- Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 00:00
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It is hard to believe that March is already upon us and fishing is already picking up. In fact, I have heard of white perch in the Rappahannock, “40-inch plus” stripers in the Potomac and the bass and crappie have roe or eggs already and are fattening up before they disperse those eggs in nests. Now is the time when fishing can be unpredictable and challenging, but rewarding too.
Ponds are a favorite destination for me in the spring. The waters of most ponds, except those with cold springs
feeding them, warm up faster than rivers or big lakes; turnover is just around the corner and life is becoming very evident in these small ecosystems. A few weeks ago my daughters and a friend went down to a small waterway and collected some Eastern Newts. During my time on a local pond I noticed the lily pads were already growing and I got snagged on a few while trolling around for crappie. Small peepers were near the pond edge and some frogs jumped into the grassy edges to hide. Yes indeed, it is time to start fishing!
When fish are in the prespawn mode they can be tough to catch. They are often moving around looking for a place to spawn or feed. In a situation where you are fishing a pond fish are limited to where and how far they can go. An angler with a few rods rigged and ready can dissect a pond fairly quickly and find the fish. Here is how.
In the early spring when the fish are in prespawn mode they will often visit very shallow water in spurts to feed or scout for a spot to disperse their eggs. Anglers can sight fish for these fish. Most of this type of behavior occurs on warm, sunny days when the shallows have warmed and aquatic life is moving around in the shallows. Have a rod rigged with the appropriate lure or bait and ready to cast. Make long casts and use thin diameter line. Often a jerk bait of the appropriate size will take bass or crappie during this time. Live minnows are deadly for this type of action as well. Rig the minnows either through the lips so they live longer and can swim easier or use a smaller hook and hook behind the dorsal fin to allow them to flutter and kick, drawing irresistible strikes from the fish. It is imperative that anglers cast past and ahead of the fish in the shallows. If you drop a lure or bait right on a fish in the shallows in the springtime and you will be amazed how fast they can disappear. I have learned that lesson more times than I can recall.
If the fish are not in shallow water (they were not this past weekend on the pond I fished), they will be found in deep water adjacent to shallow flats. Look for them on points that slope into water in the 6-foot or more depth. If fishing with a small boat or canoe and you have a fish finder, you will often cruise over small schools of crappie. Note their depth, pull away quietly and set your slip bobbers to the appropriate depth before casting to them. The key is to have your lure or bait at the exact depth the fish are holding. They often will not come up or down more than a foot to get food yet. During the late spring and early summer and fall they are willing to move around more.
If you don’t have a fish finder but you are using a boat or canoe you can troll the perimeter of the pond slowly using a variety of baits. A quiet trolling motor or having someone paddle is very useful for this purpose. Top choices for locating and hooking crappie or bass in a pond using this method include small RatLTraps, particularly the suspending models, Beetle Spins of various weights, and Mepps spinners such as the Aglia Brites in the appropriate size. Bright colors such as yellow, chartreuse and white are the favored colors. The new Aglia Brite is very good for stained water and overcast days. I think it must be hard for a fish to resist striking a vibrating, flashing spinner that looks like a baitfish that rudely cuts past them with not a care in the world.
Last, if fishing from the bank there are several ways to locate fish and put them in the bucket. Use the same lures mentioned above but fish deeper water. If you can get the correct angle, cast along the edge of a descending point and crank the lure along the edge. If using a suspending RatLTrap, give it a few twitches on the way back and let it sit sometimes. The Mepps spinner can be used in conjunction with a split shot a foot up the line to get casting range and depth for those smaller sizes. The same goes for a Beetle Spin.
Bait users will find that a slip bobber or several floats with bait at various depths are ideal until you figure out which depth the fish are using. Then switch the other floats to the same depth. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the depths or minnow hooking location either. Casting near points off the dam’s sides are favorites spots of mine. This deep water in conjunction with a nearby cove seems to hold fish consistently.
Over the next few weeks the fish will move shallow and fishing tactics will change but for now while the temperatures are holding in the 50s and low 60s on a few days, these tactics will bring home dinner.
Tips on preparing spring pond fish
As regular readers know already, I prefer to keep my cooking methods very simple. Time is of the essence in my house and any fresh fish needs very little to assist in its taste.
➢ Keep the fish cold and in water. In the early spring they stay alive quite well in a bucket of water for a few hours.
➢ Clean them quickly when done fishing. Use a sharp knife and filet them if possible. Your spouse will appreciate the “no bones” meal.
➢ Small bass and large panfish can be cooked several ways. Cover in cornmeal, crushed corn flakes or Bisquick (you can dip in egg or milk if you wish or just shake the filets in a Tupperware container with the cornmeal or whatever breading you chose. Season the breading with your favorite fish seasoning. Lemon pepper, Old Bay and salt and pepper are all great.
➢ Fish can be easily baked or broiled in a shallow glass pan with a touch of olive oil and seasoned with your favorite fish seasoning.
➢ Remove the fish immediately when the meat flakes apart and is bright white. Serve hot.
Some bass anglers that read this article may take exception to the idea of harvesting bass from a pond. My discussions over the years with fisheries biologists and my experience sampling small waters have pointed to the fact that a healthy harvest of small bass from a pond will ensure that the population does not get stunted, out of balance and unhealthy. Each pond has its own dynamics and variables and the amount of harvest varies depending on acreage, forage and harvest pressure, not to mention otter predation and other predation of the fish. The bottom line is that unless your pond has very few bass at all it is a very good idea to take the smaller fish out on a regular basis. A 12 to 14 inch fish eats an awful lot and is the perfect size fish to cook.