How to Fish a Pond

Getting Started with Pond Fishing

Pond fishing is one of the most accessible ways to get into – or back into – fishing. Chances are there’s a pond nearby that is thriving, full of low-pressure fish that are eager to bite the right presentation.

This activity is also one of the ways I was able to work fishing back into my busy life… so it holds a special place in my heart. To this day, every now and again I’ll do a bit of Pond Hoppin’.

Illinois Pond Hoppin’ for Largemouth Bass

Whether you’re new to fishing or a veteran that has skipped these small bodies of water for some time… consider giving them a look. Here’s how I got back into the game…

Why Bother Fishing Ponds?

In the past I’ve fished tournaments, high-pressure lakes, creeks, water with absolutely no shoreline access that requires a small boat and rivers all over Illinois. Instead of approaching these adventures as a minimalist, I went at them as… well, maybe what you would call a maximalist. You might even say that I was profligate with my preparations.

In English? I took too much crap with me!

When I returned to Illinois from a Wisconsin vacation in 2019, I bought my fishing license really late in the year, but I wanted to find a place to fish with my sons. Somewhere that didn’t require a boat, because at the time we would be lucky to have 30 or 45 minutes to get out. I didn’t want 20 of those minutes to be me swearing at the trailer.

So I started looking for something that was easy to access, and not extremely popular or loaded with other bank & boat fishermen.

Good News: I found a place!
Bad News: I had no idea how to fish it!

early morning suburban pond city fishing bank fishing muck
“Uh… where do I even begin?”

Let’s look at the first two trips that I took to this new pond so that I can show you what went right, what went wrong, and how you can take what I’ve learned and apply it to your own situation so you can catch more fish in the ponds near you!

A Summary: Getting Back Into Pond Fishing
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First Day at The Pond

Allow me to set the stage. Remember I mentioned I started keeping that journal in 2014? Well… I actually started keeping TWO. One for business, and one for fishing. This has been an extremely useful practice and I strongly suggest you start a journal of your own.

I wrote these notes in that journal after we returned on day 1…

September 14th Pond Fishing in IL
“Weather: around 60 degrees – got a start at 6:00 a.m. and left the house at 6:45. The big man was fishing from shore using a Ned Rig with an exposed hook, I had a crankbait that I wanted to practice with, and also a weightless wacky rigged 4″ Ocho like we had been using in Wisconsin. Well, fun fact – the pond is super sludgy, and has all sorts of muck on it – and in it. I tried the crankbait about twice, and found out it was impossible to use. Then we both fished the plastics we had tied on – and nothing. I think I’d like to go back and try 1 pass with a straight topwater frog, 1 pass with a weightless jerkbait like a fluke and a big hook that will be able to move about medium speed, and finally 1 pass with either a weightless Senko or wacky worm (maybe an Ocho again, or a trick worm). I do not think that the bass will hit our bait if it is buried in the muck, or even inhale it off of the bottom – so how can we maximize our time in the strike zone? Gotta be up somehow, and not hung up (super weedless). I’d also consider a drop-shot maybe but that sounds like kind of a pain to manage… let’s try these other ones first.”

What I Learned: Day 1

  • The bottom content of the pond was disgusting. Typical Illinois MUCK BOTTOM, I assume it’s all dead algae or vegetation and decomposing build-up. In Wisconsin we were fishing lakes with clear water and really nice rocky shorelines or weed to sand & rock transitions… so I had been conditioned to fish a jig with an exposed hook, and the fish in Wisconsin were not afraid to hit those jigs right on the bottom… but that wasn’t going to work in the muck-bottom Land of Lincoln.
  • The water was reasonably clear, and the bottom was dark green. In fact, everything seemed to be some shade of green.
  • The pond had many large floating algae pads. Some were thick. Some were thin. All had visible space underneath where fish could cruise. That doesn’t mean they were cruising – but they could.
  • I had no idea what the max depth of the pond or preferred local forage was.

As a result, I took too many presentations that were the wrong color with exposed hooks that got caught up on everything… and it was just a nightmare. We spent more time cleaning off our hooks than fishing!

But it also made me very curious… what was living in here? What were they eating?

The most frustrating thing about the whole day, was that I had let my son down. All he caught was a weed fish, some pond scum and I believe some old fishing line attached to a bobber. I had failed to put him on fish, and that could potentially leave a horrible taste in his mouth and make him less likely to go fishing again.

Minimalist Pond Fishing Weed Fish
He’s smiling but… but not really all that happy… shoot.

We salvaged the morning with a trip to a nearby playground… but I knew that I had to go back to explore the pond again.


Second Day at the Pond

I took a few days to think about what I had learned. Remember, time on the water is important, and even if we get skunked, we should be able to learn something about the location, ourselves or the environment. I knew that I needed to take a presentation that was going to stay up out of the muck on the bottom, and also free of debris. The logical choice was a topwater… but I had literally zero confidence in topwater presentations…

So what did I do instead?

I made a complicated plan to make myself feel better. Fish a topwater for just 15 minutes, then switch to a toad for 10 minutes, a fluke for 5, then a wacky rig for 20… all in the course of an hour.

Not gonna happen. Complicated fishing plans never work!

Interestingly though, these were the notes I added to the journal after I returned that second day… and you’ll see why this triggered something in my brain, and caused me to start taking a more minimalist approach to my fishing gear and plans

September 18th Pond Fishing in IL
“Weather: around 60 degrees – skies were clear and stable yesterday and last night. I was out the door about 6:30, made it to the pond right after 7:00 a.m. and was immediately able to start throwing a frog. The PLAN… was to fish a frog for 1 lap, a toad for 1 lap, a fluke for 1 lap (weightless) and a wacky rigged Ocho for 1 lap… but I never switched away from the frog. I caught a 2.5lb largemouth back in the “corner” by the bridge under that algae that looks like tiny little green pieces. It’s not super dense, and it was only about a 20 foot wide by 10 foot deep patch of cover, tucked back in the corner of the lake by calmer water. I was just looking for life, saw a heron and some small fish, and the cool thing was as the fish started to move in that shallow water I could literally see the water bulge up on top, so I threw it two more times in the general area and he smacked it and pulled it under. I think I got a good hook set because the algae was so thin. Then about 30 minutes later I missed this guy’s big sister but she was on the opposite side in a little bay kind of across from the parking lot. I turned her after she took the frog, but the bait popped right out, and it was LOADED with thick sludge. So I think what happened was when this bass hit, she took on a bunch of muck as well, and I didn’t get a good hook set through that crap. Absolute heartbreak. Missed another nearby in the same stuff as well, smaller though. Then that was it, I wrapped up and there was never any reason to switch to the other baits – but it was cool to find life here and catch my first legitimate frog fish.“

What I Learned: Day 2

  • I used one bait but had planned to use 4 (minimalist fishing approach for the win). Note: since I had no confidence in a topwater but wanted to use one, I should have ONLY taken a topwater – nothing else – which would force me to dedicate time to it, building confidence faster.
  • I knew that even if I did use 4 presentations, they all needed to stay out of the muck… BUT… I was really unsure of what I would do… my complicated plan was just a safety net, a false sense of security… or possibly an excuse.
  • I was looking for LIFE anywhere, even above the water. Since I had never caught a fish here and I was still exploring, I decided to go where the heron was which turned out to be a good decision. He was eating small fish (maybe even frogs?), and so was the largemouth bass.
  • I didn’t even see the bass strike, I heard it, looked, couldn’t find my frog and decided to reel down and set the hook. Before this I had seen the water bulging in the area I was fishing, underneath and around the thin overhead cover. Duckweed, in this area – and this area alone.
  • I missed two other fish in an area with really thick muck on top of the water, using a Strike King frog with a traditional frog hook (2 prongs). This was due to a combination of things. With the first fish my hookset was weak, I had the two prongs (which means the force of the hookset was distributed), and she took in a bunch of algae with the bait. I don’t think my hook penetrated the algae, or it may have caused a “blow out” when I set the hook. The second fish that I missed actually smacked the bait up in the air when he tried to strike it.
  • Just for reference, there was a small feeder creek near where the heron had set up shop. This could probably adjust the water temperature and also provide a replenishing source of food as bugs and critters and minnows washed into the pond.
Minimalist Pond Fishing Looking for Life
Look at that sign of life over there!

Give Pond Fishing a Chance!

The second day was a success… accidentally!

No matter – the simple act of catching a fish – a good fish – got me even more fired up about fishing ponds. Not only was I making time to fish with an extremely hectic schedule, I was learning new techniques (topwater) and bringing big ‘ol bass up onto the shore with me.

… but… If I’m being honest…

I wish my son had caught it 🙂

Minimalist Pond Fishing Largemouth Bass AJ Hauser
AJ Hauser with a nice 2.5 pound pond bass (largemouth)

Next time.

So How Can You Catch More Fish Out of Ponds?

  1. If possible, explore the body of water ahead of time and look for things like cover, bottom composition, bottom color and forage. This will help you pick your presentations and bait colors.
  2. Don’t make a complicated plan. Tie on baits that you have confidence in, or if you want to gain confidence in a new bait – just take that one bait and dedicate some time to it.
  3. Upon arrival if you don’t know where to start fishing, look for life above and below the water. Birds, turtles, frogs, deer, minnows, bugs, tadpoles, frogs or anything else.
  4. Pay attention to your surroundings and look for cues, like the water bulging up above the surface giving away the position of active bass in shallow water, or topwater strikes nearby as bass chase and attack frogs or other fish.
  5. Stick with it – and no matter what happens – learn something new about the location or your skills every time you are out on the water.

Most importantly… have fun, and enjoy God’s creation. Enjoy the fresh air, the wind, the sun, the rain, the hot, the cold – soak it all up. Remind yourself that there are a lot of people that will never experience the simple act of pond fishing – and just as many want to fish but are stuck at work… if you know someone like that, you might want to tell them about Minimalist Fishing.

Minimalist Pond Fishing for Largemouth Bass
Every trip is a blessing, no matter the outcome.

Now get out and explore some ponds of your own! Tell a friend, simplify your approach – and if this has helped you in any way, make sure to let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Tight Lines & Godspeed, Patriots.

P.S. – I’m still finding new ponds and small bodies of water to fish, like Snapping Turtle Pond… check it out, and let me know what YOU find!

Thank you Readers!

Thanks for visiting! I’m going to keep doing everything possible to keep the helpful content coming, and FREE FOR EVERYONE… but I need your help. Please chip in by making a small monthly contribution to keep this site alive & growing. $4.96 will buy a sweet Pack ‘o Dingers, and with it, I promise to catch many bass in your honor. Thanks. You are a gentleman & a scholar! -AJ

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