River Currents

by Free Speech on February 25, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

by Gary Engberg

©2009 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Farm Ponds Can Be a Hidden Bonanza

This winter, I’ve had a chance to fish some Wisconsin farm ponds in Dane, Columbia, and Sauk Counties. These ponds are often under-fished and can provide some great winter ice fishing opportunities for bluegills, crappies, and even largemouth bass. Read my story and column this week to get in on the action!

Anglers who live in agricultural areas in the Midwest are often familiar with farm ponds since they are relatively common and many of us have grown up fishing these kinds of waters. Ponds are found in much of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest states of Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan. Many of these ponds are natural having been formed by underground springs and dammed creeks. But, most ponds have been dredged or dug by the owners of the land for their own recreation and wildlife habitat. The best ways to find these ponds are: 1) drive around the countryside looking for these waters, 2) get a topographical map of the area you’re interested in and do some exploring which usually means walking, 3) talk to landowners and farmers asking if they may have a pond or know of one in the area that you could fish, and 4) talk to other anglers who are familiar with the area where you’re looking. The best way, in my opinion is to get some good topographic maps and start exploring on your own.

The best time to look for and find these ponds is during the summer or fall when you’re out hunting or walking. You’ll find landowners who might not let you fish during the summer or during the hunting seasons, but will let you fish in the winter. Often, these ponds are saved for the family and friends during the open water seasons. But, wait till deer season is over and there’s snow on the ground before you ask to ice fish. I’ve found people who will let me fish, but I have to release all I catch or all but a few fish. While there are other landowners who don’t care how many fish you catch and keep. But if I had a good day fishing their pond, I’d offer them some fresh, cleaned fish for their enjoyment.

This tasty group of 'gills was the product of a farm pond.

This tasty group of 'gills was the product of a farm pond.

I know a local farmer who has a great little pond (about 5 acres) which is full of nice size bluegills, sunfish, crappies, and a few largemouth bass. In the past, we’ve (me and some volunteers) gotten a permit from the DNR to buy and release fish and forage in the pond. This is a pond that I and a group of counselors and teachers use for a program called “Hooked on Fishing Not Drugs.” Check your state regulations for stocking rules in your area. Most states require a permit for the pond stocking so that the DNR knows what is being put in state waters, especially with all the invasive species that are ruining many lakes, rivers and streams. The states must have control of what is being put in its waters.

Ponds also have a way of stocking themselves with waterfowl and other water birds carrying fish and eggs to the pond. Ducks often get fish eggs on their feet and bodies and accidentally stock ponds. Buying smaller panfish and gamefish from wholesalers and fish farmers is another way to stock a pond and by far the quickest and easiest. The pond that I help stock with bluegills and crappies (3 to 5”) for some children events are relatively cheap and have done well in the pond. We also make sure that some small minnows are always added for food in case the natural forage present is not sufficient for the fish numbers. This pond has been stocked every other year for 5 years and now there are 10 to 12” crappies and bluegills from 7 to 9 “. A majority of the fish are released and the number of fish taken out for eating is very minimal.

This beauty was caught through the ice on a farm pond.

This beauty was caught through the ice on a farm pond.

If you have a pond or access to one be sure and drill all your ice fishing holes first, so you won’t spook the fish later in the day. Try hopping from hole to hole till you find a hot and productive one. It’s nice to bring a flasher (Lowrance) or camera (Acqua-View) with so that you can map out the pond and know what you have for depth and structure. Hopefully, there are trees, wood, weeds, or brush in the pond and around it. Any structure is good structure in a farm pond. Many pond owners will put Christmas trees on ice, so that they sink and provide cover and structure later in the year for open-water fishing.

Looking for farm ponds to fish is something you can do year-round. When hunting or walking in the woods, remember where you saw those ponds you walked by and around. These waters can also be fall hot spots for duck hunting too.

If you find a pond to fish try these simple techniques. Use 2 to 4 # test Berkley Ice line with a barrel swivel on the end to prevent line twist, then tie on a foot to 18 inches of Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon line with a small ice fishing jig, and finally a wax worm or spike on a sensitive rod about 2 or 2 ½ feet long. Always have a spring bobber on the end of your rod to detect the light biters. A spring bobber is one of the most important things to have when ice fishing for panfish and particularly light-biting bluegills. Have a good jig assortment in different sizes and colors and keep changing till you find the jig that works best that day. If you have water that is over 8 to 10 feet, a small split shot may be added above the swivel to keep your line vertical. Then, dress the jig with a couple of wax worms or spikes. Use different jigging cadences or speeds till you find the one the fish want. Some days, plastics like Gulp and Power Bait will out fish live bait so always have some for those times. The more active the fish are the more likely they will like artificials, like Gulp.

This huge 10" bluegill was caught on a farm pond.

This huge 10" bluegill was caught on a farm pond.

Pond fishing can be great in the winter especially if you find one that you have to yourself with a good population of fish. Most ponds are stocked with bluegills and crappies, but largemouth bass are also a good fish for stocking into ponds and seem to exist well with panfish. Last week, I and a couple of friends were surprised when we caught some nice 4 to 5 pond largemouth while fishing for bluegills. The bass were caught on the light tackle that we were using for the ‘gills, so you can imagine the fight! We ended up with 5 bass and all but one was caught on the bluegill gear. The other largemouth was caught on a tip-up with a large shiner. The bass season in Wisconsin lasts till March 1st and then closes till May 2nd when the general fishing season opens in southern Wisconsin.

You may see some of the farm pond fish on my website, www.garyengbergoutdoors.com. There are photos and a video, so check it out. What’s better than a few bluegill fillets frying in a cast iron skillet after fishing in the cold of winter?! Talk about good.

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