Confessions of a Pond Jumper
Whether in neighborhood parks, or at pay-per-use facilities, Texas boasts about a million reasons to try pond fishing.
By Russell A. Graves
I can’t remember what exactly got me addicted to pond fishing. I can come up with a litany of reasons, but none stands out as the primary rationale for my passion.
Maybe the tug of a tight line first piqued my attention. Perhaps it was the way I felt when I first saw a bass explode from summer’s still waters and spank a Hula Popper with incomprehensible quickness. On the other hand, maybe, just maybe, I subscribe to Kevin Costner’s explanation of why his Field of Dreams grew from a cornfield: All the cosmic tumblers clicked into place to create magic.
This morning, I stand on the western side of a pond I’ve fished every year from the time I was eight. The pond is only 200 yards from my parents’ front door, and I’ve followed the same path through the pasture to the pond for so many years, I’m surprised that my feet haven’t worn a rut slicing through the blackland prairie.
Nearby, my lifelong friend Garry casts a 6-inch soft plastic bait that looks like a thick, rigid worm; but when it is twitched at the end of monofilament, it dodges and darts like a wounded baitfish. My brother William casts a double-bladed chartreuse spinner bait that is usually effective for bass on this 2-acre farm pond. I cast a chartreuse lipless crankbait that’s spotted black and stirs up some audible commotion as it wiggles through the clear water. As we fish, we speak in short, inarticulate sentences branded with a perfect mix of braggadocio, machismo and trash talk. We catch a few fish, but the chance to tease each other is what makes our trips fun.
Soon the fishing slows, and an hour of angling nirvana comes to an end. We contemplate going to another nearby impoundment, and then another and another — we call it “pond jumping.” Growing up in the country, pond access was never much of a problem, as my family maintained good relations with neighboring landowners. Therefore, it’s not unusual for us to fish a half-dozen ponds in the course of a morning. If the fish stopped biting at one pond, they’d surely bite at another.
I’ve never been much of a lake angler, but I do enjoy the challenge of fishing farm impoundments. Sometimes, though, the challenge becomes too tough and I can’t get the fish to bite at all. In an attempt to learn more about my favorite fishing holes and how to overcome inevitable lulls in fishing action, I visit with a couple of seasoned pond angling experts in the hope of unlocking secrets that I’ve never contemplated before.
Approaching the Pond
“The first thing I do is try to figure out the age of the pond,” says Bob Lusk. Lusk, a fisheries biologist and owner of Pond Boss, a pond construction and management consultation service, runs his company from Sadler, Texas, and boasts clients nationwide.
“If the pond is older than three years, I always look for cover around the edges of the pond. A pond that’s been stocked three to five years ago is starting to produce mature fish, and bass tend to move towards the edge of cover to snatch baitfish as they emerge from the cover.” Lusk explains that because of largemouth bass’ predatory nature, they’ll often hang out, motionless, next to cover as they wait to stalk or ambush baitfish. Therefore, according to Lusk, identify the cover when you first approach the pond.
Rodney Gibson agrees with Lusk’s assessment of sizing up a farm pond upon initial contact. In his professional career, Gibson is the director of pharmacy operations for a North Texas hospital, but in his spare time, he is a devoted pond angler who often guides clients on private fisheries in northeast Texas.
“Besides cover, I also take into account the particular time of year. If it’s spring, fish will be near the bank in shallow water spawning and feeding. During the summer, fish will be on the bank at night and in the low-light hours, but they go to deep channels during the day.” Gibson says that because fish are cold-blooded creatures, understanding their sensitivity to water temperature is paramount. Autumn often finds fish hanging out around drop-offs where shallow water transitions to deeper water. In the winter, fish stay in deeper water and are less apt to feed aggressively.
“I look for the areas that will match the depth that I think the fish are doing for that time of year and then look for cover,” Gibson continues. “If I’m fishing a farm pond I have never seen before, I go to the dam and fish it thoroughly before fishing any other area, as big fish need deep water close to feel safe and the dam is usually the deepest part of the pond.”
The Go-To Lure
Gibson and Lusk both agree that someone interested in fishing farm ponds needn’t invest a great deal of money on a tackle box full of lures. In fact, they both agree that you only need a handful of artificial baits to be successful.
“My number one choice for lures is a small white or chartreuse spinnerbait,” confides Gibson. He says that in clear water, he’ll opt for the white bait while stained or muddy water calls for the chartreuse spinner. Gibson says he likes spinnerbaits because they are virtually weedless and work well during most of the year. He avoids using spinnerbaits heavier than 3/8 ounce because he postulates that most pond bass are accustomed to seeing small bait fish. Larger lures, Gibson contends, may be counterproductive and actually scare fish.
As a rule he says that the warmer the water, the faster he reels. “When the water is cold, I reel just fast enough to keep the blades turning and try to elicit an impulse strike. As the water warms, I reel faster so that the reflective flash of the blades resembles an injured baitfish.”
Lusk agrees with Gibson in that a spinnerbait is hard to beat for catching bass in farm ponds. “Spinnerbaits do work well. I typically cast spinnerbaits parallel to aquatic plants and reel the bait along the dividing line between the plants and open water.” Lusk says to look for cover and work the bait around it. Finding bass in open water, say, in the pond’s middle, Lusk says, is rare.
Aside from spinnerbaits, both agree that soft plastic baits are a good alternative and work extremely well in situations where heavy vegetation is a problem. Various hook riggings such as the Texas and Carolina rigs work well under a variety of conditions. Gibson says he likes to rig a worm in a weedless configuration and work it without a weight, on top of moss. He says that if you work the light bait on top of moss or grass cover, bass can sense the bait’s motion and attack it with intensity.
Stock Pond Strategies
Planning a stock pond strategy is easy. Both Lusk and Gibson advise a thorough study of the pond’s structure and water color for starters and then work thoroughly along areas of cover where the fish will most likely be. Lusk says that since most Texas ponds are stocked with largemouth bass, finding their haunts and attracting the fish with a well placed lure is simple.
“For starters, I like to toss a spinner near the grass beds or submerged trees and work it parallel to the shore,” Lusk advises. “Since ponds have a low volume of water compared to a lake, weather has much more of an effect on pond fish. Therefore, keep that in mind when tossing a lure.” Lusk explains that in warm weather, bass move into shallow water but move to deeper water as shallow water cools off, so you should toss your lure accordingly. As a rule, in the morning, fish may hang off of cover near a drop-off, but as shallow water flats warm through the day, bass will move into those areas and hunt for baitfish.
What if the fish don’t bite? According to Lusk, cast the same lure in the same area about 15 times. If you don’t get a strike, change tactics by fishing deeper or shallower water or by switching lures. “If a spinnerbait isn’t getting much action, I’ll switch to a soft plastic bait and fish it slowly towards deep water. In our surveys, we almost always find a few bass along a pond’s dam near the edge of a drop-off.” Lusk reminds me that most all stock ponds are heavily stocked and underfished. Consequently, most of the bass you’re liable to catch are in the 10- to 12-inch range. He says that these bass are easy to catch and add lots of excitement for anglers who aren’t interested in the size of the fish as much as they are in the size of the angling experience. If the bass still don’t bite, he advises switching to a tiny spinnerbait or jig and to hook panfish such as bluegills.
Gibson adds that a common tactic he employs when fishing farm ponds is to stay quiet. It’s his contention that bass recognize foreign noises such as people talking, and they spook away from the shore into deeper water. He also says that paying attention to what you are doing is one of the best pieces of advice he can give to a pond angler. “If you catch a fish, remember what kind of lure you are using, your retrieval depth and speed, your lure presentation and where you caught the fish. Because prime feeding areas are fairly limited in a stock pond, chances are that fish will be stacked up in good cover. So when you catch a fish, throw your lure in the same area and present it to the fish in the same way again. Chances are you’ll get another strike.”
I think both Lusk’s and Gibson’s advice is paying off. Soon after I toss a spinnerbait, it plops into the water next to a fallen willow limb, and I feel the tell-tale vibration of a strike. Hooked on my lure, a fish pulls heavy on the fishing line, and it bends the rod over in a scimitar arc. I don’t yet know how big the fish is, but it has a prize fighter’s spirit and tries its best to swim back to the submerged haunt.
Once I land the fish, I realize it is modestly sized — only a couple of pounds. However, I take Gibson’s advice and pitch the lure back into the cover. As the bait sinks, my mind drifts for a second and visions of a 10-pound bass creep in. “If you cast it, they will come,” I think. The cosmic tumblers are clicking again.