Most beginning fishermen will experience their first encounter with the sport on a small body of water, either a pond or small lake. How to fish these small bodies of water may be confusing, especially if the newcomer is accustomed to watching pros on the outdoor shows that race up and down large reservoirs in $30,000 bass boats.
The United States landscape is dotted with tens of thousands of small lakes and ponds making them the most accessible fishing waters to the majority of wanna-be fishermen. Conservation organizations and private landowners alike have contributed to the building boom of ponds and lakes to create new fisheries, recreational areas and water sources for irrigation and livestock. Regardless of the builder’s intentions, new water creates new fishing possibilities. To date, there are over 500,000 farm ponds in my home state of Missouri alone.
Farm ponds are great places to fish. A whole family can easily get into the action because you don’t need big boats or tons of tackle. Also, most of the water in a pond is accessible to bank fishermen.
Exactly what is a pond? Webster’s dictionary fails to give a precise definition. Most people regard a pond as a small body of water, but there are no official minimum or maximum size qualifications. For purposes of this article, consider anything over 10 acres a small lake (until you reach a hundred acres or so).
Small Water Species
When approaching a small pond or lake to fish, anglers should keep in mind that 60 years of fisheries research and experience has proven that a combination of largemouth bass, bluegills and channel catfish provides the best balance of fish species in small bodies of water. Therefore, anglers should prepare themselves to catch these species from most small bodies of water.
Bass anglers who fish small waters fishermen need not feel like second-class fishermen, either. Although I have almost a half-century of fishing experience, my favorite fishing haunts are ponds and small lakes. My first bass fishing trip of this year took me to a 1-acre farm pond on a neighbor’s property. My wife and 13-year-old son tagged along.
All three of us tied on simple spinnerbaits and scattered around the pond. In 30 minutes we caught a half dozen largemouth bass over 14 inches. One monster weighed in at 7 pounds! In fact, farm ponds in Missouri account for the majority of Master Angler Awards presented by the Missouri Department of Conservation each spring for big bass.
Upon showing a photo of our big farm pond bass to a fellow worker, he commented that the 7-pounder we caught in a 1-acre pond would have been worth $2,000 in a big bass tournament he had fished the same weekend on 50,000-acre Lake of the Ozarks.
Bluegills are lots of fun and easy to catch. A light spinning or spin-cast fishing outfit is all that is needed. A few small hooks, split-shot and a small float will put you into working order. Favorite baits include night crawlers and crickets. Bluegills readily take artificial lures as well. However, it is necessary to keep the lures small because of the bluegill’s tiny mouth. Tiny jigs, tube baits and spinners will work wonders.
To this day my favorite way to fish is to take a float tube, a light fly rod and a handful of popping bugs to a small body of water. Bluegill and bass are easily caught using this method. It is especially effective when bluegill are bedding in shallow water in May and June.
Channel catfish are the third species of fish generally found in small bodies of water. Catfish are muscular, powerful fish and are usually the culprits that break lines and hearts of those fishing small impoundments. A medium to medium-heavy rod and a reel spooled with 10- to 12-pound test line should take care of most situations. However, don’t be surprised to have those lines broken occasionally, too. In that case, beef up your line.
Catfish may be taken by fishing on the bottom of the pond or by suspending a bait under a float. Favorite baits for channel cat include night crawlers, minnows, crayfish, and chicken livers. Commercial stink baits are popular as well, but in a pinch a piece of hot dog from the picnic basket will catch catfish.
Where To Fish In Ponds
It doesn’t take long to size up a small pond and determine where to fish. The fish are confined in a small space and most ponds generally have a lot of fish in them. Competition for food is often stiff, making it relatively easy to catch fish quickly. As a result, ponds are a great place to take kids to introduce them to fishing.
Depending on the time of day and year, fish migrate to and from deep water. The deepest water in a small body of water will usually be at the dam. During the summer months I approach a pond at the shallow end and begin casting for bass or bluegill. Shallow water produces the most food for fish and they spend much of their time there in warm weather when metabolic rates are high. However, in the hottest summer days, many fish will head for the depths.
Catfish tend to hold in deeper water, even in summer. Fish for them accordingly. However, if you don’t find fish where you first thought they might be, simply move a short distance and try again. But move slowly and quietly. In small waters, fish quickly become spooked by loud noises.
It doesn’t take long to fish a pond thoroughly. Likewise, it doesn’t take long to over-fish these small bodies of water. This gives every angler the opportunity to practice catch and release. At the very least, do not take more fish from a small pond than you can consume in one meal, and it often pays to offer the landowner a few fresh fillets. Your generosity will ensure your future welcome.
Small Lake Strategies
Small lakes are often thought of as bigger small ponds. However, a point to keep in mind is that the larger a body of water, the more complicated fishing it becomes. This is true because of the diversity of topography, structure and vegetation in the lake. Most ponds are dammed at one small ravine or are simply a hole dug in a pasture. Lakes may cover several ravines. There may be smaller ponds, depressions, ditches, fence lines, old roads and any number of other structures that became flooded when the small lake was built. All these areas are potential fish holding structures. A larger variety of aquatic weeds and shoreline vegetation will exist on lakes as well.
When approaching a new lake, it helps to first talk to someone who has fished the body of water. If it is a public lake, agency personnel are often available with information about the hot places to fish. If no information is available, I approach small lakes the same way I do a pond. I begin fishing in areas similar to those that have produced in ponds.
You can rest assured that visible cover in small bodies of water will hold fish. After becoming confident in your casting abilities, try your luck around rocks, logs, stumps, brush piles and weed cover. Then, hang on for the excitement that is sure to come!