Every one of us had our favorite ‘fishing hole’ that we frequented as a child. Most were within walking distance so we could get home when the street lights came on. It is safe to say that we, as fishermen, mastered our craft on these small, local waters and learned lessons that could later be lent to bigger waters, as the opportunity presented itself. New England has an abundance of small water opportunities for local fishermen. Most of these are glacial ponds, commonly referred to as “Kettle Holes” or “Kettle Ponds”. The shallow ponds were formed as a result of retreating glaciers 10,000–12,000 years ago. Most are no more than 20 or 30 feet deep. Though, one of New England’s most famous glacial ponds, “Walden’s Pond” is roughly 120 feet at its deepest point. For the purposes of this article, and as it pertains to bass fishing, I will be referring to the small, shallow hot spots that provide early Spring fishing.
Typically, these ponds are accessible by land only. If there is an opportunity for boating, fishermen are restricted to paddle or small, electric trolling motors. More often than not, the craft has to be carried in through wooded areas. This is no easy task if you are a lone fisherman. With that said, once you access the shores of these hidden jewels, you will not be disappointed. Though small in size, most of these waters harbor big, aggressive bass and other pan fish that makes the hike worthwhile.
One of the greatest characteristics of these ponds is that they typically ‘light up’ well before the larger lakes and reservoirs in the Northeast. The shallow depths warm up quite fast in the spring sunshine. Fish in these puddles become active earlier than their cousins in the deeper bodies of water. While larger lakes don’t produce until late April or early May, I took my first bass of the 2012 season in late March, from a small body of water in Sudbury, MA. However, as with any good action, there comes an equal and opposite reaction. These same waters, that can be oh so productive for you in the spring, often times become too warm, choked with weed, and therefore somewhat unproductive after Father’s day. It is at that time that I move on to larger ponds, lakes and rivers in the area.
Assess your fishing spot to determine the right lure or bait to use. If water is cloudy or tea stained, you will want to use a darker colored lure to enhance the profile or shadow. You may even want to upsize your rubber worm or lure to make it easier to detect. Most soft plastic lure manufacturers will also use metallic flakes in the lure to create a shimmer. These tend to help fish locate the bait. Keep in mind, if the water is stained or cloudy, there may be fish in the shallows, right at your feet. Murky water with a heavy bio load results in lower oxygen levels in the deeper water. Remember, if you see the fish, they can probably detect you too. Approach the shoreline slowly and quietly so you don’t chase them away before you even start fishing.
On clear water, with visibility between 5 and 20 feet, fish tend to be evenly disbursed throughout the water column and throughout the pond. Clear water holds more oxygen at all levels, allowing the fish to expand their territory in search of food. Under these conditions, I would suggest that you scale down your lure size to more closely match the natural foods present. I would also suggest that you keep the colors more ‘natural’ like shad, watermelon, pumpkin, silvers and greys.
Because small ponds warm up faster than larger bodies of water, you will most likely have to battle with vegetation, both on the surface and subsurface. Heavy mats of floating vegetation may make it impossible to get spinner baits, crank baits, and other subsurface baits to the fish. In this case, a weedless, topwater frog would be a perfect choice. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a 4 pound bass blow through a weed mat and inhale your bait!
I typically take two spinning rods with me to these ponds. One is spooled with 6 to 10 pound monofilament line. This is my finesse rod. It is perfect for clear water when fishing soft plastic baits, spinners, crank baits or jerk baits. The other is spooled with a braided line, and typically 20 pound or more. The small diameter of the new braids allows for more line on the spool and a heavier line is needed for horsing big bass out of weed mats and other heavy cover. This rod is used for topwater frogs and other baits that I use in dark, weed choked waters. In this environment, fish typically can’t see the lure, or the line, so you need not worry about spooking them with the braid. If you are concerned about finicky fish spotting the braided line, you can use a monofilament leader for the last 2 ot 3 feet of the rig.
Remember to tread lightly and help protect these ponds. Practice catch and release and keep only what you might eat. Take out more trash than what you brought in with you and help preserve the fishery for the next generation of kids who will, like you, learn their way on these local hotspots!