Fishing the Pond

Updated: 12/10/04

Since ponds are located on private property, it is the angler’s responsibility to obtain permission before fishing. The pond angler should be aware of any other restrictions that the pond owner may have imposed, such as bass length, number, or poundage limits.

Access to ponds is usually not difficult if the angler makes a point of informing the pond owner that he respects property and appreciates the privilege of fishing. An angler is, however, likely to have problems convincing a pond owner of his sincerity if the pond owner has experienced cases of vandalism or thoughtlessness in the past. To keep ponds from becoming totally private, anglers may need to take a more active part in pond management. Perhaps more pond owners would be willing to allow fishing access if more anglers were physically and monetarily involved in carrying out management practices described in this booklet.

Updated: 12/10/04

Pond bass fishing can be an exciting and rewarding venture. More big bass are harvested from ponds than from any other water type in Kansas.

The bass is probably one of the easiest fish to catch, which explains why overharvest of bass in ponds is so prevalent. One angler can overharvest the bass in an acre pond in a single successful fishing trip if bass are actively feeding.

Small bass will bite just about anything tied on the end of a fishing line. Artificial baits such a spinners, jigs, beetle spins, plastic worms, and surface lures are deadly. Yellow, purple, and black are the preferred colors. Natural baits such as minnows, worms, frogs, crayfish, and grasshoppers will also catch bass. Big bass will also hit any of the above baits but not as readily as smaller fish. Technique is important if the angler wants to catch big bass.

Techniques vary according to the season. Spring time in a pond means cold water and relatively inactive bass. They will move to the shallows during the day as the sunshine warms the water but are difficult to catch there. Slow moving spinners or small jigs should be fished near habitat structures or along steep drop-offs at this time of the year. Bass may also be caught in deep water along the edges of vegetation.

As summer approaches, bass move to the shallows to spawn and can be caught fairly easily. Plastic worms and fast moving lures such as spinner baits work well. Minnows and crawfish fished around shoreline habitat will produce bass in the May-June period.

Hot summer days mean warm water temperatures, probably pond stratification, and vegetation growth. This drives bass to shady areas around shallow habitat. Bass are aggressive at this time, and surface lures, popping bugs and floating plastic worms excite them. Grasshoppers and frogs make excellent summer baits, either fished on the surface or hung 12-18 inches under a bobber. Many times, bass will come out of the water to hit a bait in the summer. Nighttime fishing may increase success even further.

Fall weather cools the water and bass feed actively, fattening up for the winter. Surface baits become less effective as the water cools so the angler should again use spinners, beetle spins or plastic worms. Minnows are a good fall bait. The angler should fish around any existing habitat (brushpiles, vegetation, or fallen trees).

During the winter bass are slow, sluggish, and finicky, but they can be caught through the ice on small minnows or jigs smaller than 1/16th ounce. Deep brushpiles, habitat structures, or areas near deeper parts of the pond should be fished in the winter.

Updated: 12/10/04

Bluegills can be caught using nearly any fishing rig known to man, but the most successful bluegill anglers use a delicate approach. In most cases, that means 2- to 6-pound test line, a number eight hook baited with a worm or grasshopper, a single split shot for weight, and a thumbnail-sized bobber in situations that require flotation.

It isn’t necessary to cast to a bluegill; many top notch anglers just reach out and drop the bait on him. The cane pole most fishermen learned on is an excellent tool for bluegill fishing. Its length lets an angler present the bait quietly from a distance, and the spring in the pole is more than any bluegill can handle. Some fishermen use flyrods for the same purpose, dangling a baited hook under heavy cover along the bank or in a flooded brush. Casting with an ultralight spinning rod is also an effective as well as sporty way to catch bluegills. This approach, regardless of the type of rod used, is the most effective year-round method for catching bluegills.

Bluegills are particularly vulnerable to the fly fisherman when they’re on their spawning nests or “beds” in shallow water during June. The biggest fish take the preferred locations on the beds usually next to the bank under an arch of brush. A flyrod expert who can lay a popper, fly, or rubber spider into these tight spots can often catch several bluegills in succession.

Before the bed fishing gets hot, bluegills can be taken with ultralight spinning tackle. The fish are sluggish until the water warms up. They react slowly to bait, and take it delicately when they decide to bite. A small (16th ounce or less) jig suspended under a small bobber is a good rig for the early fishing. It casts surprisingly well and lets the fisherman work the bait slowly, vibrating the bobber a few inches across the water, then letting it sit for half a minute. This technique gives the jig a subtle action and lets the fish make up his mind and move in.

Ultralight spinning tackle with small jigs or spinners also work well in midsummer after the fish have come off their beds. Bluegill and most other fish move into deep water during the heat of the day and come into the shallows to feed at dusk and especially at dawn when water temperature is at its lowest. Fishing for bluegills with a cricket or small worm works well through the summer, too.

Bluegills are the staple for ice fishermen who work small ponds. Bluegills congregate in the deepest holes around cover in the winter. A red wiggler angle worm fished a foot or so off the bottom works well, especially when it’s attached to delicate tackle—two-pound line, one split shot, and a tiny bobber.

Updated: 12/10/04

Still fishing is the best and most sporting method for catching pond catfish. Channel catfish in ponds generally bite on the same baits as those in other waters. Earthworms and smelly baits, such as shad sides, chicken intestines, chicken and turkey livers,, shrimp, sponge baits and prepared baits will all attract hungry catfish. If the angler doesn’t have bait with him when he goes fishing, he may be able to catch his own at the pond. Leopard frogs, crayfish and bluegill halves make excellent catfish bait.

Channel catfish begin feeding as soon as the ice goes off in the spring. Shad or sponge baits work well, but the crayfish is the mainstay of the catfish diet in the spring. As summer approaches, catfish feed more actively and can be taken just about anywhere in the pond as long as the bait is on or near the bottom. Good late spring baits are worms, liver, and shrimp.

Summertime weather will likely cause a pond to stratify, and fishing for catfish in the deep parts of the pond is then a waste of time. Baits should be fished below a bobber, seldom deeper than 4-5 feet. If the angler wants to fish on the bottom, he should cast along the edges of vegetation or around fish attractors in water less than 5 feet deep. The most exciting fishing during the summer months in ponds occurs during or right after a heavy rain.. Catfish feed actively on food that washes in, and the angler can fill his stringer in a hurry by fishing earthworms on the bottom in shallow water near the upper end of a pond.

Fall pond catfishing is much like spring fishing. As the wind mixes the water column, catfish feed throughout the pond and grasshoppers generally replace crayfish as the best natural bait. Fishing will become more difficult as the water cools. The angler should fish deeper water and be patient.

Updated: 12/10/04

To some, the fun is over when the fish are caught because cleaning fish is an unpleasant task. This attitude is most common among those who are not aware of the cleaning technique best suited for the fish species they have caught. Once proper techniques are learned and applied, the task becomes a small price to pay for the delicious eating that is yet to come.

The most common method of cleaning catfish is to make an incision around the body in back of the head, after which the skin and fins are pulled off with pliers or a skinning tool, the body is cut open, the entrails are removed, and the head and tail are cut off. The fish is then washed, dipped in batter, and fried. The bones remain intact, but it is an easy matter to pick large pieces of meat off large bones.

Other fish species can be scaled with a teaspoon or scaling tool and then cleaned much like catfish. The problem is that most people don’t like to pick through small bones of several small fish to find small pieces of meat. Filleting is thus a much preferred method of cleaning for most fish besides catfish and even catfish lend themselves well to filleting.

Without question, filleting is the most efficient method of cleaning fish. The traditional tool for filleting fish is the flexible, thin-bladed, razor sharp fillet knife. An electric knife, once mastered, can greatly speed fish cleaning.

There are two types of electric knives on the market. One has a straight handle with a trigger on the bottom operated by the forefinger. The second type has a large moon-shaped handle with a trigger button on top operated by the thumb. The knife with a straight handle allows for better leverage on the blade and works much better for filleting than the other model.

To fillet a fish using either a fillet knife or an electric knife, the angler should grasp his fish by the head with one hand and lay it on one side. A vertical incision is then made just behind the gill cover from the nape of the neck to the belly, down to the backbone. The knife is then run horizontally along the backbone, cutting through the ribs. Just before the knife reaches the tail, the fillet is flipped off the carcass, and the skin is sliced off the meat by pressing the knife blade flat on the cleaning surface as the cut proceeds toward the ribs. The ribs are then cut from the fillet. This process is then applied to the other side.

This conventional filleting technique works especially well on large fish such as bass or walleye. For panfish like crappie, and particularly bluegills, there is yet another approach. The first step is to scale both sides of the fish thoroughly. The fish is then dipped in a bucket of clean water to remove loose scales and mucous. A small fillet knife is inserted into the nape of the neck. The knife is run along the top edge of the ribs next to the bones which branch off the spine. After the knife has passed by the ribs, the cut proceeds toward the belly with the tip of the knife exiting the fish at the front edge of the anal fin. The cut continues all the way out to the tail. A vertical incision is then made just behind the gill cover and the fillet is pulled and sliced off the ribs. The fillet is separated from the carcass along the belly by cutting from the vertical incision made previously to the front of the anal fin. The fish is then flipped over and the cutting process is repeated on the other side.

By leaving the skin intact, the fillet holds together better, fries up crisper, and has more flavor. In addition, cutting along the outside of the ribs and then out at the bottom of the fish salvages a bit more meat along the belly. This area is discarded when ribs are cut out in the conventional method. The conventional method also wastes some meat near the tail. In both areas there isn’t much wasted using the conventional method, but every little bit counts, especially when cleaning fish as small and as good tasting as bluegills.