Spring Fishing Tips for Small Pond Bream, Crappie, Catfish and More

Ponds offer excellent fishing for many species of sunfish, black and white crappie and bullhead catfish; here are a few tips to catch your fair share

I've fished for panfish in more than 30 states. I'vecaught them in big oxbow lakes, enormous man-made impoundments, sluggish deltarivers and frisky mountain streams. But my favorite panfishing holes by far arelittle ponds.

A farm pond full of panfish is the best of allreasons to be a youngster on summer vacation. I remember fishing ponds when Iwas in high school, and during those years of pond fishing, I caught some ofthe biggest stringers of bluegills, crappie, bullheads and other panfish I'veever taken. Nowadays, when I've got a hankering to tussle with some good-eatingfish, I return to those ponds I fished more than 40 years ago. They stillproduce some mighty nice panfish.

For the angler, ponds offer several advantages overbigger waters. Smaller acreage allows anglers to fish the entire body of waterthoroughly and effectively. There are literally millions of ponds throughoutthe country, so most every panfish fan can enjoy pond fishing close to home. Unlikebigger, more popular waters, ponds usually aren’t crowded and can be fishedwithout a boat, without expensive paraphernalia, and without excessive worryingabout wind, current or other complications.

Though pond fishing exemplifies panfish angling atits simplest and best, there's more to catching pond fish than just wetting ahook. Identifying the correct techniques, presentation, baits and locationalfactors is important even on these small waters.

Simply put, a pond is a body of still water surroundedby land and smaller than a lake. Size may range anywhere from 1/2 acre toperhaps 5 acres. Like other waters, ponds usually have such things asstructure, vegetation and water clarity that can provide keys to catching fish.A pond may be natural or man-made. It may get its water from run-off, anunderground spring or a feeder creek. Some have creek channels; some don't. Someare clear; others are muddy. In a nutshell, ponds are, by definition, small,but other physical characteristics vary considerably.

Because ponds are small, anglers have fewer problemspinpointing fish when they are actively biting. Most ponds are also shallow, soyou can probe virtually every level.

Spawning season action starts sooner, because mostponds are shallow, and the water warms more quickly than in large lakes. Duringthis period, one simple method of fishing is to rig up a pole with a small,long-shanked hook, light line, a split shot or two and a fixed bobber set at ashallow depth. Use worms, crickets or minnows for bait, and, walking the banks,look for fish congregated on their beds in shallow, sheltered water. Polarizedsunglasses are a big help here, enabling you to better spot the dish-shapednests and also helping you detect various forms of cover or changes in bottommake-up (rocks, gravel, weeds, logs, etc.) that concentrate fish.

When a bedding area is located, use your long poleto quietly deposit your bait within the site. You should also fish beyond thevisible beds into slightly deeper water. That's where large fish will often bestationed, especially just before and after spawning.

Pond panfish may be found near shoreline cover andstructure not only during spawning season, but throughout the warm months andinto autumn. During periods of temperature extremes, though, especially duringmid-summer and winter, they frequent the deepest water providing adequateoxygen. Often, they lay right on the bottom, and given a choice, they will benear some type of cover or structure. A deep-water area containing an isolatedsnag is preferred over deep water with no such object, for example.

Fishing directly on the bottom is a good tactic fornabbing hot- and cold-weather fish, using either live bait or mini-jigs. Smallspinners, wet flies, and miniature deep-diving crankbaits can also be effectivewhen fished slowly over the substrate. When fishing for bullheads, freshchicken liver or chunks of cheap hot dogs are great enticements.

If fishing is slow, try using the “fan” system tolocate panfish. Begin casting to your left, working your bait along the shore. Movein a clockwise direction, placing each successive cast three feet (or evenless) from the previous cast and continuing in a broad arc. Use whatever numberof casts it takes to reach the shoreline to your right. Then, if you stillhaven't found fish, move down the shore and start again, covering a new plot ofwater.

This method helps you cover the pond in a mostthorough fashion, but you must also remember to cover all depths. How?

Nearly all ponds have a dam or levee at one end, andwe know that water is usually deeper near the dam. Let’s start there and try todetermine at what depth fish are located. This is done through several seriesof fan casts with baits fished at different depths, starting at one corner ofthe dam.

On the first series of casts, the bait or lure isretrieved at a shallow depth. The second series should be mid-depth retrieves,and the third series should be along the floor of the pond. Change lures orbobber position if necessary to achieve the desired depth. Whatever depth youfind fish is the depth you should continue fishing.

Creek coves, where feeder creeks enter a pond, aregood places during spring and early autumn when panfish are ready to invade theshallows. In-flowing creek water also provides relief from extreme summer andwinter temperatures. Water coming into the pond is usually much cooler orwarmer than the pond itself.

Look for panfish hanging right on the edge of thecreek channel. The channel usually runs through the cove and passes somewherethrough the mouth of the cove. For thorough coverage, fish both sides of thecove mouth carefully, trying to locate panfish holding along the drop-off thechannel creates. Then move back into the cove and fish the spot where the creekenters the pond by fanning a series of casts to cover the entire area.

Vegetation also should get your attention in ponds. Plantcover not only provides food, comfort and safety for panfish, it can alsoindicate the bottom structure of the pond. For instance, weed growth commencingalong the shoreline and extending out 30 or 40 feet indicates a shallow flat. Thebottom may drop sharply where the weedline ends, something you should checkout.

Look for small islands of weeds separate from thedistinct contour of the shoreline, as these are exceptional panfish attractors.Usually one side will contain deeper water than the other. This is the place tofish, but be sure to work your bait as close to the weedline as possible.

Look, too, for openings in the weedbeds where youcan drop in a bait or lure. Panfish love these cool, food-rich confines, andany natural looking offering presented here is likely to be devoured. Anychanges in contour (pockets or indentations) along the edge of the weeds shouldalso be investigated.

In sizing up a pond, also look for rock piles,stickups, stumps, logs, trees, holes, humps and points. These are typicalpanfish hotspots and should be fished thoroughly. Any brush or submergedobjects offshore deserve special attention, as do docks and piers, deep holesaround in-flowing water pumps, cool spots beneath overhanging trees, and riprapalong shore.

Ponds may not seem particularly productive, butthey offer superb panfishing opportunities far out of proportion to their size.If you're a devoted fan of fish for the pan, visit these bantam waters as oftenas possible. No other type of water offers such excellent fishing in such asmall area. Ponds are easy to find, easy to learn, and easy to fish. They'realso easy to fall in love with.

Recommended for You

Our picks for stuffable protection against any weather.

Field Tested: Lightweight Raingear

David Draper - May 30, 2019

Our picks for stuffable protection against any weather.

It must be time for summer fishing because records are falling everywhere. Records

State Records Reported in Maryland, Michigan

G&F Online Staff - May 23, 2019

It must be time for summer fishing because records are falling everywhere.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

In the booth of one of fishing's all-time great reel makers, Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead and Andrew Wheeler of Pure Fishing discuss one of the brand new baitcasting reels from Abu Garcia being released at ICAST 2019.


Mustad's New Tungsten Weights

Long known as one of the world's premiere hook makers, Mustad's Reid McKinstry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that the company is now one of the leaders in making tungsten terminal tackle products for anglers.

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Glenn Walker talks us through the soy-based technology that makes Lure Lock cases spill-proof and scent-proof. With Game & Fish Editorial Director Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2019 in Orlando.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

 Veteran bass anglers often dismiss urban fishing opportunities as Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson - February 13, 2018

Veteran bass anglers often dismiss urban fishing opportunities as "kid's fishing ponds," but...

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use bait rigs for stripers. Other Freshwater

3 Deadly Bait Rigs For Stripers

J.B. Kasper - April 21, 2005

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use bait rigs for stripers.

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies. Panfish

Find and Fish Bluegill Beds Efficiently

Terry Madewell - May 22, 2019

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies.

See More Stories

More Fishing How-To

Now that you know you might screw it up the next time a big fish bites, let's fix it. Fishing How-To

Why You'll Lose Your Next Big Bass

Larry Larsen

Now that you know you might screw it up the next time a big fish bites, let's fix it.

Increase your odds of hooking up by trolling, then casting in high-percentage areas. Other Freshwater

Troll to Cast for Muskies

Mark Sak - June 13, 2019

Increase your odds of hooking up by trolling, then casting in high-percentage areas.

Clues to the best presentations for walleyes often stare anglers in the face. Interpret what graphs are saying, and fish accordingly. Walleye

Match Sonar Specifics To Presentation Speed

Joel Nelson - June 28, 2019

Clues to the best presentations for walleyes often stare anglers in the face. Interpret what...

See More Fishing How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.