W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles by Ted Takasaki
The Ponds in Spring
Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson
Some 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 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 trophy largemouth, catfish, crappies 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, like Chicago 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," said walleye pro John Campbell. "And, you always want to put the odds in your favor."
Smaller waters are also great places to introduce kids to fishing. Campbell recalls how years ago the late Bobby "E." Graham served as the neighborhood Pied Piper and took Campbell and his chums to spend hours at Chicago-area ponds. They targeted bass and catfish for the fight or panfish when they wanted something for supper. Campbell still remembers the excitement when Graham landed a 25-pound catfish on just such a trip. "It was a massive fish, one of the biggest catfish I've ever seen from a pond. It was the talk of the town," Campbell said. Campbell's largest Illinois largemouth, which neared six pounds, also came from a pond.
Ponds resemble featureless bowls at first glance. But, that's not so. They have lots of structure and cover to draw fish. For example, that catfish Graham caught came on bait suspended below a float in front of the opening of a flooded drain pipe. The catfish had commandeered it for its home as if it were a hollow log.
Notice subtle points and turns. Check every downed tree. Transition areas between soft bottoms and harder sand at beaches are good. Remember where 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. 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. 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 and cheap. A longer 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, Petros uses a 16 to 20 foot telescoping rod, part of the South Bend Sunny Day series. He can stand 10 to 15 feet away from the bank and dab his bait in and around shoreline cover without spooking shallow fish. Use light, clear monofilament, like Stren's Easy Cast. Regular bait casting gear is best for bass.
Trophy largemouth are suckers for one-quarter-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 nightcrawlers or chicken liver. Try Lindy Little Joe's NO-SNAGG slip sinkers to avoid hang-ups on the bottom.
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, like Lindy's Genz Worms and Copeds, 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 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
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".
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Since August 1, 1998