No More Guess Work

downloadA friend of mine took me fishing one Saturday on his family’s property just south of Montgomery, AL.  We know each other from Birmingham Pro Painters where we had both gotten estimates on www.birminghampropainters.com.  They had a five acre pond, but weren’t sure what fish were in it.  They’d fished it, but got little bites.  They thought of stocking it, but hesitated before knowing for sure if they needed to.

So, we were casting our lines to no avail.  We tried lures, worms, crickets, heck, he even went to the house and brought pieces of hot dog and dog food to entice the fish.  Not a nibble.  Then his brother showed up.

Jake lived away and didn’t get home much.  It was good to meet him and check his new ride, a Hummer.  This was the full-sized version with all the options and all shiny.  It even had the underwater snorkel.  I remarked at how we could use that to see if there were any fish in the pond.  I was joking, of course.  “Let’s find out!” said Jake.  “Y’all climb in.”

Never in a million years did I think he was serious about submerging his shiny new Hummer in several feet of water and mud.  I laughed, “Yea, right.”  “No, I’m serious,” he said, “This is what I bought it for.  It’s not a boulevard cruiser!”  And with that we piled in.  Arriving at the pond’s edge, he put it into 4WD Low and eased it into the water.  Headlights and fog lamps on, we looked around our make-shift submarine.  To our amazement, there were plenty of fish!  Bass, bream and crappie mostly and some were nice sized.  We were like wide-eyed kids.  We also spotted the vegetation and a couple felled trees and Jake remarked that there should be more for the fish to hide around and do what fish do.  Pulling out of the pond, I breathed a sigh of relief that Jake didn’t get that truck stuck on the bottom.  It was pretty solid and sandy, so that’s why.

“I wonder why the fish haven’t been biting?” my buddy asked.  “You gotta start feeding them,” replied Jake.  “Get ‘em used to free lunch, then start casting your hooks.  If that doesn’t work, call me and we’ll drag a net behind the Hummer.”  It was a joke of course.

“Yea,” I replied dryly.  “It takes the guesswork out of it.”

BUILDING A POND – THE BASICS

AAAAAAAAAAAAALAST POND

I love pond fishing.  I love it much I’ve been chased out of every private pond in three counties.  I just never seem to to notice the Posted sign!  There are a lot of ponds that aren’t posted, but I treat them all the same.  Recently, I began dreaming of creating my own pond.  

There are myriads of articles online about the subject.  I have friends who have ponds on their properties (the ones I don’t get chased out of) who talk about maintaining their pond, but they didn’t build it.  So my research began.  Hiring a pond consultant (yes, they exist) will really help if after you study it out and are serious.

First of all, you have to apply for the necessary permits.  Yea, you have to get the government’s permission to build a pond on your land.  Key word is “your.”  And you pay them a lot of money for it.  So with that sticking in my craw, I moved on the the next step.

You have to have some acreage.  You need five acres of land for every acre of water for the runoff to support your pond.  Got it.  Then, you have to consider what’s under the topsoil. Clay is necessary because it holds water.  If you don’t have it, you have to haul it in and clay is expensive.

Next, you have to draw-up a blueprint with your pond consultant, kind of like building a house.  Take into consideration the pond’s size, the bass habitat, slopes, gravel, vegetation and the like.  Then, whatever fish-food that will support the bass.  Best are bluegill,  perch, fathead minnows and shad.

So, how much money are we talking about?  For a five acre pond, you’re looking at around $25,000.  That’s an investment that will benefit your family for generations. That doesn’t include the plaque so they won’t forget your sacrifice.

A good source of research is your local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Also Agriculture Handbook #590 and check out www.nrcs.usda.gov.  You will probably want to do what I did first and that’s Google-search “How to build a pond for articles, tips and advice.

Good luck with your pond project and don’t forget to invite me over when it’s finished!

MY POND FISHING EDUCATION

So Chad, my angler friend and I were hanging out on a cold, rainy Spring day watching one of the sports channels when a fishing show came on.  Chad, a fisherman at heart immediately became excited.  “That’s what we need to do real soon! The water will be warming up and the Bass will will be biting.”  He was animated in his exuberance.  Winter had left him stir-crazy and he was anxious to reel-in the big lunkers.

“We?” I asked teasing.  “Do you have a minnow in your pocket?”  The last time I went fishing with you, I’m the only one that caught anything.”  “Yea, I remember.  And you need to come pond fishing with me so I can redeem myself.  I’ll show you how to fish the small ponds that have been there for decades.  I know all the best ones.  Trust me…”  I knew what was coming.  “I’ll catch fish?” I said with a wry grin.  “You caught fish last time, even if they were small.  Spring Bass are big enough for the grill.”

So that Saturday in Spring came when we loaded up his truck and headed to some farmland where there was an abandoned pond.  It was small and the land wasn’t posted.  Chad explained that there’s only a few things you have to know to catch nice sized bass.

Being a smaller body of water, ponds warm up quicker than larger lakes.  Winds do not cool them as much and they’re more shallow.  The bottom sediment is quicker to absorb and hold the heat of the sun.  Vegetation growing in the shallow parts absorb the sun’s heat as well, so consequently, the smaller ponds get to the right feeding temperature early.

Bass, Chad explained, like to feed in water above fifty degrees and it will reach that in the shallows first.  They won’t be as skittish as in the summer when they’ve been hassled by all the fisherman and being Spring, they’ll be hungry as a bear.  They’ll be anxious to get into the warmer water early, so they’ll be feeding under the cover of trees in about twelve inches of water near the banks.

ideal pond

So we put-in with the oars this time and quietly paddled to the opposite side of the pond.  There were some overhanging trees near the edge and that’s where Chad cast his first line.  He used a small spinner lure and expertly placed it out from where he wanted it to end up.  Quickly reeling, he brought it under the tree.  “Fish on!” he exclaimed quietly but with enthusiasm.  Reeling, he brought the fish to the boat.  It was a nice sized largemouth big enough to feed both our mouths.  I was impressed.  Next, I cast a line and caught another bass, this one a little smaller, but definitely a keeper.D

We fished that pond and a couple others before we called it quits that day.  We hauled in a nice catch and had fish on the grill for lunch.  Serving it over rice and with a side of vegetables, we ate our fill and washed it down with a couple beers.  I learned a lot that morning about pond fishing and Chad felt redeemed from the last time we went.  With his pride mended and bellies full, it was time for a nap.

We cleaned up later.

 

 

 

THE TEACHING POND

small pond

A few years ago, I rented a house in the country in a small unincorporated community in Alabama. It was surrounded by woods and horse pastures and had a small drainage pond on a vacant lot beside it. The owner said there were fish in it, but nothing of any size worth keeping. I thought I would walk out there and see what I could learn about fish.

Taking my walking stick and a few leftover bread crusts, I donned my polarized sunglasses and headed over there. The pond was small, with an inlet at one end which allowed water drainage from the lot next to it. I stood there for a few minutes and saw nothing beneath the surface with my polarized shades. Then, I tossed a few breadcrumbs into the water. Suddenly there was activity. Small fish began to surface for an easy snack. Delighted, I threw some more crumbs into the water. The feeding continued until I was out of bread. Well, that day I learned that fish are not shy about free lunch.

The next day, I walked out with a lawn chair and some more bread. More of the same response. Throughout my time there, when I had some bread crusts, I would go feed the fish.
They began to expect it. When I would get to the edge of the pond, they would be lined up in ranks by size. I realized that they got used to the vibrations of my footsteps approaching and would come to the edge. First would be the little hatchlings right on the edge. Behind them would be the larger fish looking about two inches long and last would be the larger fish measuring about three to four inches. I guessed the larger they were, the more they felt like prey, eating fish, so they were more shy. I was not a predator with no fishing rod in my hand, but one day a predator showed up.

It was a snapping turtle. It’s shell measured about a foot across. This dinosaur came boldly to the edge to snatch some free morsels. The problem was, it scared the little hatchlings close to the edge. So I smacked it on the shell with my walking stick and it swam off. Five minutes later, it was back in the same spot. This time, it was oblivious to my stick, so I put the end under its shell and gave it a flip. Well, this turtle had never been flipped backwards before, so it scurried off. After gaining its nerve, back it came! Apparently, this was one tough turtle. So we played the game a few more times and every time it came back in shorter time intervals.

I learned a few things about fish during that experience. First, they are always up for free lunch. Second, they will learn to expect it. Third, they will get used to you and fourth, something will come to crash the party. Oh, and if you ever see any eating-sized fish? Soften them up with all of the above and then bring your rod and reel!

“YOU’LL CATCH FISH!”

I love to fish.  I’m no good at it, but I love to get out with a rod in my hand and relax.  My philosophy about fishing is simple:  Sit back on the dock in a lawn-chair, cooler by my side, sunglasses and sunscreen on, relax, unwind, and really don’t care if I catch anything.   That way, I’m not disappointed.   Nobody can accuse me of not doing anything, being lazy, wasting daylight, or the like.  Hey, I’m fishing!  It’s a perfect excuse to relax.

I do love to catch fish, you know.  I don’t mind cleaning them and I sure don’t mind grilling them.  Eating them?  Love to do that.  Trout or bass served over a bed of rice with just the right touch of seasoning is my idea of a great meal.  So when a friend offered to take me fishing, I was more than up for it.

“I know this great spot on the river.”  Chad said.  “I have a friend who lets me borrow his boat when he’s not using it and I go a lot.  It’s a great spot and I do really well.  I guarantee you, you’ll catch fish!”

So Chad picked me up in his Chevy S-10 truck and off we went for the river.  We got to the spot and hitched the boat.  It was a fourteen foot flat-bottomed john boat with two seats and a 9.9 horsepower outboard engine.  I was excited.  This combo was perfect for river fishing.

They say that getting there is half the fun, but that would be an understatement.  That little boat skimmed  across the water with some pretty descent fun-factor.  Just a summer boat ride would have sufficed, but we were fishing and I couldn’t wait to get to this productive spot.   Chad slowed the boat and cruised quietly into a cove.

It looked perfect.  Overhanging trees, felled logs in the water, secluded and quiet.  Even with my limited fishing knowledge, I could tell that this was an ideal spot.  So we cast our lines.  I had never fished from such a small boat before, and this was poor-man’s fishing (the boat is borrowed, remember?).  Chad brought a single oar.  “Why just one oar?” I asked.  He explained that he used it to paddle short distances and to change the position of the boat relative to the shore.  The motor, he said, would scare the fish.  He even suggested that we speak in hushed tones.  How well he knew me!

We sat there and sat there.  Nothing.  Not even a nibble.  As time went by, Chad became more impatient.  Apparently, he didn’t share my philosophy on fishing.  Finally, he said, “We’re going somewhere else.  I know another spot where the fish will definitely be biting.  We’ll have better luck there.”  And then he said it again, “You’ll catch fish!”

After another fun boat ride, we eased into another cove, cast our lines and a minute later, I caught a small crappie.  I was going to throw it back, but Chad said there was enough meat on that fish to make it a keeper, so I threw it into the cooler on ice.  After a couple minutes more, I caught a bigger crappie.  Delighted, I threw that one on ice.  Then, to my delight, I caught a bigger one than that!  I was on a roll! “This place is great! I’m catching one fish after another!”  Chad didn’t share my enthusiasm.  He hadn’t caught any, and his frustration showed.  He was determined to catch something and after an hour, neither one of us got a nibble.

Firing-up the motor we headed up-river for the pickup.  Chad was in a fowl mood.  The best part of my day was the boat ride.  He hadn’t caught a thing, but he was right when he said, “You’ll catch fish!”

The Silky Smooth Pond

I have to say that a farm pond would be my favorite choice.  It is nothing fancy but I tell you one thing it is definitely private.   The value is the complete control of the eco-system.  Whether you are going for brim or bass you as the owner have the complete ability to choose.

The other part of the equation is that it is completely your choice. You as the owner can be the last line of defense in what is to be swimming around in your very non fancy type pond.  Up keep is minimal and the dividends are somewhat controllable.

If I were a novice I would certainly determine which species live in harmony with each other.

George