Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fishing New Jersey Ponds

New Jersey ponds especially offer fair to excellent largemouth bass fishing; some are loaded with pickerel, particularly in the Pine Barrens; some are stocked with trout. Unlike in Massachusetts, where I have caught smallmouth bass in a two or three acre pond, smallmouth in New Jersey seem mostly limited to streams, small rivers, the Delaware, lakes, and reservoirs. I know of one pond of about 12 acres with smallmouths. But even ponds you can cast clear across from almost any vantage have largemouths. I once caught a 20-incher in a quarter acre pond.

Ponds get overlooked by those of us who like lakes. So as long as those who do fish them release their catch, fish populations remain stable and often are found to be abundant. No better place seems to exist for a young person to develop a value for fishing than small ponds of a few acres or so.

And no better place exists to start the open water season if you want to catch largemouths early, even before the ice melts on Lake Hopatcong. Pond ice melts first. Since ponds are usually much shallower than lakes, they warm faster too. If a pond is shallow enough, an early March afternoon warm enough, bass may be caught on surface plugs while ice fishermen get the last flags of the season on Hopatcong. I know of ice fishermen who did this on an 80 degree March day.

This winter we may have little ice fishing at all. But ponds also freeze first. First ice is best ice, the "black" ice before any snow falls on it. Sometimes this clear ice is available only for a short window of time, only on small ponds.

General Approaches

Most of New Jersey's ponds are impoundments ranging from about an acre to 20 acres or more. Usually you can fish the bank all the way around, and bass will typically frequent shallow water during the warm water seasons.

The "once over" is the term of description the fishing mentor I knew during my teens used to describe the simple method of walking the bank and casting shallows usually parallel to the bank ahead. You progress as you cast ahead of where you casted last, covering all the shallows. Good lures for this approach include spinnerbaits, jerk baits, topwater plugs, Senkos, and other plastic worms.

Fishing a pond can be as subtle as you make it, although bass are selective to some degree themselves. If you want to catch a lot of them and raise the odds of hooking a lunker when they feed aggressively as a front approaches and barometer falls, don't waste time fishing plastic worms. That's too slow. Retrieve a spinnerbait at a good clip, and first try buzzing it at the surface, or try a buzzbait first.

You can impose limitations on yourself as to how you wish to catch a bass. If the pond has 10 foot depths, you might try to catch any bass only in those depths. I knew of an elderly man who fished only Senkos at Sunrise Lake (actually a three acre pond). But he knew how to fish them and caught 17 bass at 20 inches and slightly better in a single year. I have no doubt he caught every 20 inch bass in the pond, which probably numbered fewer than half a dozen. But a five pound bass is usually no sucker. So to catch it half a dozen times inside a year took skill.

A very few people approach ponds as a place to exercise their skills with certain methods they are trying to perfect. They mess around with topwater plugs, for example, just to see if they spontaneously discover something they can replicate on a tough lake.

But a pond is never a bathtub, and even a bathtub with a bass in it--would still have a bass in it, a living being with changeable sensitivities. In our teens my friends and I took our pond fishing seriously, and I still reflect on this with great respect. For more on ponds: look to the right margin, click on "ponds" under the labels heading.

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