Pond, puddle, reservoir, impoundment, tank—for many folks these words conjure images of mud, manure, cattle, and catfish—or just mud and manure. But it would be a mistake to look past the pond.
Not so long ago an image popped up on my phone.
Kevin Davis sits aboard a tiny craft at the edge of a puddle of a cow pond. If for some reason you saw his face first, you’d notice he’s doing his best to keep his shit together. Why? Because he’s holding a legit 9-pound largemouth bass. What you can’t see is that the pond is on a friend’s property, and everything is borrowed. The rig is an old spincast reel mounted on something akin to a really ugly Ugly Stik strung a decade ago with 10-pound mono. It was dragging a rusty-bladed H&H lure with a dry-rotted skirt. They slid the boat in just ahead of a storm. And, on the second cast, Kevin landed a bigger bass than most of us will ever see in person. And, then they left to beat the rain.
The lesson? Pay attention to ponds.
Look and see, there might just be a pond or three:
Ponds are plentiful. According to the USGS, somewhere between 2.6 and 9 million ponds dot America’s landscape—mostly in the eastern Great Plains and the Southeast—ag country with little other surface water. Texas alone claims 840,000 tanks. In some places you can find more than 10 ponds per square mile.
Ponds are small and fishable:
Farm ponds have been purpose-built to meet the water needs of farms and ranches, so half-acre to 15-acre impoundments are common. For fly tossers (aspiring or otherwise), pond levees and banks without trees are great places to learn to cast the fly rod. And, despite what some folks will tell you, panfish and largemouth are a blast on a fly.
You can take advantage of unpressured fish:
“I like fishing tanks and ponds because the fish are pretty catchable,” said professional tournament bass angler Cody Ryan Greaney. “It’s really a good way to build your confidence in baits and techniques.”
Some farm ponds are ignored. Maybe they were built and stocked 50 years ago. Maybe the pond has been forgotten about since the farm went out of business 20 years ago. Just maybe.
Sometimes there be monsters in the murky waters:
Texas A&M estimates that 80% of tanks in Texas hold fish—largely bass and channel cats. So, let’s run with that. Across the country, it seems most farm ponds are not managed for fish. Unmanaged ponds can mean overcrowding of small fish. So, while not every pond holds big bass, some are bound to. My personal biggest largemouth came just the other day out of a pond you could toss gravel across, just off Virginia’s I-64. And, channel cats will most definitely smash a popper.
“Bet on catching a lot of small ones and hope for the big ones,” Greaney said. “But things do fall into place sometimes.”
Be aware that some ponds are seasonal and hold no fish. Bait sprays, rise ripples, great blue herons, kingfishers, and other such indicators are good signs of fish. And, of course, a landowner will likely know if the pond was ever stocked—though there’s no accounting for accidental stocking by tornadoes, floods, and maybe even aerial avian supplementation.
First of all, because we only get to fish during months, and October is definitely a month. Second, according to Greaney, “The bass are feeding up for winter. They’re looking up. They’re in the shallows. And, they’re aggressive.”
Also, frogs are in the water. Bass love frogs.
Don’t get too worked up over lure selection. Keep it simple. Remember that busted-up H&H. Think top, middle, and bottom.
If the frogs are laying down a soundtrack or scooting around in the water, Greaney throws a frog. Have doubts? MeatEater’s own Miles Nolte professed his frog love on a recent episode of the Bent Podcast, “To this day, one of my favorite things in the world is to fish a frog through heavy cover and watch a bass just blow up on it. I think that is one of life’s great joys.”
There are a number of frog lures available—hollow body frogs, hard plastic frogs, popping frogs, soft plastic frogs. Don’t look past the frog patterns for the fly rod.
Round 1: Whether you dig frogs or not, any angler with a pulse will love topwater action, so tie on something that’s weedless and floats and make a lap.
Round 2: On the next ring of the bell, rig up to work below the surface with a crankbait, spinnerbait, or another lure you can run mid-column.
“I’ll throw a weedless trick worm with no weight. You can pull it through anything,” Greaney said. “Twitch it, drag it, if it gets torn up you can hook it in the middle of the body and wacky rig it.”
Round 3: Finally, make a run with something that tickles the mud, like a soft plastic rigged with a weight in your preferred configuration: Texas rig, Carolina rig, dropshot, Ned rig, wacky rig, and so on.
If you haven’t caught anything by now, it’s them, not you. Don’t belabor the breakup. Head off to the next spot to find a willing dance partner.
How to Fish it?
If you can slide a canoe, kayak, jon boat, tube, or bass buggy into and from the bed of your pickup, you have it made. But, if you can’t, don’t sweat it. You can fish most ponds by wading the shallows or walking the bank.
“There’s usually a deep side and a shallow side. This time of year a lot of the fish are feeding in the shallows,” Greaney said. “So, I’ll walk up to one of the deep corners, stand back and cast near the bank. Then, instead of picking a spot and throwing it as hard as you can out to the middle, I’ll cast parallel to the banks and work my way out.”
From there, make your rounds. As The Duke once taught us: Mind your shadow.
Ponds fish pretty quickly. So, get permission on a number of ponds in an area and develop a circuit. Add in creeks and other little honey holes and run the circuit as long as life allows.
Eat it! Eat it! Eat it! Don’t Throw it Back, Just Eat it!
Pork chops taste good. Bacon tastes good. And, bass make damn fine tacos.
Ponds usually yield more taco tots than tank toads. So, trust your state game and fish biologists who know way more about fish populations than we do—and if the levels are sustainable and you want to eat it, eat the damn thing. Removing small fish can make room for other fish to grow big. But, do what the landowner says, of course.
What’s the Catch?
Permission is the gateway to farm pond fishing.
Mark Kenyon of Wired To Hunt has shared his hard-won hunting permission insights that will help you get some pond fishing yesses.
In general, though, consider a LinkedIn style or Bacon’s Law six degrees approach and reach out to relatives, friends, and your community. You might want to start with the social circles of the matrons in your family. (In general, they outlive men and are often forgiving of goofy-looking mugs asking for favors.) If nothing pans out there, do some research with OnX. Get on the road. Knock on doors. Start cold calling.
Make it worth the landowners while. Offer meat. Keep an eye on the place. Put in some sweat equity to build fence, clean trash, bust wood—whatever is needed. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and friends of friends. You may just get a yes. If you have an in, don’t be ashamed to seek and accept any opportunity.
When it comes to access, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.