If you like to fly fish for warm water species such as bass and panfish, you may well focus on large lakes like Frederick, Anna, Moomaw and Smith Mountain. But some of the best sport with the long rod for these gamefish takes place on smaller waters – farm ponds, stock tanks and tiny natural lakes on creeks that have been backed up by beaver dams.
The reason these waters are so appealing is that mostly they are shallow to medium in depth. That is perfect for the fly fisherman. Another advantage is that the fish are confined in a fairly small area. Almost every time you lay out a cast, you know you’re putting your offering in front of the quarry.
A rod of 8-9 feet for a 6-8 weight line is perfect. Make sure it has a bit of backbone, though. I like to use a floating bass bug or weight-forward taper fly line, with a sinking tip or hi-density sinking tip line kept handy on another spool or reel for when fish are holding deep. Backing isn’t necessary. You’ll rarely have a fish strip much line off the reel after it’s hooked.
Add a tapered leader to the end of the fly line of about 6-10 feet in length. I like store-bought knotless ones, so weeds don’t catch on the leader. If weeds aren’t a problem, you can tie your own. The tippet or end of the leader should test 4-10 pounds, depending on the size of bass present and the amount of cover or whether you’re focusing on bluegills and other panfish.
I approach farm ponds with a fly rod the same way I do with spinning or baitcasting tackle. I divide the pond into three depth zones – shallow, medium and deep. During spring through fall, I fish the shallow end early in the morning, the mid-depths from around 8 or 9 ‘til noon, the deep water from then until mid-afternoon. Then I reverse the process.
During the winter, use the opposite approach. The shallows can be productive during midday when the sun warms them, while the medium and deep waters are better early and late.
For shallow water fishing, nothing can compare with the thrill of watching a bass bust a popper or deer hair bug twitching on the surface. Size 6-2/0 bugs are useful, but the specific pattern or color of the bass bug isn’t usually too important. White, black, orange, purple and chartreuse have all been productive for me. What’s more important than color is to have extra-sharp hooks and deliver the fly smoothly and quietly, so the line doesn’t splash loudly on the water and spook the fish.
Work poppers and deer hair bugs with soft twitches and long pauses in between. If this doesn’t produce, go to a faster, louder presentation. Sometimes a slow, steady hand-twist retrieve is best of all.
For the middle levels of a pond, stick with the floating line and probe any cover such as weeds or fallen trees with the poppers and deer hair bugs. Drop them as close to the structure as possible. If no strikes come, switch to streamers.
Good patterns include the Zonker, Sculpin, Marabou Muddler, Flashabou Muddler, Clouser Minnow and Whistler. Leech and nymph flies can also be deadly when probing this middle zone. Work the streamers with a spurting retrieve, the nymphs and leeches with a slow hand-twist motion.
When action slows in the shallows and transitions zones of the pond, switch to your sinking or hi-density sinking line, shorten the leader and use the same nymphs and streamers employed in the middle level of the pond. Be sure to allow your flies to sink close to the bottom before beginning your retrieve in these deepest waters. You just may wind up hooking the biggest bass of the day in the dark, shadowy waters near the dam.
No, I’ll never give up spin fishing or baitcasting for pond bass and panfish, but these small confined waters seem custom-made for the fly-rod angler. Give them a try and I think you’ll agree.