water, and at regular intervals, there were openings in the bankside brush where I could stand and cast. Often as not, I fished with a Crème worm or Lucky 13. And often as not, five to 10 bass would fall for these offerings each day.
The biggest bass always seemed to elude me, however. I saw one occasionally, exploding beneath a school of shad or coming up to snatch a bullfrog or water snake from the amber water’s surface. But always, they were beyond reach. Even when I waded out waist-deep, I couldn’t quite cast to the stumps and logs where I knew they lived.
All that changed when I bought a new 7-foot bass rod. My old 6-footer didn’t have enough oomph to shoot a lure to the flat’s edge. But when I loaded the 7-footer on my backswing, it would fire a topwater plug or plastic worm just beyond the outermost stumps. I snagged and lost a few lures before I could cast it with any precision, but soon I could put a lure wherever I wanted it. And where I wanted it was beside a big stump where I had often seen lunkers blowing up on bait.
I launched the Lucky 13 just beyond the stump and let it sit. Nothing happened. I let it sit some more. Still nothing. Then I twitched the lure, ever so slightly.
Have you ever stood on a bridge and dropped a big rock into the water below? Do you remember the big suckhole the rock made as it plummeted beneath the surface? And the geyser of water that shot up immediately afterward? When the hawg hit my Lucky 13, it looked like that.
The bass sucked the lure so far down there was no way she could spit it out. She darn sure tried though. Again and again, she jumped. Each time she broke the surface, she shook her big head like a terrier shaking a rat.
When I finally I landed her, I was shaking, too. I had never seen a bass so big. I fumbled around for my Zebco De Liar and hooked it on her lip. I lifted her carefully and eyed the little bar above the compressed spring. Eight pounds even, it showed—a nice largemouth in anybody’s book.
I cradled the bass in the water, gingerly removed the plug, then turned her head toward the stump and watched her swim away.
A few days later, I stood in the same spot and caught 14 bass that weighed a total of 62 pounds. I’ve never had a better afternoon of bass fishing.
I still go back to the pond now and then, and I usually catch several nice bucketmouths on my visits almost 50 years later. Thanks to my uncle, who built the pond on his property, many people have been able to enjoy fishing like I’ve just described. And I know several guests who eventually built their own bass ponds after experiencing the fine fishing on Uncle Julius’ place.
With suitable terrain and a good water source, it's possible to create your own bass pond, too. It seems there’s an increasing interest in building and managing bass ponds, and whereas one person might not be able to, it may be possible for a group of anglers to gather the resources to complete such a project. Developing a productive fishery is not as expensive as you might imagine. It can be done either by rehabbing an old, tired pond or building a new one from scratch. This not only produces excellent fishing, it enhances the value of the property as well.
The first step toward building a bass pond is analyzing the soil to determine if the proposed site is suitable for holding water. The analysis can be done by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, which can also provide invaluable help in surveying pond sites, estimating construction requirements and designing a proper dam and drainage system.
Formulating a plan and overview of the pond is the next step, which should include sketches of the pond's intended bottom structure, contour and changes in depth. Knowing exactly where you want the dirt moved will save time and effort. If the work is contracted, it will help the contractor know precisely what he has to do and enable him to give you a more accurate work bid.
Many farm ponds were originally created to hold water for irrigation purposes or livestock use, and stocking them with fish was almost an afterthought. They were simple, bowl-shaped reservoirs usually created by putting a dam across a stream. Smooth, barren bottoms and too much shallow water made them mediocre to poor fish habitat.
Ideally, a bass pond should have a minimum depth of at least 3 to 4 feet. Bass don't spend much time in water shallower than that. Use soil left over from excavating shallower areas to form ridges in deeper parts of the pond. The tops of the ridges should be 5 to 6 feet below the surface dropping down to eight to 10 feet. This creates channels and vertical structure bass can use as ambush points, especially when wood or brushpiles are added. Cuts in the ridges enhanced with brushpiles every 40 to 50 yards will concentrate forage fish and allow bass to feed whenever they like.
The proportion of bass to baitfish must be in balance, which means stocking the correct densities of fish from the very beginning. Fisheries biologists recommend a 10 to 1 stocking ratio—10 bluegills for every bass in the pond. For each surface acre of the pond there should be 1,000 bluegills and 100 bass introduced.
Timing also is important for successful stocking. In the Southeast, for example, bluegills, threadfin shad and fathead minnows are stocked in the fall, which gives them a chance to mature to spawning size before fingerling bass are introduced the following May or June.
It's conceivable that in a 6-foot-deep pond with quality water, good structure, a balanced food chain pyramid and a long growing season, a fingerling bass could achieve a growth rate of more than a pound a year for the first few years of its life. That means you could be catching pound to pound-and-a-half bass in a little more than 18 months from breaking ground on your own bass pond.
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