Tired of fighting hundreds of other anglers at public waters for a few scrawny runt fish? Can’t remember the last time you caught a master-angler caliber fish? Still searching for your first seven-pound largemouth, or maybe your first ten-inch bluegill? I’ll tell you a little secret – you don’t have to be at the mercy of over-fished, under-managed public waters. If you’re ready to take your fishing to a level you’ve never dreamed of, there is an alternative, and it doesn’t require a new mortgage to achieve.
Create your own honeyhole.
Any freshwater angler worth his salt knows that private ponds have some of the best fishing going. But the perception among most anglers seems to be, if you don’t own a pond yourself or aren’t lucky enough to be friends with someone who does, you’re out of luck. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I don’t own a pond, never have; I hope to someday, but as of the writing of this article, I’m pond-less. Before I began working with other people’s ponds, I had caught perhaps three bass over three pounds, total, and four bluegill that weighed sixteen ounces. Now I’ve caught dozens of largemouth between four and seven pounds (and lost some much bigger); I’ve caught hundreds of bluegill over a pound, including a pure northern-strain bluegill that weighed twenty-two ounces. One northern-strain and three hybrid bluegill weighing twenty-eight ounces have been caught from ponds I manage; multiple ten-pound largemouth have come from ponds I manage. And I never would have seen a one of these fish had I not stepped out of my comfort zone and made a couple calls to landowners.
Land leases have become common among hunters who wish to take control of the quality of their hunting; and yet for some reason this approach is far less common among anglers, though there are more of us, and thus more competition, than there are hunters. There are a few scattered places, mainly in the South, where one can either lease a private lake on a yearly basis, or pay to join a club that grants access to leased waters; but in these cases, you have no say in the management of the water – you pay your money and you fish what you’re given.
But there’s a better approach: find a pond where you can be the manager, where you can tailor the fishing to your own goals. For every pond with a diligent owner who aggressively manages (or pays to have it managed) his pond, there are ten that sit in total neglect, either for a lack of interest or time or both on the part of the owner. Many of these landowners would be delighted to have anything at all done to their pond. I’ve never had to pay a lease or a fee of any sort for access – just the fact I was willing to spend my own money and labor and time improving the fishing in the pond was enough to get me through the gate. I’m on my second stint at working with ponds, after moving to the desert of southern California for ten years and finally coming to my senses and returning to the South; I’ve been at it three years this time. And I have three different ponds I can fish for an hour and catch at least one ten-inch bluegill, and three other ponds I can fish for a couple hours and catch at least one bass four pounds or larger.
Not only does working with a private pond afford you the opportunity to create the best fishing hole you’ve ever seen; it’s a heck of a lot of fun in and of itself. Being able to see the pond respond to intelligent management, to see the fish you’re after get larger month by month, is like nothing else. (Just watching fish feed at an automatic feeder can be almost as much fun as catching them.) Millions of hunters go all-out with food plots, automatic feeders, genetics, you name it, to improve the quality of hunting on land they don’t own – why not more anglers? There’s a wealth of information available today to anyone who desires to manage a pond, from literature put out by state game-and-fish agencies to degree programs (both resident and online-only) to online forums to professional pond management companies (I own a small one myself) that can give you a detailed assessment of the pond with a multi-year plan for improving it.
Stop for a minute and add up how much you spent last year fishing public lakes, between fishing licenses, gas, daily lake fees, boat registration, fuel and maintenance on that big outboard, accommodations if you traveled, etc. Chances are, for what you spent, or less, you could have been building the honeyhole of your dreams, closer to home and less crowded than any public lake will ever be.