Monday, July 15, 2024

See the pond, fish the pond

by MARTIN KOENIG / Contributing Writer
| July 3, 2024 1:00 AM

Urban ponds are a huge resource for Idaho anglers. There are over 60 just in the Southwest Region alone, and they’re common throughout the state. If your local city park has a pond, chances are good to excellent it has some fish in it. Fish and Game stocks rainbow trout in local ponds about half the year while water temperatures are cold enough. In addition, most ponds also have some "warmwater" fish, such as bass, sunfish (bluegill, pumpkinseed) and you might even find a yellow perch or crappie.

Ponds are a convenient option to get your fishing fix without investing a lot of time or money. They are kid-friendly places that make for a fun local adventure for a few minutes or a few hours. Many ponds have parks nearby with playgrounds and bathrooms. Combine some fishing with throwing a frisbee, doing some birdwatching or walking the dog to vary the activities and round out your trip. 

It's important to have realistic expectations when pond fishing. Most anglers are unlikely to catch a limit of fish, or catch the trophy fish of your dreams, but you're guaranteed to get out of the house and enjoy some relaxing time outdoors. Kids love being around ponds, and while fishing may be the focus, let them roam, explore and play. A positive experience will make them want to do it again. 

Here are five tips for pond fishing:

Timing is important

Ponds have seasonal patterns, just like big lakes or rivers. Match your tactics to the season, and don't forget fish tend to be most active during mornings and evenings — especially when it gets hot in summer. 

Cooler weather will favor trout, which prefer water temperatures in 50-60s, and when it reaches mid 70s the fish get stressed and stop biting. Pond trout fishing is typically best in October/November, then again during late winter through late spring. This is also when most of the stocking occurs. But with Idaho's varied geography and elevations, some ponds at higher elevations stay cooler and may fish just fine during summer, while lower elevation ponds will likely get too warm for trout. 

Warmwater fish (bass, bluegill) prefer ... well, warm water, but avoid peak summer temps, or fish mornings and evenings when things are cooler. You might also seek out naturally cooler ponds, such as those fed by springs, shaded by trees or near rivers where the groundwater keeps them cooler. That's all part of the exploration. Bass/bluegill will be your primary targets during summer months when water is too warm in many ponds to stock trout. 

On another note, kids are excited to catch any fish. Catching a sucker, carp or other nongame fish (don't call them trash fish!) will give a kid (or an adult) a thrill just like any game fish. 

Ponds are mixed fisheries, so mix up your tackle too

While ponds may have trout, bass or panfish, one basic fishing rod should be all you need to be an urban pond master.  A 5 ½ - 7 foot rod, and a reel spooled with 4-pound test line will cover just about everything. Most of the fish are small, so an ultralight setup can maximize “fun size” bass, trout and panfish and make the fight of small fish feel much bigger. 

I also like to bring two rods — one set up for bobbers, or a sliding sinker bait rig, and the other set up for lures or soft plastics. Longer rods cast farther, which can help get your bait out to the fish. 

Don't shy away from using your favorite tackle and fishing tactics, but also don't overthink it. Nearly every fish species in Idaho will eat an earthworm. 

Essential trout tackle:

¼-ounce sliding sinker rig, No. 6 baitholder hook, and classic baits like worms or powerbait

1/16 – 1/8-ounce metal spoons (like a Kastmaster)

Inline spinners (such as Mepps, Roostertail, Bluefox vibrax are good choices)

Clip-on bobber with a small weight or jig with a worm  

Advanced tip: try a slip float with trout-focused jigs and soft plastics, adjust until you find the right depth

Essential bass tackle: 

1/8-ounce spinner bait — white, white/chartreuse are good choices (just pick a small one). Cast it out, reel it in. 

3-4-inch plastic ‘stick bait’ (i.e. Senko), weedless rigged 1/0 widegap hook

Bluegill: Clip-on bobber (slip float rig for you advanced anglers), 1/16 ounce or 1/32 ounce jigheads, tiny softplastics or piece of worm

Advanced tip: try fly-fishing by stripping a No. 12 beadhead nymph, or small surface popper with rubber legs

Check F&G's stocking information, and the Fishing Planner

Trout stocking happens fairly predicable schedule, which can be seen in the stocking history on the Fishing Planner. The Fishing Planner is your No. 1 resource to find stocking data, but also see if bass/bluegill might live in that pond

Counterpoints: forget the stocking info, just go fishing

Stocking is much more important for trout fishing, but ponds have consistent bass and bluegill populations too. Some ponds only get stocked trout once a month, and there may be a summer hiatus when it's too hot, so it could be weeks before more fish arrive. But that doesn't mean you can't catch fish. 

Bass/bluegill don’t typically get “stocked” on regular intervals because they typically reproduce on their own. Keeping this in mind, and you may consider limiting your harvest of bass and bluegill. Ponds can get a lot of angling effort, and there’s no hatchery source for bass/bluegill to quickly replace harvested fish. Ponds can't generally produce large populations of fish like a lake or reservoir can produce, so limiting your harvest means more fish available for future outings. 

Embrace the variety and exploration

There’s a ton of ponds out there. Not all of them have good fishing, or have good fishing all the time. Move around between ponds to try your luck and check out different options. Use ponds as a way to explore and experiment with your fishing techniques. There’s often several ponds within a short drive of each other, so you might plan to visit several ponds in the same day to explore different options and make a short trip last longer. 

We like to hit a pond, grab a snack or ice cream, then change venues to try other spots. Not all ponds are public. Many neighborhoods have their own ponds for residents only. Respect private property and ask permission (but don’t overlook that option if you have legal access to those ponds.)

There is a huge variety in the habitat, accessibility and fish populations between ponds. And be a little sneaky and seek out those hard-to-reach fishing spots rather than just the well-used ones. You may be pleasantly surprised what lurks there. 

Ponds can be deceptively productive and a huge amount of fun that are minutes away from home. You just have to adjust your expectations, take the time to learn them and be satisfied knowing that anytime fishing is usually better than time spent on the couch. 

Martin Koenig is Idaho Fish and Game's Sportfishing Coordinator, and an avid pond angler with his son, Miles.