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Part One hundred sixty-three

Panfish Chat- Host Ron Kusse
Monday. 6-8 p.m. PST (9-11 EST)

Ponds Are NOT Small Lakes

By Richard D. Zieger, O.D., Lamoni, Iowa

Most of my fishing is done in ponds that are less than two football fields in size. I rarely fish in anything that is over three acres in size. I do fish an 800 acre reservoir when the crappie and bluegills come in to spawn. This is how I spend my lunch hour three days a week. This is one of the few privileges of being self employed.

I am becoming more and more convinced that pond fishing is a whole different matter than are lakes and large impoundments. Ponds are not as deep and they do not have the same forage that large lakes and impoundments have.

I have read hundreds of pages of material on how to fish for bluegill, crappie, bass and channel catfish. I have about 15 books and have four magazine subscriptions to continue to get information. This may be because I have to hear something several times before it sinks in.

I tried to scale down everything that I read in the books/magazines to work on the ponds that I was fishing. It turned out that I was not catching very many fish. I did check the stomach contents of the fish that I kept after I had filleted them. It took me a very long time (4-5 years) to realize that I was not seeing very many minnows in the stomach of the fish I kept. I would always find this mass of dark material that I could kind of separate and would look like bugs.

It finally really hit me when I went fishing on a July Sunday afternoon. I live in south central Iowa on I-35 just above the Missouri border. It was about 85 degrees out and the sun was shining. According to what I had read all the crappie should be deep.

I did not catch any crappie by fishing deep. This was not an optimal time to be out but the only time that I had.

I decided to use a floating nymph that I had tied. I was not catching much being over the deep water (12 feet) that I was fishing in so I decided to try shallower water. I drifted, in my canoe into about 7-8 feet of water. I was catching a few gills as I let the nymph float on the surface. This was fun as they had a tendency to jump out of the water and hit the fly on the way down. I put a split shot about four feet in front of the nymph and cast it again. I was making slow two inch strips with long pauses to move the fly. The next thing I knew was the rod tip was down and the line was going sideways from where it had been before. When I landed the fish it was a crappie about 15" long. I know that crappie are schooling fish so I cast back in the same spot and did the same retrieve. I caught twelve 12" crappie on the next 12 casts. This caught even my attention. I was catching crappie in 7-8 feet of water probably 3 to 4 feet down in the water column. This is not way fish are supposed to act!

I checked the stomach contents of all these fish. Not a single one had a minnow in it. I then realized that I rarely seen a minnow in the stomach of any of the fish for about three weeks. It then dawned on me as to why this was happening.

Ponds have no shad, chubs, ciscoes or other minnow sources except for the spawn of the fish in the ponds. Since crappie usually need a high protein source, minnows of some sort usually, to get larger than about eight inches I was surprised to catch so many with no minnow in their stomachs. It then hit me that the fish were feeding on nymphs and bugs constantly. To get the same nutrition that crappie in large bodies of water get they need to feed constantly. This is why they were in shallower water. There are more nymphs in 8 feet of water than in 12 feet.

This changed my pattern of fishing in ponds. I now fish a lot over about 4 to 8 feet of water. I have nymphs with narrower foam strips so they suspend in the water column on their own. I catch fish constantly in these depths. I think that I am always in the top 3 to 4 feet of water. At times the fly was close enough for me to see the fish coming up to get it.

I decided to try this over deeper water also and by fishing very slowly I would catch fish.

Again I was probably 3 to 4 feet deep over 10 to 14 feet of water. I again caught fish at this depth that I did not catch when I was fishing deeper. I am guessing that the fish are high in the water column to see the bugs on the surface and the nymphs that are rising to emerge. By moving the fly slowly the fish can rise up to get it. I rarely cast over about 25 feet when in the canoe. It may take 8 to 10 minutes to bring the fly back in.

It is very hard to be this patient, but 60 to 100 fish days are fairly common in some of the ponds.

I went to another pond a few days after this with a friend and we tried the same flies in the shallow flats area of the pond. We caught crappie, bluegills and a few bass. He was hooked on this style of fishing and I had to tie him some flies.

I would suggest that you try fishing this way. Keep the fly shallower in the water column than you have done before. Try fishing the shallower water areas to see what is happening. I cast to the edge of the weeds along the shore because I have caught enough crappie, bluegill and bass there to trust that there will always be some along the shore.

I use a floating line with about an eight foot leader, this depends on how many flies I have lost before I tie more tippet material on. Most of my nymphs are in the size 6 to 10 range. I did smaller ones but the fish took them so deeply that I had to cut the line and retrieve the fly latter. With the larger hooks I don't have as much trouble with the hooks going as deeply. I am not saying not to have some smaller ones because at times that is all they will take but most of the time these others work. I caught fish one day on a size 22 hook with a little ball of black dubbing. It was the only thing the fish would bite. The last thing I have started doing is to put a little ball of white fiber fill (as for pillows) under the foam before I pull it over for the wing case. I seem to have a few more strikes on the flies tied with this than the ones without it. Might suggest the wing case splitting or possibly it is just more visible.

Let me know how this works for you. ~ ~ Rick

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