Ponds can offer up some of the best bass fishing there is.
Back in 1995 when I was 10 years old, my family moved into a new house that included a small old farm pond where a barn used to stand years ago.
For someone who had just begun an obsession with bass fishing, it was nothing less than a dream come true, even if the pond was stocked with nothing but bluegills at the time.
Between the countless hours fishing that pond and other ponds around southwest Michigan, I’ve spent a lot of time fishing these smaller bodies of water. And in that time, I’ve learned a lot about how pond and small lake bass fishing is totally different than fishing other bodies of water.
The real bummer is, most fishing magazines and books do not cover fishing ponds or other small bodies of water. It’s a real shame they don’t too, because small bodies of water don’t necessarily mean small bass. In fact, a quick look at the list of state records for largemouth bass reveals many that came out of ponds.
So here are just a few of the things I’ve learned fishing for bass in ponds over the years.
1. Pond bass are different than their lake relatives
On big lakes and rivers, you often have to be fishing using specific lures or techniques to catch bass. In a pond, it’s a totally different ballgame. Water temperatures will be wildly different than the local lake. Ponds warm and cool faster than larger bodies of water. As a result, the fish act a lot differently. For example, a pond will warm up a lot faster after a cold front and fish can be easier to catch much sooner.
You might not be able to buy a bite on the big lake while the bass in ponds are hitting everything you throw at them. So the first thing you need to do is forget everything you know about big lake fishing and learn to adapt to the situation on the fly.
2. Keep a low profile, literally
This is one of the biggest mistakes most anglers make with ponds. In a small body of water, it’s easy to see the fish. But here’s the downside, they can see you, too! I like to crouch down when bank fishing and do all or most of my fishing from a kneeling or crouched position. This is especially helpfully in ponds that are more pressured.
Bass quickly get used to seeing people on the banks in ponds, but it doesn’t make them any less wary. They WILL know if you’re fishing. The larger fish are more likely to bite if they don’t know you’re there or if it’s harder for them to discern what you’re doing.
This actually applies to all species of fish. My parent’s pond held a 13-pound channel catfish that became more wary over the years. The last time I caught it, I was only able to catch it after I crawled 50 yards down to the pond’s edge and threw my bait in from a sitting position. In any other situation, he was just too wary of angling activities to catch.
3. Think shallow
Most ponds aren’t that deep. I’ve encountered very few with a depth deeper than 15 feet. As a result, some tactics have to be modified to fit a smaller body of water. I usually rig plastic worms with a single worm hook in Texas or Carolina-rig style fashion. In most of the bodies of water I fish, I don’t use weights because it just buries the worm in the weeds. You’ll lose some casting distance fishing like this and you’ll have to fish the lures a little slower because they don’t sink as fast, but you’ll get snagged less often. Experiment to see what works best where you’re fishing.
Shallow water is also why I usually don’t fish bottom fishing lures like jigs in ponds. If you’re going to use diving lures like crankbaits, make sure you buy floating ones or you’ll constantly be snagging on the bottom. Most pond bass won’t spend any time at depth in the summer, so you don’t need to worry about deep water techniques most of the time anyway.
The shallowness of ponds makes them ideal for topwater lures. It’s easy to cover the entirety of a pond quickly with a topwater. Because the water is so shallow, the bass will have to be blind to miss seeing your lure thrashing on the surface.
4. Be aggressive
In general, I’ve found I can be much more aggressive in my lure presentations while pond fishing than while in lakes. You can probably attribute this mostly to less fishing pressure in a pond as opposed to a lake. But I’ve also come to believe it’s a side effect of increased competition for food. The smaller the body of water, the more the fish have to compete to get enough to eat.
Keeping the low profile I mentioned earlier in the article and going with a flashy, noisy lure can be a deadly combination at the right time.
5. Isolation means opportunity
Ponds are unique for bass fishing in that many are not heavily fished. If you can find an isolated pond with little pressure, you’ll probably find it’s a gold mine. It also means you can be even more creative in how you fish it.
A bass living in a public lake will have seen every single lure under the sun. This includes lures intended for other species of fish. But a bass that’s been living in an under-fished pond all its life will be totally ignorant of what lures are out there. This means you can catch them on literally almost anything.
I’ve caught pond bass on lures that are colored like yellow perch or rainbow trout even though these bass have never seen a perch or trout in their lives. The fish probably strike because a predator response is programmed deep down into their genetics. It may also be simply because it’s something they’ve never seen before.
6. Be creative
Keep in mind the more opportunistic nature of bass in ponds and small lakes. Lure colors that aren’t working on the big water may be dynamite on small water. It’s also worth having lures resembling insects, rodents or other small amphibians that bass may be forced to prey on simply because their options may be limited.
Don’t be afraid to throw lures meant for other species or lures that seem too large. I’ve spent an entire afternoon nailing bass after bass with a large zara spook topwater even though half the bass here in the more northern states could never swallow something that large no matter how big they grow.
Many fisherman scoff at the idea of fishing small waters, but they can offer some of the finest bass fishing you can find. And if you’re looking for record-class fish, finding the right body of water at the right time can result in some of the largest bass around. Find a pond and give it a try this season, you’ll find it’s a lot of fun!
All images via Travis Smola.