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How to Catch the Biggest Fish in a Pond

Pond Fishing 101: Increase your harvest in farm ponds by learning how to read them.

How to Catch the Biggest Fish in a Pond

Small ponds offer some of the best fishing available for those willing to explore them. (Shutterstock image)

Unless you were raised in a big city, chances are you spent at least part of your youth fishing ponds of a few acres or less. Why did you stop? There are still plenty of fish to be caught from these water holes that can be easily fished from the bank.

These fishing ponds might be man-made farm ponds, golf course ponds, strip pits, reservoirs or natural waterways.

There are literally tens of thousands of such honey holes around the South and elsewhere. Besides holding water for one purpose or another, most also hold an abundance of fish.

To catch them, all you need is a rod and reel capable of casting lures of different weights, a small selection of baits and a basic understanding of the pond's layout, depth and available fish species.

READING PONDS

It’s said that 90 percent of the fish inhabit 10 percent of the water. That might be true, but it’s also a lot easier to cover 10 percent of the water in a small pond than 10 percent of the water in a vast reservoir or natural lake. That’s not to say all ponds are equal when it comes to being chockful of fish.

For instance, unless designed and constructed for fishing, man-made ponds typically are not as productive as those with natural features such as drop-offs, feeder creeks, weedbeds and rockpiles. But there are a few features that consistently attract fish in small ponds.

pond bass
With a variety of water depths, structure and man-made and natural features, farm ponds often give bass everything they need to thrive and grow big. (Shutterstock image)
  • Feeder Creeks: When evaluating a pond, first determine if it has feeder creeks or streams that keep fresh water flowing through it. Or is it merely a dammed low place fed by rainwater and with a rounded bottom? Feeder creeks and streams attract all sorts of forage. Vegetation often flourishes here as new nutrients are funneled in, offering both oxygenated water and shelter. Where forage congregates, so do predators like bass, crappies and catfish.
  • Shallow Flats: These areas gradually descend to deeper water—preferably a drop-off—attracting spawning bluegills, shellcrackers and bass. If the latter are spawning or preparing to spawn, look for swirls made by larger fish and use worms, soft plastics or shallow-running crankbaits to entice them. Visual clues include light spots of various sizes that stand out from the bottom. Typically, a single bed indicates bass, while a cratered bottom is made by a cluster of bream.
  • Points: If a pond is merely a bowl-shaped container for water, most fish will tend to stick closer to the bank because that’s where the food is. A point jutting out into the water, long or short, is a good place to stand and cast toward bank targets such as blowdowns and docks. Points are natural ambush areas where predatory fish can hide and pounce on forage that swims by. Points offer bass an irregular land feature that attracts them. Before venturing out on a point to fish from it, fish the water surrounding the point thoroughly. Often, you’ll catch a fish before walking out.
  • Riprap/Rocks: Riprap banks or rocky bluff banks warmed by the afternoon sun in springtime also promote algae blooms that, in turn, attract baitfish and ultimately predators such as bass and crappies. Riprap and rocky banks also provide a craggy place for crawfish and other treats to hide. Bass and other predatory fish will cruise these in search of careless crawfish or baitfish that expose themselves.
  • Islands/Humps: These protruding land masses that rise out of deeper water are prime hangouts for bass. Keep in mind that islands don’t have to top out above the water’s surface to hold fish. Islands that don’t protrude above water are technically humps. If your pond has several islands and/or humps, fish the ones with the steepest rises first. These offer predators the ability to move from shallow to deeper water, easily.
  • Docks: These man-made features almost always have fish under and around them, assuming the water is deep enough to attract ambush predators such as bass and crappies. The shade of a dock serves as ambush cover, and baitfish are attracted by algae growing on the pilings. When fishing docks, present baits parallel to the structure or the shadow lines. Running baits parallel maximizes exposure of the lure to the fish’s strike zone.
  • Natural Cover: Emergent weeds are easily identifiable targets. Emergent weed beds growing out from the bank, or flooded cypress and willow trees, are fish magnets too. Typically, mixed cover is better—say, lily pads intermixed with cattails. Crappies gravitate to such features in deeper water. Scattered stands of cattails attract shellcrackers that feed on aquatic snails. Snags and stumps usually have hungry bass around them. Fish such cover thoroughly with small spinnerbaits, soft plastics, jigs or any lures that aren’t likely to get snagged. Thoroughly fish patches of aquatic weeds such as lily pads and cattails.
bluegill caught at farm pond
Pepper natural cover with jigs, soft plastics and small spinnerbaits for a variety of panfish, including bluegills. (Shutterstock image)

SMALL-WATER TACTICS

If you’re after bass in your local pond, fish for them with lures that most closely resemble their natural forage in that body of water, be it bluegills, crawfish or minnows of various types. If you’re out to catch whatever is biting, choose a rod and reel that can fish various lure types and sizes.

Because you might be using a range of baits of different weights, your best bet might be a spinning outfit paired with lures that can be fished with a basic cast-and-retrieve approach.

Natural baits such as minnows are always popular for crappies and can be fished under a bobber. The same approach will work for bluegills and shellcrackers, though earthworms and crickets are often better bait options.

A wide variety of lures work in small ponds. In many instances, any size, shape and type of lure may catch fish on any given day. However, understanding which bait will work best for most, given the topography and features, will help you catch more fish.

  • Blade Baits: These unique metal lures have thin, aerodynamic shapes, are fast-sinking and can be cast a country mile. Often, they excel at finding pond fish quickly since they can be fished at any depth, depending on how fast they are retrieved. By knowing how fast they sink, you can count them down to any desired depth. (Determine the sink rate by dropping a bait on a slack line in a known water depth and count how long it takes to hit the bottom.) Blade baits may also be used to check water depths away from shore by counting them down following the cast.
  • Soft Plastics: Easily the most versatile pond baits available, soft plastics come in an array of shapes, sizes and colors. Soft plastics may be fished weighted or weightless. They can be rigged any number of ways, allowing them to be fished literally anywhere in a pond in any type of cover, structure or depth.
  • Small Crankbaits: Fish tend to gravitate toward the bank during the spring as the water warms and the food chain blooms. These baits excel since they imitate a wounded or compromised baitfish or crawfish. They can be fished at different depths depending on the crankbait’s diving depth rating. Bass, crappies and even bull bluegills hit crankbaits, both lipped and lipless.
  • Jigs/Bladed Spinners: Everything from hair jigs to crappie jigs will produce pond fish of all sizes, but most notably crappies and bluegills. White, black-and-green and yellow-and-black are all great pond colors. Beetle Spins, Roostertails and Roadrunners in 1/16- or 1/4-ounce sizes are great pond search baits. Their spinners attract fish via flash and vibration.
  • Spinnerbaits: These lures imitate baitfish with their flash and vibrating actions. The vibrating blades also appeal to predators’ lateral lines, making them easy to find in murky waters. “Waking” a single- or tandem-bladed spinnerbait can be productive when bass are foraging along the bank, such as in late evening. Spinnerbaits in a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce size excel as they can be fished parallel to the banks or worked slowly out deeper.
  • Topwaters: For attracting bass early or late, topwater lures are hard to beat. If the water is murky, try noisy baits like the Whopper Plopper or Devil’s Horse. Walking lures like the Zara Spook will get bass riled up, too. Give plastic frogs a try as well, especially if there are floating or matted weeds at summer’s end.
Fishing hotspots for pond fishing
Hotspots for pond fishing. (Illustration by Peter Sucheski)

Fishing-Pond Checkpoints

  1. Feeder creeks attract fish with an influx of fresh water and nutrients.
  2. Shallow flats attract spawning bass and panfish, which bass feed on.
  3. Points provide an ambush spot for bass.
  4. Riprap and rocks attract baitfish and crawfish, which in turn draw bass.
  5. Islands and humps, whether above or below the water's surface, provide abrupt depth changes where bass can move up and down to feed.
  6. Docks offer shade during the hot months and multiple ambush points.
  7. Natural cover, such as emergent weeds, is easy to see and target.
  8. Rock piles, with their cevices, attract all sorts of forage bass feed on.
  9. Moss is tough to fish due to its ability to snag lures; however, it offers bass shade.
  10. Drop-offs provide deeper, cooler water close to bank feeding opportunities.
  11. Creek channels are deep travel routes bass use to move from one area to another.
  12. Submerged vegetation attracts forage and offers deep-water ambush opportunities for bass.
  13. Brush piles provide bass refuge from the summer sun, as well as lots of ambush options.
fishing from the shore
Be sure to fish banks with a few parallel casts along the shoreline, as these trigger strikes from fish both on and off the banks. (Shutterstock image)

SHALLOW THINKING

  • Without fancy electronics you’re left to do some investigative work.

Most small ponds, whether man-made or natural, have some type of bottom topography changes. These will vary in size and shape from one pond to the next. Most often, you are left to dissect the bottom visually, looking for clues. This can be done by observing water color changes or by simply looking into the water with polarized glasses to determine, or at least predict, depth changes.

Another way to monitor the bottom is by “feel,” using a weighted soft-plastic bait. Slab rock on a sand bottom, or fist-size gravel surrounded by clay, are easily felt when working a weighted bait slowly along the bottom. Of course, to do so, you must really pay attention. Once you’ve discovered any significant changes in a pond’s bottom composition, fish such edges thoroughly.

Recommended


POND ASSAULT VEHICLE

Bass Pro Shops' Pond Prowler
Bass Pro Shops' Pond Prowler is a portable, lightweight way to fish small waters.

Some ponds are a bit too large for an angler to cover thoroughly just by walking the edges. When your longest casts still won’t reach promising water, you might want to consider investing in a Bass Pro Shops Pond Prowler 10.

The two-person Prowler has two swivel seats and is pre-wired for a trolling motor that can be mounted fore or aft. There’s a place for the battery, too. Made of virtually indestructible high-density polyethylene, the Prowler weighs 138 pounds, which means two people can easily lift it into the back of a pickup and go fishing. It’s rated for 250 pounds maximum capacity per seat (525 pounds overall) and carries a lifetime warranty. ($799.99; basspro.com)




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