Some anglers waste their early spring days twiddling their thumbs while waiting for word that the bite has begun at their favorite lake or "Walleye Opener". But there's no time like the present to explore smaller ponds nearer to home. They are the first spots to turn on after winter leaves the Midwest, and many will host easy to catch species like crappies and bluegills.
|Pond fishing gets going in spring, before bigger waters wake up. Here, Kristi Takasaki holds up a nice sunfish caught on a Lindy Little Nipper jig suspended beneath a Thill float. Her father, pro angler Ted Takasaki, was fishing with her on a small body of water in spring.
Farms, apartment buildings, golf courses and office buildings often have ponds from a tenth of an acre to an acre or two. Urban areas, like Chicago, Minneapolis, and the suburbs, have forest preserves and parks that hold hundreds of smaller public impoundments. Their size makes them 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 gamefish are aroused from their cold-water lethargy.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. Your odds of good action are significantly higher in smaller ponds at this time of year and you always want to put the odds in your favor.
Smaller waters are also great places to introduce kids to fishing. Many of these ponds have docks which have been built specifically for shore anglers. In addition, panfish are often plentiful and aggressive biters.
Ponds will sometimes resemble featureless bowls at first glance. But, that's not so. They have lots of structure and cover to draw fish. Flooded drain pipes, rock and brush piles, and emerging weedlines will always attract fish. Notice subtle points and turns. Check every downed tree. Transition areas between soft bottoms and harder sand at beaches are good. Remember where the weedbeds were last year. Green leaves produce oxygen and attract fish. These weeds are probably at those same spots now, but well below the surface.
Rocks and rip-rap that touch the water, especially on the north side, are among the first to warm. Small, mossy, dark-bottomed shallow bays also are key. Feeder creeks or drainage ditches may empty warm water into the pond after a rain.
Watch for darting baitfish as you approach.Where there's forage, there's probably gamefish. 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. A longer, light action rod like St. Croix's 7 foot Legend Elite ES70MLF will do for most uses. A shorter 5-1/2 footer if the bank features lots of trees and overhanging brush. For panfish, many anglers will use a light weight 16 to 20 foot telescoping rod. You can then stand 10 to 15 feet away from the bank, dab your bait in and around shoreline cover without spooking shallow fish.
Slip float rigs are great for crappies and other panfish. Start with a Thill Mini Shy Bite, a small hook and minnow or nightcrawlers, balanced with the right amount of split 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 be taken on small jigs, like Lindy's Little Nippers and Quiver Jigs, 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.
|A dandy bluegill comes to hand, from a spring outing on a small pond. The fish was caught on a Lindy Little Nipper jig.
Don't ignore the 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 real early 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, and big lakes may still be in their winter slumber. But, fishing can already be sizzling at "the ponds".