by Chad See
At the age of ten I found myself walking along a field edge where I would cross a field to a small farm pond. As I weaved my way through the head high hay numerous grass hoppers and crickets leapt from the grass and fled for cover. As I reached the edge of the pond, some of those grasshoppers would flee in the wrong direction and end up on top of the water. At first they would sit still, and then they would struggle ever so slightly, trying to make their way back to the safety of dry ground. I watched this with great focus as I was certain of what would happen next. Sure enough within a few seconds of the insect struggling on the surface I would see the familiar shapes of the ponds residents appear beneath him. Sometimes it was several sunfish that would come, sometimes it was a large mouth bass, but regardless, the result was always the same; the fish would come close and strike from beneath. Every single cricket, grass hopper, leaf hopper, or other sizeable insect that had the mishap of falling in to the pond met the same fate. The fish just loved them. They gobbled them up with reckless abandon. With this in mind the wheels began to turn inside my young mind. I’d walk the field and gather up a cool whip container full of these bugs and put them on a hook, surely this would allow me to catch all those fish. It didn’t take long and I realized that casting a cricket on a Zebco 33 is darn near impossible. I tried everything to get the bugs on the water but finally decided I needed the extra weight of a bobber to do the job. It worked! Well, sort of. I was now able to cast the cricket on the pond, but it would not float. Despite my best efforts they sank. I still caught fish though. The bluegills would eat my sunken offerings but not as savagely as they did the naturals that would float. Thus began my search for how to imitate those floating and struggling insects.
I’m sure that some of you are wondering why I’m writing about a pond full of sunfish when I live literally minutes from some of the best trout fishing in the eastern U.S. The answer is pretty simple. Not everyone reading this does live near incredible trout fishing, but nearly everyone reading this blog has a farm pond or small local lake nearby that is teaming with sunfish and these little gems are many times overlooked as a great place to learn and spend time as a fly fisherman. That little farm pond is where I got my start and the lessons I learned there forever shaped who I am as a fly fisherman. While bluegills may not live in the most pristine places as many of our beloved trout that we love to pursue, they still provide a wonderful outlet for those of us who don’t have trout waters out our back door.
There are many reasons why we as fly anglers should love small ponds and all they have to offer. First of all is what I touched on earlier, and that is the vast number of these small waters available. With small lakes and ponds being scattered all across the country, it’s not hard for any of us to find one of these bodies of waters close by to fish. The availability of these waters makes it very convenient to hit a spot after work, on a lunch break, or in any other free time you might have. No matter where you live, how much time you have, or what your schedule may be, it is a likely bet that with a little scouting you too can find a small lake or pond of your very own to fish.
To me, the most important of all the benefits of the small pond is the advantages it has for the beginner. Most small ponds are in the open or at the very least have large openings around them which lend them to being very “caster friendly.” Nothing is more frustrating to an angler new to the sport than spending half your time picking your flies out of brush or breaking off flies in trees. Not only do the open surroundings make casting easier, but the flat surface of a pond eliminates the drag and line control issues associated with fishing in the current of a river. What this means for the beginning caster is that he can focus more on the cast and less on his surroundings and what his line is doing on the water. Basically, you can just cast and fish which simplifies the entire angling experience and makes it a more enjoyable way to get started. By a show of hands, who likes to catch fish? I figure right now everyone reading this has a hand or two in the air. This is where ponds shine. On the average, these small bodies of water are loaded with fish which in turn means more opportunities to catch fish and we all know the key to getting anyone “hooked” on fishing is to allow them to have success. With numerous fish come numerous opportunities to perfect various aspects of fly fishing. With every strike you get the chance to practice the timing of your hook set and practice playing and landing the fish which are two of the most important things to master. You will quickly find that the skills you hone on these blue gills in small ponds can be applied to all the fishing you do. Another perk to ponds is the versatility they offer. Not only do they offer a variety of fish, but they offer a variety of ways to fish for them. You are not limited to dry flies only; you can fish streamers, nymphs, indicators or any other method that is appealing to you. The best part is that every technique can be successful. You may also find that as you learn more about your pond and the species that live in it that you can focus your efforts on different species and adapt your fishing to specific fish on each trip you make. One day it may be small poppers for bluegills, the next may be throwing frog patterns near lily pads for bass. The options are endless and every trip to a small pond can be rewarding and relaxing.
The equipment needed to get started fishing these small bodies of water is pretty simple. For sunfish a 3 weight will provide enough backbone to do what needs done. If you plan to pursue bass a five or six weight may be better suited to your needs depending on the size of the bass you are going after. As for flies, the panfish will eat nearly anything they can fit in their mouth. Bead head nymphs, crickets, hoppers and small poppers are favorites of mine but feel free to experiment and try new things, you never know when something different will be the hot fly of the day.
Fast forward and here I am 31 years old and I still find myself walking that field edge and crossing that field to the same small farm pond that has been on the family farm for years. The difference today is that I no longer catch containers full of insects or struggle with the ideas of how to place them ever so gently on the surface of the pond. Today I cross the field with a fly rod and reel and a small box of flies in my pocket. As I approach the edge of the pond and the hoppers scatter and fall to the surface, I can’t help but smile as the blue gills dart about sucking them up one at a time. I sit undetected back in the weeds and pull the box of flies from my pocket. There I see a Dave’s hopper and grin as I take it out and tie it to my tippet. From a crouched position I make a steeple cast to avoid the tall grass surrounding the pond and I place the hopper on the water. Two twitches later and a hefty eight inch bluegill is struggling on the end of my three weight. He’s not the biggest fish in the pond, he’s not as pretty as many of the trout I have caught, but on a day when my time is limited he’s what is available and to me any time spent fishing on any body of water is better than sitting at the house not fishing at all.
Tight lines to everyone and if you get the chance to explore a local pond you should do it. You never know when you just might find a honey hole right in your own back yard.