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Tactics and Tricks for the Backyard Pond

How Much Does it Cost?How do I catch those fish? ('Quck and Dirty')When should I fish here?Where do I need to go?Species
How Much?|How to?|When?|Where?|Fish Species you might see

Nearly every angler has cut his or her teeth on a little body of water near where they grew up.  For some of us it was a neighborhood pond or a neighbor's farm pond, while for the more urban set it was a City park pond festooned with bread-frenzied ducks.  For some it was a small creek or canal but many of the tactics presented here will apply.  For the youngster, these waters hold mysterious monster fish as big as cars, though it only seems like what we caught could probably fit in a grown-up's pocket.  Little did you know that large fish often can and do lurk in these little bodies of water, and even if you don't hook the pond beast, excellent fishing can be had in the little puddle sized ponds of our youth!

Know the ponds ecology and which fish inhabit it and tailor your offerings accordingly.
-Related Articles: --Pond & Lake Ecology, --Pond Tactics

Find out what kinds of fish inhabit the pond.
 If it is a very small, shallow pond this can be as simple as doning a pair of polarized sunglasses and walking around the pond (best done around midday to make sure the sun is in a good spot for viewing), noting what kinds of fish, vegitation, and bottom you see.  If this is a stocked pond (like many Urban Angler Program park ponds are) note the regulations and species posted.  Next, while you are hiking around the pond, look for a few key features: 1) Are there ducks there and do people feed them, 2) Are there any inlet/outlet streams, dams, spillways, or pipes (fountains are inlet pipes), 3) Are there any water plants (above or below the surface)?

Why do I care if they feed the ducks?
Simple, fish are like the ducks and are always out to get a free meal.   If people throw bread or grain to the ducks in the water, the fish like carp, chubs, sunfish, goldfish, rainbow trout, tilapia, etc.  will station themselves near likely feeding spots and wait for the food.  In larger lakes with resident duck populations, the fish may even follow flocks of ducks around (carp are notorious for this one).  To catch the mooching fish, simply put a hook in whatever food the ducks are eating, weight the line just enough so that the ducks can't get the hook (and preferably cast away from the ducks-or even better distact them with food tossed on the shore), and toss it to the fish. WHATEVER YOU DO-DON'T LET THE DUCKS GET THAT HOOK! Be prepared for a quick strike.

Inlets must equal outlets and fish like to feel good.
In cold or hot weather, fish will look for anything that make the temperature (or oxygen) close to their favorite temps.  A fountain, stream or spring can make the water temperature more tolerable to the fish and may even bring them a free meal, so fish near these.  A dam usually has the deepest water in the pond, along with a very sharp dropoff (a natural amush point)-run lures and baits parallel to the dam.  Weeds offer both shelter to small fish, and in a small pond, precious shade from noonday sun (yes-even fish can get sunburned in shallow water).  Fish will move away from the structure only to mate and during peak feeding periods (see pond tactics to see how the fish like to hang out).  Structures like fallen trees, culvert pipes, docks, decks, and even a tall tree on the shore act the same as the water plants.

Every Pond has its Master!

Even a small lake has a grandma fish.  The smaller the lake, the fewer top predators, and a very small lake will usually only have one.  One very small pond in Florida I know was loaded with 10-12" largemouth bass, 4"tilapia (and two 13" tilapia!), and 3" Bluegill, one 21" largemouth, and one 28"+ mega-largemouth (a 10+pounder).  How did I know that? The pond was increadibly clear, had only a few water plants, and was at most 6 feet deep and 100 feet at the longest, so I could see the entire pond and its contents.  For the next three days I manged to catch and carefully release a significant portion of the ponds inhabitants, except for the Pond Master.  That is, until one fateful morning.  I was pitching a POP-R on the surface just after sunrise and had hooked 15 or so fish that morning, all of which where about 10" long, and was about to hang it up for the morning.  I made one more cast, and again hooked another 10-incher.  HOWEVER, as I was fighting in this little bass, a large swirl erupted under my little bass and my poor 4lb spinning reel began to scream in fury! For what felt like forever (actually about 5 seconds) the Pondmaster swam with my little bass protruding from its mouth like a kid with a lollypop.  The battle ended abruptly when the big bass realized that its meal was tethered to my line, and with a final leap tossed the 10" twitching bass and my lure at my feet.  The overall lesson:  The reason there is usually only one master in a small pond is because EVERY OTHER FISH IN THE POND IS ON ITS MENU!

THE BIG KEYS-Stealth and Timing!
Key rule in fishing: If you can see the fish they can see and feel you.  In small bodies of water stealth is critical.  Walk softly near the edges of the pond, in fact I will usually stand at least 10 feet away from the edge of the pond, and make my casts as soft as possible.  Fish in a little pond have a lot to fear in the form of land-walking predators- bears, birds, alligators, snakes, turtles.  Watch your shadow!  If your shadow falls on a fish-chances are that fish will turn tail and hide.  Morning and evening are usually prime feeding times for pond fish, and the bigger the fish and smaller the pond-the shorter the time that they will be likely to eat.  Use bushes and trees to sneek up on shore-facing fish, and cast slowly and smoothly.  In fly fishing especially, watch that line slap! (Fi, wooly worms and poppers are my top 2 pond flies). Small pond fishing has much in common with both hunting and brook trout fishing: use lesson from each to be successful.

Even a little Pond can hold lots of fishing fun, and can hold challenges apleanty.   Big fishing adventure doesn't have to be any further away then your own backyard.

Pics from various small water spots:

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How do I catch them?

Light line, stealth, and timing.  Use the lightest line (2lb to 6lb test is usually good) you feel comfortable with, and fish at sunrise and sunset. A foam bobber and marabow jig is usually an easy to use lure combo, as are: small inline or offset spinners, soft plastic curly-tail 1-16th oz jigs, teeny plugs and crankbaits, and plastic worms. Baitwise: the classic earthworm from the backyard, or grasshopper caught on the bank, or a piece of bread or hot dog from a picnic will work just fine on a size 8 to size 6 hook a foot below a small (i.e. 1 inch) cork or foam bobber. Flywise, a 5-6wgt is usually more than adequate, and I often will use a 3wgt ot 4wgt to make things sporting. Favorite pond flies are wooly worms, wooly buggers, classic size 6 poppers, and chennele bugs or other nymphs under an indicator.   Also see above and Pond Tactics

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When should I fish?

Sunrise and sunset +/- 2 hours are the peak feeding times.  As long as the water is liquid or contains oxygen the fish will eat-so this can be a truly year-round experience.

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Where am I?

While the pond featured in this article was located at Sun City Center, Florida, there are litterally tens of thousands of similar ponds and lakes worldwide.  The same tactics apply just about anywhere.  Look in city parks, farms, larger subdivisions, and on golf courses.  The big trick of course is to make sure you get permission to fish these waters before you make that first cast.  Many cities require an inexpensive city permit in addition to a state licence in the U.S. Most golf courses will let you fish their ponds outside of tee times, and if you ask at the clubhouse. Farms often have irrigation ponds and cattle watering holes that can be outstanding since they hove almost no fishing pressure.  Most farmers will let you fish these ponds if you ask nicely, keep only a few or no fish (or at least give them a couple fish), and use courtesy and common sense cleaning up after yourself and respecting their property.  Look for signs near ponds and lakes and they will usually tell you the rules and permits you need, but when in doubt-ask first.

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Dirt cheap. Most of the time you only need your state license (and if it is on private property, in some states, you don't even need a license! Check First.). Some cities/localities require a cheap fishing permit, and they are usually sold at the city hall.  A farmer may require you to do a little pickup around the pond (litter removal)-ask farmer first.

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Some Fishes you might see:

Most of the USA, and much of Canada may have:

Smallmouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

Black Crappie

Northern Rock Bass

Redear Sunfish


Channel Catfish

Yellow Perch

White Crappie

Green Sunfish

Common Carp

Northern Pike or Pickerel

White Bass or Hybrid White-Striped Bass

Grass Carp



Flathead Catfish

Blue Catfish

Cold Water (or winter stocked, mountain) Ponds and Lakes may also have:

Rainbow Trout

Brown Trout

Brook Trout

Cutthroat Trout

Lake Trout (RARELY)

Southern Ponds, Canals, and marshes in the far southern USA (or Hawaii) May also have:


Other Cichlids like tilapia


Armored Catfish

Suckermouth Catfish

Butterfly Peacock bass

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