Fly-fishing for big largemouths in Pennsylvania farm ponds
Many Pennsylvania anglers cut their teeth as youngsters casting bobbers on family farm ponds. But that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop once we grow up. In fact, farm ponds can harbor some of the biggest bass our state has to offer. Catching them on a fly-rod puts a unique spin on an old-time favorite, and in doing so, can provide some of the most exciting fishing action imaginable.
It’s hard to place an exact figure on how many farm ponds exist in Pennsylvania, but it’s probably safe to say at least one exists within a short distance from most anglers’ homes. Securing permission to fish these private water paradises is often a matter of reaching out to a landowner in a friendly manner, asking nicely and promising to respect all their wishes.
One advantage to fly-fishing is that barbless hooks used for flies are generally less harmful to the fish and more conducive to catch-and-release fishing — a huge plus when asking permission. Offering to help with chores from time to time can further increase one’s odds of gaining the green light, as it serves as a fair tradeoff for both parties.
A 5- or 6-weight fly-rod with floating line and a strong leader will bode well for managing the feeding frenzy most flies invoke from heavier bass, while longer rods make it easier to cast greater distances from shore. A perk to farm ponds is they often feature open surroundings for false casting, which is great for inexperienced fly-anglers still learning to control their back cast.
As far as fly selection goes, I’ve seldom come across picky pond cruisers. Most summertime farm fish are more than happy to indulge on whatever presentations are offered, as long as the pond isn’t over-fished. However, there are definitely a few flies that prompt more aggressive strikes than others.
The most effective bass fly I’ve used for pond fishing is a subsurface frog imitation tied with a weighted sculpin helmet head and green fur leg strips. This fly sinks quickly and can be stripped rapidly to imitate a fleeing frog. It’s bouncing and sinking motion is irresistible to big largemouths cruising the shallows for an easy meal.
Another underwater option is the old standby Wooly Bugger in various colors and sizes. An extra wrap of weighted body tape or bead-head will help keep this fly slightly below the surface while being worked in alternating pauses to agitate trailing fish.
A foam hopper or beetle is tough to beat for fishing top-water during late afternoon, when fish become more interested in rising. Slowly skittering the fly across the surface and then letting it rest with an occasional slight twitch to provide a bit of action is often all it takes to get larger fish interested.
If cattails or other forms of submerged vegetation are available, foam or cork poppers trailed by saddle hackle, dyed deer hair and a bit of crystal flash material will also elicit jolting strikes when worked along the edge of the cover.
Safely wet wading into these areas makes it easier to roll cast the fly parallel to the weeds and assertively pop it backwards in exaggerated strips. This is where the heavy feeders hang out, so the added control — even if it means getting your feet wet— definitely has its rewards.
Fly-fishing farm ponds can be enjoyed by anglers of all ages. The steady action is great for introducing novices to the sport, but even experienced fly anglers can appreciate this unique approach to a time-tested fishing favorite.