Backwoods and Farm Pond Favorites
A day on the lake or at a park full of strip pits is great when you can pull it off, but during the long daylight hours of summer, quick fishing opportunities can also present themselves when the work day ends. Those without boats, with little time or who simply like a more isolated fishing environment can have a lot of fun - and often fill out a stringer of “eating-size” bass and bluegill - by taking a quick hike and wetting a line in a secluded farm pond or woodlot fishing hole.
Hike-in fishing at small, private ponds (with permission, of course) is one of my favorite ways to fish, and it doesn’t require expensive equipment to do it effectively. Good boots or waders are a plus, but other than that, a one-hour fishing trip only calls for a pair of pliers, a stringer, a handy rod & reel setup, and a pocket-sized container loaded with versatile lures. Here are a few favorites I like to keep stashed away in the vehicle for impromptu walk-in fishing:
Short or Collapsible Rods: Trekking through the woods with a long fishing rod is a pain, and depending on your vehicle, stashing one in the car full-time isn’t always practical. In these cases, a short or medium length collapsible rod makes a lot of sense. No, it won’t give you the same feel for the fish as a high-priced, one-piece rod, but it can make up for it in convenience when riding in the trunk of a sedan, on bicycle trips or when you’re pushing your way through thickets. Whether it’s a collapsible or not, keeping the length to a minimum for these types of fishing spots is a good idea, as brush and branches along the edges often allow very limited arcs for casting from the bank.
Fishing Vest: You can get away with stashing enough gear in your pockets to get by on short trips, but if you do this type of fishing very often, a fly-fishing vest is great to have. It allows you to carry more volume and varieties of baits while doing so hands-free. Creative pocket-stuffing will leave you well supplied, and mine is packed with enough goodies that I don’t bother with a tackle box even when I plan on fishing for an entire morning. I wear it when fishing from the bank and I pitch it in the boat when I have time to head out onto small waters.
Versatile Baits: For me, a quick fishing trip like this is strictly for the purpose of putting fillets in the frying pan, so I like to use lures that catch both bass and large bluegill consistently. There are a lot of great lures out there, but here are my favorite go-to baits for small ponds.
The 1/8-ounce Roadrunner in char-truce or white has probably caught more small-pond fish for me than any other bait in the last five years. This bait is basically a glorified crappie jig with a spoon, but it’s not just for crappie. In the 1/8-ounce size it’s large enough that the tiny, time-wasting bluegill which hit it can seldom get it in their mouths to get hooked. Larger bluegill can be caught with it regularly, though, and it’s also proven itself for bass both large or small. I’ve even caught a couple of hungry channel cats on them. Adjust the rod tip angle and retrieve speed to change the depth and you can mix up the presentation by using a smooth retrieve or twitching the rod tip every couple of seconds for a jerky motion.
The Crickhopper by Rebel has also proven to be quite versatile for both bluegill and bass. They make a popper version, but I like the standard Crickhopper because it tends to suspend when it hits the water and then twitches below the surface during the retrieve. Using the gray version early in the year and the yellow one in summer or when the water is murky, these catch a lot of bluegill when tossed into bedding spots. Bass also hit them when you can flick them into good cover, but the treble hooks which come on the lure are a bit dainty for that type of work. To combat that, I simply replace the original rear treble with the next size up and it works just fine. Rebel also makes this type of lure in a similarly sized crawfish configuration that works equally well.
When the fish are hitting the top, I like to switch over to a small jointed lure such as those made by Rapala. Let one of these floaters hit the top and settle while you take up any slack, then, after a short pause, flick the rod tip to make it twitch. Following the twitch and another short pause, keep a smooth retrieve speed and the lure will “swim” just below the surface with the back segment flicking back and forth to simulate a wounded bait fish. I’ve had a lot of fun wading in with chest waders and casting this lure across small necks into spots with stumps or fallen trees. When a fish erupts on it at almost eye level, there’s nothing like it.
If you live in an area where there are a lot of secluded private ponds, quick fishing opportunities like this can scratch the itch without the need for hauling a boat. Considering that many of these ponds are under-fished and overstocked, it also may not be as difficult as you’d think to get permission to remove the occasional stringer of bluegills and small to medium-sized bass. Far removed from the expectations of tournament fishing, that quiet hour you spend with a fishing spot all to yourself is a great stress reliever, and there’s something very liberating about strolling out to a pond with no real agenda and then walking back out with tomorrow’s supper.