by Willie Luker
In my entire fishing career, spanning a measly year and a half, I have caught around 200 fish. When I tell people this, they immediately conjure up images of zooming across vast reservoirs in a tracker boat loaded to the gills with the latest technology. However, only one of those fish was caught in a large body of water!
I feel most at home sitting on the shore of public neighborhood lakes, often times the most pressured bodies of water available for miles. Fishing these ponds can be extremely frustrating to beginners and veterans alike, as hours can be spent without a single hint of action. Due to the often minuscule amount of space they have to roam, fish are likely to have seen countless techniques and lures, and are therefore more prone to spook and clam up than their non-stocked brethren holed up in massive impoundments. However, with a bit of luck and a lot of practice, you too can fill the stringer without emptying your gas tank!
Tip #1: Use the Ned Rig
My first tip is a quite plain, yet often overlooked rig that shines in these heavily fished ponds – the Ned rig. What is a Ned rig? It's when you thread a two to three inch chunk of a worm onto a 1/16th-1/8th oz jig head, similar to how you rig up a grub. Deceptively simple, this combination is deadly effective with easily spooked fish. You can bounce it through the water like a jig, retrieve it like a swim bait, or dead stick it by cover or in shade. Its small profile and slow fall rate are irresistibly similar to the natural movements of minnows that the bass are already used to feeding on. But don't let the bass part fool you; the Ned rig is effective on many species, ranging from sunfish and crappie to striped bass and everything in between. The traditional worm to use is a senko, though I prefer a finesse worm for a thinner silhouette. If you aren't throwing this rig yet, give it a go!
Tip #2: Location, Location, Location...
My next tip has to do with location. With many of these neighborhood ponds, the largest structure the fish have to hide among is the shore of the lake itself, maybe complimented by a pier if you are lucky. If you are used to fishing offshore, this can prove incredibly difficult due to the lack of textbook “fishy” spots to target. Therefore, many people choose to simply chunk their bait as deep as possible and hope. Personally, I have had very limited success doing that, so I've been forced to adapt. Finding where the fish are is actually much easier than it may seem, as the lack of space can play into your favor. For instance, I almost universally start by working a worm through the area closest to where the pond is fed from. The increased oxygen levels in the water cause algal blooms, which provide much needed cover and sustenance for the bait fish. This, in turn, draws the bass in as they search for an easy meal. These inlets can be extremely shallow, but don't be afraid to work them anyway. You might be pleasantly surprised! The next spot I examine is the shadiest spot I can find. I often fish midday due to other obligations, and the Alabama sun can definitely turn the bite off. Bass aren't that different from humans, in that they search for comfort, and will often be found shallow and in the shade. An overhanging tree, the shadow of a building, and even the thin shadow of a support beam provide slightly cooler water, which the bass crave. Thoroughly fishing these areas with a slow, Texas-rigged worm can prove fruitful on even the most scorching of summer days.
Tip #3: Downsize Your Bait
My third tip is one gleaned from watching semi-pro fisherman attempt to score at my home lakes during the off season. In a local pond, the smaller the bait, the better. Sure, throwing a 10 inch ribbon worm or a frog may prove productive some days, but most of the time it's more of a hassle than it's worth. In these tiny pools, bass rarely get the sustenance needed to grow to trophy levels, and rarely get the opportunity for a large meal. They're more used to chasing yearling bluegill than bullfrogs, and are more likely to attack a finesse worm than a senko. You might not catch the largest lunker in the lake, but you're definitely going to catch more than you would should you ignore this crucial information.
All in all, fishing these often overlooked ponds can be a fun way to waste an afternoon or hone a new technique. Don't pass these opportunities up, especially during the off season when making the trek to a larger lake might be uncalled for, or a waste of time and money. Experimentation is key with these types of pools, so don't be fraid to tweak how you do things until the action picks up. You might just hook a big one!
Good luck, and tight lines!