Ask most anglers where they first learned to fish, and the response will likely include a nostalgic description of small ponds that played important parts in their lives and ensuing love of the sport. For me, it was small waterways on Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio, where Grandpa taught me how to fish for bluegill, crappie, perch and catfish. These pond-dwelling fish are still fun to catch today, but the tactics for landing them, aka small pond fishing, have improved with tackle, technology and experience.
I teamed up with my fishing mentor, Dan Brodbeck, to look at the best ways to apply tried-and-true fishing tactics to the specific nature of small ponds. I turned to Dan because of his general fishing knowledge, but mostly because of the impressive catches he’s made fishing in small ponds from coast to coast for 45 years. His record pond fish include a 10-pound, 3-ounce largemouth bass in North Carolina, a 1½-pound bluegill in Virginia and a whopping 103-pound blue catfish in Ohio.
“Pond fishing is very different than rivers, lakes or oceans,” said Dan. “The one thing ponds have going for them is their size, as you can walk around them, versus lakes and rivers that are more easily fished from a boat.”
But don’t let a pond’s size fool you, as they can require every bit as much strategy and produce just as much excitement as larger bodies of water. The key is altering the tactics you know, to accommodate the smaller environments of ponds and the specific fish that inhabit them. Here are 5 ways to do that with the highest rate of success:
1. Location, location, location
Dan taught me long ago that the secret to success in small ponds is targeting those that are fished infrequently. The result is typically more hits and a higher potential for record-size fish. I seek out private ponds on farms where fish are well fed and not often caught. Private property owners will typically grant permission, as long as you keep your secret fishing spot to yourself. Hitting the mostly undisturbed ponds at golf courses (outside of tee times) also offers prime fishing.
2. Target your species
As opposed to larger bodies of water, where you often target a specific species, the species in ponds run the gamut (bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish and more). For this reason, your rods and baits should cover the broadest possible spectrum. If you enjoy hunting big fish in little ponds as much as I do, come prepared with additional tackle to target the bottom-dwelling catfish.
Rods: A medium-action spinning rod and reel spooled with 6- to 10-pound-test line is all you need for most ponds. For catfish, especially if you are targeting very large fish, Dan recommends a second rod with a 20-pound test line and a monofilament leader with 80-pound test.
Live baits: Live baits such as waxworms and nightcrawlers attract a wide range of pond fish. I generally prefer these baits to minnows. To draw out the catfish, chicken livers or live bluegills are winners almost every time. You can also try my favorite cherry chicken bait recipe (given to me by Dan years ago), which has netted me prize catfish at several tournaments.
Artificial baits: Topwater baits like poppers, buzzbaits or floating frogs are very effective for many species of pond fish. Rooster Tail spinners are great because you can work them at different speeds to attract many types of fish. Dan uses the topwater fishing method almost exclusively for ponds.
“Once someone has caught a bass using this means [topwater fishing], it’s hard to go back to anything else. When the bass breaks the water and hits the bait, it’s like no other bite. I like this method the best since it can be used at all hours of the day or night,” said Dan.
3. Signs of duck feeding
This is a simple concept: If people are feeding the ducks, the fish are following the food. If ducks are congregating in typical feeding spots, fish there first. You can even bait your hook with whatever is being fed to the ducks so the fish will think it is leftover chum. Be sure to weight your line to avoid snagging a passing duck.
4. Changes in water temperature
Ponds offer lots of places with different water temperatures, giving fish more places to hide and more opportunities for you to find them. Look for structures like docks, weeds or fallen trees that provide shade. Fish also like moving water such as fountains, springs or streams that have cooler temperatures and sometimes carry food.
OK, you know to be sneaky while fishing, but ponds present the added challenge of more shallow water that is more easily impacted by weather conditions. Pond fish are sensitive to your shadow and movements, especially on sunny days with calm water. They are accustomed to making a quick dash away from the banks to escape common predators such as birds and turtles. To work around this, you want to walk softly and quietly alongside the water and stand at least 10 feet back from the edge. This distance still allows you to work with shorter casts in the pond — no more than 15 to 30 feet — since a majority of fish will hit within this range.
Using the fishing tactics you know and adapting them specifically for the small-pond world can open up lots of new fishing opportunities you might have overlooked before.Go fish!