It's an unfortunate fact that bass fishing anywhere near the highest level requires significant monetary input. Buying and maintaining a boat, traveling, entry fees, and keeping a stocked tackle box will really put the squeeze on your wallet. Trust me, I know.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to catch bass, including some giants, without doing any of those things. Almost every single pond in America will have bass in it. Chances are there is a place walking distance from your home where you can catch bass. Knowing how bass behavior differs in these smaller bodies of water can increase your chances of having a great day, or catching the fish of a lifetime.
Bass are bass. No matter where they live, they are still the same creatures that have the same needs. The environment of a pond and that of a lake are very different, though, which creates some key differences in how bass attempt to satisfy those needs.
Supply and demand
One of the primary differences between pond fishing and lake fishing is reflected by the concept of supply and demand. In a lake, the supply of the essentials a bass requires to live tends to exceed demand, sometimes by quite a bit. In a pond, it’s usually the other way around. There is typically a shortage of food and cover. Many ponds have no cover at all. These factors combine to make the bass more opportunistic feeders and more nomadic.
Most ponds also don’t have shad. Larger ponds occasionally will, but the majority of small water will not have any. Bass forage typically consists of tiny minnows that spend their lives on the bank and bugs for the smaller fish, and bream, crawfish, and other bass for the larger fish.
There are two classifications that most ponds will fall under, which we'll get into in a second. First, though, it's important to understand that most ponds, regardless of classification, will have a dam side and a creek side. This is super important in understanding bottom layout. The dam is where the stream that fed the pond was dammed. The deepest water will be on this side. Look for the steepest straight man-made looking bank in the pond. It will usually have a drain close by. That is your dam side. Another reliable indicator is that the bank is directly opposite the inflow.
Opposite that is the creek side, where the creek or stream that feeds the pond flows in. This is usually very shallow and flat, will often contain a small flat or island that formed from sediment buildup, and will obviously contain a creek. There will only ever be one dam bank, but there can be multiple inflows.
Below is an example of a structureless pond. Most ponds fit into this category. Note how it's basically a hole in the ground. There are no points, pockets, or significant changes in topography.
Ponds that have some amount of structure to their physical makeup are typically much easier to pick apart. Most ponds, especially smaller ones, offer no structure, thus offering bass nothing obvious to relate to. This makes fish location magnitudes more random, but still relatively easy to figure out, especially since these ponds are usually smaller.
Below is an example of a structure pond. Note the numerous points, creeks, and outward-facing corners.
Structure ponds are easier to break down because they have, well, structure. You’ll typically find more bass in one area, and there are obvious places to start your search. The drawback is these ponds tend to be larger, meaning your search will likely take longer.
Where and how to conduct your search will depend on what time of year you're fishing. The seasonal behavior of pond bass is generally the same as lake bass. They are motivated by the same factors, but those motivations manifest themselves differently because of the environmental differences.
Winter is often about going straight to the deepest water in the pond. Ponds that have flood drains typically have them in the deepest water or at least close to it if you need a landmark. Fish are almost always around these in the coldest part of the year. Even if there is no drain, you’ll bump into fish eventually if you fish slow and cover the deepest water available
Another approach, which is more for structure ponds, is to find deep water next to what we’ll call a feeding area. A feeding area could be an inflow, a shallow pocket, or a point (most ponds don’t have points, but the occasional one will). It doesn’t need to be the deepest water in the pond, but it needs to be relatively deep compared to the rest of the pond. These areas of deep water will typically have fish too.
This is the pond I grew up fishing. I consistently caught winter bass in three places. You’ll note the red circle is the deepest water in the lake. The blue circle is adjacent to a shallow pocket, but the water where I would actually catch fish was out towards the middle where it was deep. The green circle was also deep but in close proximity to an inflow drain.
Bass in the spring are doing the same things in ponds they are in lakes, which is migrating from their winter spots to shallow water to spawn. The difference can be found when considering how far bass travel to do this. On many ponds, especially smaller ones, the distance between a winter spot and where a bass will eventually make a bed can be covered by one cast. This is especially true for the bigger fish, which will often spawn right on the dam itself.
Bass will spawn on almost any bank in a pond. They don’t typically conduct a full migration in any large numbers to any specific place. They just kind of drift up to the bank and get going, especially in smaller structureless ponds. In larger ponds with actual creeks and arms, you’ll usually find larger numbers in those areas, but not even close to every fish will travel into those to reproduce. This is a great time to target the corners at the dam of the pond. We’ll get more into those later, but big bass always use those this time of year.
Covering water and fan casting areas with a moving bait is a great way to catch big numbers of pond bass this time of year. My personal favorite is a weightless fluke in watermelon or green pumpkin. If your water is exceptionally dirty, a small spinnerbait or crankbait can do some damage as well. You have to keep these baits off the bottom though, lest they pick up all sorts and leaves and crap.
Summer can be a goofy time in ponds, especially late summer. The water gets super hot, the fish can’t typically get deep enough to benefit from the cooler temperatures of deep water, and they’ll often just get grumpy. Because of this, two things happen. If there is any cover available in the pond that provides consistent shade, they’ll be on it. Always fish anything that provides shade this time of year.
The second thing that will happen is the bass will feed mostly in low light, meaning early in the morning or late at night. I can’t tell you how many days I had fishing ponds where I would barely catch anything until the sun started to fall, and then catch a ton. Fishing the sunset is the best time to catch pond fish during the summer.
If you must fish in the blazing summer heat, focus on the deeper water in the pond. That doesn't mean you have to head straight to the deepest hole in the pond, but focus on areas of deep water close to shallow water. A lot of ponds will have a flat or an island that formed from sediment buildup pouring in from the feeder creek. Bass will use that area to eat little baitfish in low light periods during the summer. Find the closest area of deep water and you'll probably find some bass.
You know those feeding areas we were talking about that bass head to in low light during the summer? Those are your fall spots. They'll be around there, and they'll be eating. On hotter sunnier days, the fish will still fall off into deeper water, but you can easily find them because covering water is so easy to do in a pond.
If you don't mind going light tackle, in-line spinnerbaits can absolutely destroy this time of year. Tiny spinners will catch fish all year in a pond, but fall is when they're hard to beat. The fish are shallow, active, chasing, and they'll respond to it. The only caveat here is if you're fishing a pond mostly full of larger fish. You might not want to throw a bait this small.
Tips and tricks
Everybody knows that cover is a big deal in bass fishing, but in pond bass fishing, it is the end-all-be-all. Most pond bass are desperate for something to sit on, so if your pond has one laydown, there will be fish around it. They will be there, and once you catch them, more will eventually show up. Always fish the cover immediately, regardless of what time of year. Most ponds will have a drain somewhere, and these are always good cover as well, especially if they’re square. Target the shady side in the summer and sunny side in the winter.
As mentioned, almost every pond you fish will have a deep side and a shallow side. The deep side is the dam, and the shallow side is where whatever creek that feeds the pond comes in. The dam side of the pond is, obviously, where the deepest water is, and the two corners opposite each other on this side of the lake are always among the best places to fish on any pond.
The bigger fish are more frequently found on the dam side, especially on structureless ponds, because of the water depth. The corners provide them shallow areas to find and eat small bluegill, mosquitofish, and other pond forage. It also gives them shallow water to spawn in, all right next to the deepest water available that they can slide back into very easily.
The layout of the shallow side of the pond will impact just how good these corners can be. If the shallow side is extremely shallow and offers no deeper water in the immediate vicinity, the dam corners will be even better and hold an even higher percentage of the bigger fish.
Most ponds, not all, but most, will have a drain of some sort somewhere. Whether it’s a tunnel drain on the bank or a huge overflow drain by the dam, it’s usually there somewhere. Bass love these things with one exception. If there’s a big overflow drain and it’s a circle, it’s useless. The hypothesis is that they don’t provide good ambush points, so bass don’t use them. It may be another reason, or it may just be a weird statistical anomaly for me personally, but I’ve never caught bass off of circular drains.
If it’s square, you’re in business. Pipe drains tend to be great fish attractors too, even if the drain itself is not in the water. I’ve caught tons of bass around pipe drains that were totally above the waterline. But they poured into the pond, and with it came nastiness that little baitfish eat, and with the baitfish came the bass.
These five baits are can't miss and cover all seasons and times of the day. If you have those five baits in your tackle box, you're in good shape. If you want to expand your selection, start by matching the hatch. A bluegill pattern crankbait will catch them a lot of times throughout the year. Small bluegill are a big part of a bass' diet anywhere, but especially in ponds. The caveat with any treble hook bait in a pond is that you have to keep it off the bottom or it will catch nothing but leaves and muck.
Another common baitfish in ponds is the mosquitofish. The little minnows you see crowding the bank are typically these. The smallest jerkbait you can find can imitate these little fish and get the bass munching. Finally, if nothing else is working, you can always pick up a lipless crankbait and burn it. Some wind and cloud cover will help this, but if the conditions are right, you can generate reaction bites. I've never caught a lot of pond bass on a lipless, but the rate of big fish far outpaces any other bait I've thrown in ponds.