Beating Bass from the Bank

Life often comes full circle in many ways.

 In the case of Gary Klein, that involves fishing farm ponds and other small bodies of water.

 As a kid growing up in northern California, Klein spent countless hours fishing everything from oversized puddles to Lake Oroville. But it was pond fishing where he received most of his early bass education, an experience that spawned a special affinity for such small waters that spangle the United States.

 Fast-forward through 26 Bassmaster Classic appearances, eight BASS wins and more than $1 million in earnings, and you can still find one of America's most accomplished pros spending a surprising amount of time on small ponds.

 "I'm very fortunate that I live in the great state of Texas and have quite a few farm ponds that I have access to," he says. "They're great fisheries."

 When Klein is home between Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments he can often be found on one of the five ponds located on his Weatherford property. In this situation, you can't take the boy out of the man.

 "What a great way to practice and get experience," he adds. "Farm ponds usually have very little pressure to them and the fish usually bite pretty darn well."

 They have fed families and provided recreation for anglers for centuries, no matter what you call them: farm ponds, stock tanks, mill ponds, little watershed lakes or small flood control impoundments.

Farm ponds have spawned several generations of bass enthusiasts, who gained their early fishing lessons walking the shorelines of these small lakes. Such bodies of water have always been ideal places to introduce youngsters to fishing. But make no mistake about it, farm ponds are not just child's play. We are talking serious bass action here.

"There are jillions of farm ponds that provide good fishing in every corner of the country," says Bill Dance, a former champion tournament angler and longtime television host, who has designed several bass ponds in his native Tennessee. "As a youngster, I got my first taste of bass fishing in a pond. And today I still enjoy fishing farm ponds whenever I can."

 "There's nothing like fishing farm ponds," adds Kenyon Hill, an Elite Series pro who grew up fishing numerous state soil conservation lakes throughout Oklahoma. "The best thing about it is that, by their very nature, farm ponds eliminate the hardest part of fishing in general — locating the bass. The fish are right there. They are not two miles down the lake like when you're fishing a big reservoir.

 "And farm ponds are notorious for giving up big bass. These places don't get much fishing pressure, so the fish grow big and dumb."

 Such ponds are particularly productive in the spring and fall, but many remain prolific throughout the year. And lakes that contain clear water can be surprisingly good wintertime fisheries for fishermen who utilize small lures and light line.

 As a rule of thumb, the bigger the farm pond, the more productive it is likely to be because it typically contains a greater variety of bass habitat. Most ponds are fished on foot, but the larger private reservoirs are better exploited by johnboat.

 Regardless of whether you are hoofing it along the bank, puttering around in a small boat, wading or tubing, it is important to approach a farm pond like a large lake or reservoir. Farm-pond bass are no different than their big-lake cousins. They have the same behavioral characteristics, relate to the same types of cover or structure and exhibit the same opportunistic predatory instincts.

 "A small pond is just like a big body of water," Dance explains. "Fish do basically the same things; they relate to key structural features that are available. They're affected by water temperature and by water clarity just like their cousins that swim in the big waters. So you find them in the same type of seasonal places and you fish for them accordingly."

 Structure and cover hot spots in a farm pond might include: a point that extends out into the pond (giving resident bass the option of both shallow and deeper water); a shallow pocket where bass can dart in and trap baitfish; any small creek, branch or ditch that enters the pond; a culvert that delivers water or creates current; any type of wooden cover — stump, log, treetop or boat dock; shoreline vegetation; and trees that cast a shadow on the water. Such key holding areas on a farm pond will harbor bass day after day and year after year.

 Establishing the prevailing depth of the bass is a key to scoring consistently in farm ponds. Although Dance often catches fish off of mid-depth structure and deeper spots, Texas biologist and farm-pond expert Bob Lusk believes that most farm-pond largemouth live in shallow (8 feet and less) water throughout the year.

 "When I was a youngster, an old man once told me that 90 percent of the fish live in 10 percent of the water," Lusk says. "I didn't buy into that then, but after 20 years of analyzing ponds and private lakes, I have learned that 90 percent of the fish do actually live in 10 percent of the water."

 Once potential bass hangouts have been pinpointed, it is crucial to take the proper approach — especially when fishing afoot.

 "When you walk the bank, it's important to be as quiet as possible and fish each area thoroughly," Dance recommends. "As you move from one spot to another, it's best to circle out 30 to 40 feet away from the shoreline if at all possible. By circling out, this will help you prevent spooking fish along or close to the shoreline."

"You can take your time when fishing a farm pond since most are relatively small," Hill adds. "In a half a day, you can fish all the way around most ponds. So be thorough, and be diligent about trying different lures."

 When it comes to fishing tactics, Hill emphasizes simplicity — particularly in regard to lure selection. Although he has his favorite baits, Hill suggests "matching the hatch," which involves selecting baits that resemble the size and color of the dominant bass forage in the pond (which can range from small shore minnows to bluegill).

 "One of the greatest lures for these small bodies of water is a topwater," Klein notes. "Anything from a frog to a floating worm to buzzbaits seems to work really well. Spinnerbaits are another great, great tool.

 "Normally, small bodies of water don't really have a lot of depth to them. So you have a lot of shoreline cover, a lot of aquatic vegetation, lily pads and so on. So usually most of the techniques we use are shallow. It's hard to throw a deep diving crankbait unless you have a special body of water."

 These days, Klein utilizes his pond fishing to stay sharp and expand his angling repertoire.

The five stocked lakes on his Texas ranch include: a clear tank that has standing timber and a depth of 25 feet for cranking and learning to fish swimbaits; a wood-filled, dirty-water pond for flipping, pitching and casting jigs and soft plastics; and a shallow, grassy pond where crankbaits, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, bladed jigs, shallow running cranks and floating worms are the ticket.

 "I use them as an experimental ground," he emphasizes. "I like to practice techniques and (test out) modified lures to try to create some new techniques and new ways of catching fish.

 "Not only do I learn how to catch bass, but I also learn how to understand the fish a little bit better. I'm a pretty efficient angler, and if I stay on a small body of water for any length of time I know that I'm going to really change the personality of those fish. And by doing that, I have to change the lures that I'm using to catch those fish.

 "So I really learn a great deal from fishing small bodies of water."

Here are the lures to choose for the most common structures and covers found in small fisheries:
1. Creeks: small crankbaits and topwaters
2. Rocks: jigs and Texas rigged plastics
3. Standing timber: spinnerbaits and weightless soft plastics
4. Stumps: square-billed cranks
5. Dam: deep diving cranks
6. Point: Carolina rigged plastics
7. Deep timber: jig-and-pig, Texas rigged plastics
8. Deep hole: Carolina rigged plastics
9. Dock: jigs, soft plastics
10. Lily pads: weightless soft plastics, weedless topwaters
11. Ditch: Carolina rigged plastics, deep diving cranks
12. Shade: weightless soft plastics
One of the great aspects of farm-pond fishing is that it doesn't require a wide variety of tackle or a pile of lures.
Marty Stone calls this "the beauty of pond fishing."
"You don't need 20 rod-and-reel combinations and 15 tackleboxes, so the tackle I carry is very basic," Stone says.
Stone emphasizes that almost any kind of tackle spooled with 10- to 14-pound-test line will suffice on most ponds. And the shallow-oriented nature of pond bass limits the number of lures he brings along.
"For pond fishing, I only carry about five lures," he adds. "The first would be a 1/4-ounce spinnerbait with small double willowleaf blades. The second is a small topwater bait like Lucky Craft's G-Splash. My other pond choices would be a 7-inch Zoom Trick Worm, a 6-inch ribbontail worm and a shallow or medium running crankbait like my signature Lucky Craft Fat CB BDS series."

That combination of lures is common among pond aficionados. It provides a fisherman with baits for the low-light early morning and late afternoon hours (topwater plug and floating worm), as well as the midday hours (spinnerbait, crankbait and Texas rigged worm).