There is a series of eight ponds half a mile from my house that I have never fished.
Crazy, right? The main deterrent to fishing this prime water was the density of “no fishing” signs all along the banks. I’ve explored all the other ponds in the immediate area (especially now that my main form of transportation is bicycle) and have been looking for some bigger fish in the cold, muddy water.
The other day I got a tip from a fellow angler – always the best source of intel- that there were big fish in this set of ponds, and those in charge didn’t care if you fished there… In spite of the “no fishing” signs.
At lunch I set out to do some recon, pedaling hard against the bitter cold wind. From my bicycle seat perch I surveyed the area, noting the locations of all the “no fishing” signs, the rip-rap, overhanging trees (especially the willows- I hear bass love willow trees), and perhaps most importantly the likely locations of security guards in the nearby office buildings.
Deep in the office complex, I found a large pond that seemed to be devoid of signs. I found some spots far away from the buildings. This is where I’d fish.
I returned after work, after all the office workers had left, once the complex was deserted except for a few joggers taking advantage of the paved path. Although the sun was shining, it was still bitter cold. The wind was blowing almost due east, so I decided to fish the windblown bank on the east side. This also happened to be the area I chose earlier- far from buildings, partially obscured by trees.
I parked my bike, assembled my spinning gear, and started casting. On my lunchtime scouting mission I noted the water was incredibly muddy with only a few inches visibility, so I brought some big bright spinners. I love fishing with a fly rod, but it seems to me I need to create a lot of vibration in muddy conditions like this. Seemed like the best way to do so was with a big spinning lure. I started fishing with a chartreuse spinnerbait tipped with a black twister tail. Some say muddy water calls for bright colors, some say dark colors- I figured I’d fish with both at once and double my odds.
Every cast I expected a security guard to emerge from one of the many buildings and begin walking toward me. From my vantage point I would be able to see this happen, and have ample opportunity to hop on my bike and escape if needed.
But they never came.
Joggers passed, walkers walked, but nobody stopped. Someone taking a smoke break across the pond watched me, but never said anything.
Suddenly, at the end of my retrieve, my spinner was smacked right at my feet- just a few inches away from the shore! There was a tremendous splash, and the fish tried running deeper into the pond. Since it was so shallow and so close, I could see immediately it was a very nice sized bass. Whoohooo!!
There wasn’t much of a battle. I was giddy with quiet excitement as I lipped the bass and pulled it out of the water. It felt like a monster. Compared to most of the fish I’ve been catching, it certainly was.
I realized this was probably my first bass of the year! In all my trips so far, I’d yet to find bass active enough to eat a fly or take a lure. I marveled at the piercing red eyes and fat belly of the beast in my hands.
I’ve caught bigger bass, and fish that gave me more of a fight; but catching a nice fish like that in a new spot- so close to home, in such muddy water- was a huge accomplishment. I forgot about the brutally cold bike ride as I admired the giant bucket mouth of my catch.
The fish back in the water, I held it there to revive it. Soon it splashed it’s large tail and returned to the dark water.
I kept fishing for another two hours, gradually working my way along the shoreline. I must have gotten at least ten hits from fish- definitely bass- but I couldn’t connect with any more.
They were tentative hits. The water was cold. It didn’t matter- I was so happy to have caught one at all.
Periodically a fish splashed at the surface, and each time I could see a pale green back just above the water for a split second. More bass. At one point I could have sworn I saw a bass mouth just barely break the surface and eat a little bug. Every now and then I saw tiny white bugs- maybe a size #18- floating on the surface, struggling. I couldn’t believe it; do bass really eat things that small? Would it be possible to catch a big bass on a tiny dry fly in muddy water?
The fish seemed to be very close to the bank in very shallow water. I concentrated my efforts there, and continued to get a hit every now and then. It seemed they were nipping the tail of the plastic on my spinnerbait. I considered removing the plastic, but was half-sure that was half the appeal of the lure.
Eventually I switched lures and tried fishing some of my newly completed crankbaits. One in particular had amazing side to side action in the water, although it failed to connect with any fish.
As I rode home along the asphalt path, I saw something on the ground that made me brake suddenly, screeching my tires.
It was a big crayfish.
Well, half of a big crayfish. It looked fairly fresh- I gathered one of the many birds in the area pulled one out of shallow water and enjoyed the delicious tail section, discarding the pointy front end. The fact that there are craws that big in those waters gave me another reason to return to fish these ponds… “No fishing” signs or not.