Jonathan is an avid tournament bass fisherman. He currently fishes on the Penn State Bass Fishing team. He has placed in the top 15 in multiple FLW BFL tournaments as a co-angler. He competed on the United States Youth Fly Fishing Team, where he placed 11th in the world and was a part of two world championship team gold medals. Jonathan serves as an ANGLR expert to help the ANGLR community constantly improve.
These are where every bass fisherman likely got their start, a local pond that they could get too by bicycle or a via short walk. Ponds are the gateway into an entire world of fishing. So, everyone that has ever fished one has also asked the same question, where should I start fishing? Well with ponds you have one initial advantage, the fish are stuck in that pond. This means sooner or later you will stumble upon the areas the fish are using.
Even in ponds there are areas that the fish will frequent more that others. These are areas that the fish feel more comfortable in and have a good chance of ambushing prey. So, instead of fishing the entire pond we can break it down into these smaller areas to spend the majority of your time on.
It doesn’t matter if the pond is perfectly round and all the same depth with no visible differences, there will be something.
Use The Wind
When first walking up to a pond, the first thing to notice is the wind direction. This is a critical player in where the fish will be in these smaller bodies of water. The wind pushes warm water, macroinvertebrates, bait, and thus bass into these wind-blown areas. People most often just think of it as wind, but what it really does is add current into the pond. The bass use this current to allow the food to come to them. This means they will set up in areas where the wind is pushing the water.
Find The Forage
First thing is first you need to look for when fishing ponds is bluegills, or other predominant forage. If you can find the bluegills, then the bass will be right there somewhere. Next thing is, anywhere there is grass, there is most always going to be bass. This grass has loads of insects that feed on the vegetation. This then attracts the entire food chain, which yes, means bass.
If the entire pond is grass then you need to break it down farther into areas where the grass mixes, or anywhere where the grass comes to an edge. Bass will use these edges as you guessed it, another ambush point. It is an easy area for these fish to travel and catch bait as they come out of the grass.
Key-In On Irregularities
Areas to look for are any irregularities in the pond, lay-downs, rocks, pipes, etc. Fish love to set up on these differences, these differences make the fish feel safer and provide feeding opportunities. These irregularities can also be differences in the banks, this means points and coves. Now these points can be 100 feet long, or they can be a 1-foot difference. It doesn’t matter, the fish will still relate to them. This is all a matter of scale, it will be different for all ponds and you have to figure out what types of irregularities these fish hold on.
Lakes are an entirely different animal, which are in reality the same thing as a pond, just on a much larger scale. The fish now have thousands of acres to roam instead of being confined to a two-acre pond. This means you could theoretically fish all day and not come across a fish. This being said, it just takes a better understanding of what the fish relate to during different times of the year and understanding bass movements from ice off, to ice on.
To understand this, you need to understand the spawn, summer funk, and the fall transition into where fish hang out during the winter months. Understanding these topics will help you better eliminate areas during different times of the year. This large area also means you need to be able to put the puzzle together in a shorter amount of time. It is said that 90% of the fish are caught by 10% of the anglers. This 10% are the anglers that understand fish movement and know how to get on top of them, fast.
Break Down The Body of Water
One of the things that scares most people is the shear size of some of the lakes they look at. Don’t get caught up in what some like to call “’flock shooting”. If you shoot at the whole lake, you’re going to miss the individual spots. Take a lake and break it up into smaller areas. If you can afford to, then go and drive around the lake and note the water color and temperature. This will help you pinpoint an area to start fishing. Once you find the part of the lake that you think looks the best, break that off into one section and focus on that section. This will help you to not overwhelm yourself. The biggest key to fishing a new lake, is covering water. Unless you have exact spots pinpointed that you want to hit with slow moving baits, or you find an area that you think “has to have a fish on it”. Then your best bet is to use something you can cover water with to start giving yourself an idea of where the fish are hanging out.
One thing to remember is that each bite is a piece of the puzzle and the faster you can figure that puzzle out, the more pieces you are going to find. A good rule of thumb, one bite is an accident, two bites is the start of a pattern.
One of the biggest concepts that anglers have trouble understanding is the idea of current in a system. Rivers can be some of the most phenomenal fisheries across the country, but they take a different type of understanding than that of a normal lake or pond.
Rivers take the challenges that anglers already face and they add more elements to that long list.
Don’t get turned away though when you have the opportunity to fish a new river, you may just be surprised at what is hiding out in that swift water. River fish live and die in that current, this makes their muscles that much stronger from constantly fighting the movement of the water. This current also changes how you look at different structures. The biggest mistake people do is cast right where they want their bait to go. With current, you now have to cast above where you want your bait to go to account for the drifting water. This current also changes how the fish position on the different structures we have learned to fish.
Now, you have to figure out what fish are holding on, and where on this cover/structure they are holding. This could mean on the upstream side, the meat of the structure, or on the downstream side. To break this down further, the most active fish will be sitting on the upstream side of most of the structure/cover that you are fishing. To sit directly in the current, they have to be feeding to maintain their energy level.
While the most active fish are sitting in the current, the biggest fish will most always be in areas that have substantially less current. In essence, big fish are lazy. They do not want to expend unnecessary energy unless they absolutely have to. So, when you first look at a river, the areas to focus on are areas with current breaks.
The next thing to look for is what is known as seams. A seam is where the current is pushed around obstacles in the river. These seams create feeding lanes where free floating objects, including baitfish, crayfish, insects, etc. will get washed downstream. This means fish will stack up in these seams to take advantage of the relief in current and the river acting like a conveyor belt to bring food to them. A common thing new anglers run into is confusion on what to throw when they first show up to a river. That is an easy question, the same things you throw in any other body of water. You just need to ask yourself the same question, what are you trying to imitate. It depends on what river you are fishing as to what the fish will be feeding on, but a crayfish imitation is never a bad idea. There will always be some species of baitfish and some species of crayfish in these rivers.
So, to effectively fish a river, it’s less about what you fish and more about how you fish it.
Newer anglers often start off throwing baits downstream and bringing them up against the current. You need to put yourself in the fish’s shoes and think about what they see every second of every day. They see bait and other objects drifting past them. So the against the current presentation is a major red flag.
The only place to throw baits up current are in areas where the current is effectively dead. Zero. These are areas where the bait can move around freely. But in rivers, this isn’t the case very often. Most things the fish are eating are drifting past them.
This means you have to emulate that with the baits you are throwing. Focus on throwing your baits at a 45 degree angle, give or take, upstream and bring it slightly downstream but still across the current. This gives the fish a good look at the bait, while not going past the fish too fast.
So, the major concepts to think about when fishing a river system are:
1. How to fish your baits 2. Where to concentrate your efforts
Possibly one of the toughest types of fisheries to figure out in the sport of bass fishing is a tidal fishery. This is a fishery where the tide changes the height of the water according to the time of day. These fish change their position by the minute according to what the tide is doing at that particular time.
This means you could be fishing the right areas but if it is at the wrong time, the fish might not be there or worse they may not be feeding at that particular time. The fish don’t feed consistently during the day, there are heightened peaks of feeding activity with the different tides. This creates a whole new issue when trying to pattern what the fish are doing, because they are always doing something different.
So how do you fish a tidal fishery?
This is a hard concept because you need to have spots for the different tides, the fish will be feeding in different areas during different types of tides. If you have these backwards then you could struggle all day and possibly catch no fish. Don’t let that take you away from these fisheries because they can be absolutely phenomenal, it just takes some experimentation.
So, look for a mix between lake and river areas. These tidal areas will have current on incoming and outgoing tides and this will shift how the fish set up on different current breaks. This will make them act very similar to river fish on where they position to feed. So, what to do? The first day, simply fish everything that looks right for that given time of year, in most tidal fisheries, you can’t go wrong with grass beds. If you fish throughout the day and you are just not getting bit in areas that look good, take what you did on day one and fish the spots on different tides. This will ensure that if you were on the right spots, you weren’t just there at the wrong time.
As far as baits are concerned, it goes back to confidence baits, both moving baits and slow-moving baits. Fish fast to try and get a few bites to key in on where the fish are positioning. After you figure this out, go back with slower baits to thoroughly saturate those areas to see what potential they truly have. These types of fisheries can be very intimidating, but its like anything else on this earth, it just takes practice.