Many anglers waste their early spring days twiddling their thumbs while waiting for word that the bite has begun at their favorite lake. But there’s no time like now to explore smaller ponds close to home. Small ponds are the first spots to turn on after winter leaves the Midwest, and many will host nice largemouth, catfish, crappies, perch, and bluegills!
Farms, apartment buildings, golf courses, and office buildings often have ponds from a tenth of an acre to an acre or two. Urban areas, such as Chicago and the suburbs, have forest preserves and parks that hold hundreds of smaller public impoundments. These small ponds make terrific early-season destinations. The sun heats them quickly and the rise in water temperature ignites the growth of plankton. That, in turn, fuels the food chain and game fish are aroused from their cold-water lethargy. The water temperature in a pond can be 10 degrees higher or more than at larger lakes nearby!
Another advantage — fish in ponds are often beyond an angler’s reach later in the year when shorelines become ringed with thick weeds. But, vegetation is just beginning to grow now, and it acts like a fish magnet.
Smaller waters are also great places to introduce kids to fishing. Bluegills are often abundant and easy to catch, which is perfect to keep kids interested.
Ponds will often resemble featureless bowls at first glance. But, that’s not so because some of them have lots of structure and cover to draw fish.
Ponds: Find The Structure
Notice subtle points and turns. Check every downed tree. Transition areas between soft bottoms and harder sand at beaches are good. Green weeds produce oxygen and attract fish. Rocks and rip-rap that touch the water, especially on the north side, are amongst the first to warm up. Small, mossy, dark-bottomed shallow bays are also good areas. Feeder creeks or drainage ditches may empty warm water into the pond after a rain. Manmade cover and structure may seem a bit unusual at times.
“I’ve caught fish around submerged shopping carts, discarded tires and even flooded tire ruts,” said fishing educator and Hall of Fame angler Spence Petros.
Watch for darting baitfish as you approach because where there’s forage, there’s probably game fish. A pond may have a drain in the dam to control water level. If so, check to see if a smaller pond has formed below it.
Tackle choices are simple and cheap. A longer rod such as St. Croix’s 7-foot Premier PS70MLF will do for most uses, or use a shorter 5-1/2-footer if the bank features lots of trees and overhanging brush. For panfish, Petros uses a 16- to 20-foot telescoping rod. He can stand 10- to 15 feet away from the bank and dab his bait in and around shoreline cover without spooking shallow fish.
Trophy largemouth are suckers for 1/4-ounce spinnerbaits this time of year. Cast parallel along the bank beyond cover, then reel, pausing now and then to let it flutter downward to imitate a wounded minnow. Plastic worms and twitch baits work, too. The best catfish set-up is a simple slip weight, like an egg sinker, with an 18-inch leader to a hook and bait, such as night crawlers or chicken liver. Try Lindy Little Joe’s NO-SNAGG slip sinkers to avoid hang-ups on the bottom.
Try Slip-bobbers For Crappies
Slip float rigs are great for crappies. In open water, use a Thill Mini Shy Bite, small hook and minnow balanced with the right amount of shot to make the set-up very sensitive to the light biters. Set the hook when there’s any movement in the float at all, whether up or down, side-to-side or tipped over. Switch to a Thill Mini Stealth float around brush.
Crappies and bluegills can also be taken on ice jigs, such as Lindy’s Toads or Bugs, tipped with a spike or a wax worm suspended below a float. Reel it, then let it stop, reel and stop. The action makes the bait move in an enticing pendulum fashion. Also try casting light jigs parallel to the bank, especially over rocks. Let the line go slack, then lift the jig and reel it slowly just off the bottom.
Don’t ignore carp. Though previously shunned, carp are enjoying resurgence in popularity as European-styled, bank fishing takes hold in America. Every puddle in the United States seems to have them, and they fight hard and grow big. They are a thrill for young and old alike. Use dough balls, corn or prepared commercial carp baits.
Whatever the species you want, remember that temperature is the critical factor. The top layer of water, perhaps just a foot or two down from the surface, often holds the fish, even over deep water. Don’t bother going in the morning. Give the sun time to do its job. But, be sure to head to a pond whenever a two or three-day warming trend arrives.
It may be a chilly outdoors, but, fishing can already be sizzling at “the ponds.”
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Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson write a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Ted has many fishing achievements, including a victory at the FLW Walleye Tour event on the Mississippi River at Red Wing, Minn., May 6-9, 2009, the 1993 Mercury Nationals and the 1995 Professional Walleye Trail Top Gun award. He reached the pinnacle of both angling and business when he was named PWT Champion in 1998 and president of Lindy Little Joe, Inc., of Brainerd, Minn., a year later. (Ted’s sponsors include Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Pinnacle Rods and Reels, Bottom Line Electronics, Minn Kota, Stren, Normark, Flambeau, Master Lock, Gamakatsu, Aqua Vu and Nautamatic TR 1.)