If there were an eleventh commandment for fishermen perhaps it would be “Know Thy Pond.”
Most of us dream of our own private fishing pond. Some take action to build and stock one. Ponds are good places to fish and if they are managed correctly can support more fish per acre than is in most other waters.
Ponds are a complex, interlocking chain of plants and animals. Food supplies are dependent upon on plant nutrients dissolved in the water. These include minerals as well as organic matter. Nutrients enter the water as dust carried by winds or with water runoff from surrounding areas. Small aquatic plants consume them and grow.
As the plants grow and multiply they provide food for small fishes and crustaceans. These animals provide food for larger fishes.
In any given pond are found three reasons why the quality of fishing desired might not develop. The fish present may not be the right kind, size or population numbers.
Food availability determines how well both bass and panfish for example will flourish. Management of a bass pond is a delicate balance. There is a limit to the number of fish a pond can produce and maintain. The prey species may flourish to the point where they even compete with the predator species for the same food.
The spring catchable trout season in upon us.
These fish are stocked into the bodies of water where natural reproduction is not possible. As such they do not tend to be as likely to respond to fly fishing equipment. The 10 or 11 inch fish are fierce battlers just the same. You just have to know how to entice them. One way is to Give Them Groceries.
The trout are stocked into the waters several days prior to the opening of the season and are hatchery raised. As such they are not skilled in finding the natural forage in the lake. But, they do become accustomed to the waters prior to the anglers trying to entice them to bite.
Success for anglers varies from one individual to another. Often lined up elbow to elbow along the shore, some will immediately catch their fish limit. Others will not catch a thing. The first day or two the trout receive some heavy pressure. Soon the numbers of fishermen thin out as do the number of fish taken.
So what is the perfect bait for those trout? Well my friend, Vern Summerlin says it is to give them groceries. His theory is that since hatchery raised trout are fed pellets, once released into a lake, they are one the least selective feeders.
Biologists tell us that rainbow trout can taste salt, sweet, bitter, and sour as do humans. They are the only game fish that will respond to sugar and only when it is in high concentrations. That explains why they will respond to marshmallows.
Tastes that are commonly found in living tissue cause trout to respond. That explains why they like minnows, maggots, mealworms, nightcrawlers and worms.
As we know the colors of red, orange and pink appeal to trout, says Vern. A these are the colors of one of their favorite foods, fish eggs. In his experiments, Summerlin tried pimentos as a sight food since they are red. But, they did not prove to catch fish.
Among the baits found in grocery stores are such things as marshmallows, corn, and shrimp that have been frozen, and then thawed. Cheese is a proven fish catcher. The other three items did catch fish. Some other foods sometimes recommended that do not produce fish with regularity are: canned shrimp, oysters, clams and Beenee Weenies.
Summerlin recommends using a Number 6 hook with a size seven split shot on four-pound test line. The terminal tackle is suspended under a float for deep pools in calm water. In more active waters Vern uses a modified Carolina rig. It has a hook tied to one end of 18 inches of four-pound line with a barrel swivel at the other end. A 1/8th-ounce egg sinker placed on the line above the barrel swivel. This allows a fish to take the bait without feeling the resistance.
Corn seems to be the best of the groceries for stocked rainbow trout. A small piece of marshmallow can be added to the hook to keep it off the bottom of the lake.
When you go out this spring in search of those catchable trout remember some groceries in addition to your worms, nightcrawlers and artificial lures. And when you catch your limit on corn with a marshmallow remember that you read it here first.
All too often it seems that the only way bass have ever been caught is to “run and gun” on some impoundment lake. It is not necessarily the case.
Early bass anglers used cane poles and caught bass in small lakes and ponds. Their techniques are as good today as they were before bass boats. The first thing to remember is that small waters do not always have small fish. Many a monster bass has come from an out of the way pond. A carefully combed couple of acres can be just as productive as running around on a large impoundment.
Early in the year, after a week of stable weather, a dam will warm quickly and the bass will become active. Usually the northern end of a pond warms first as does any area that is more shallow. Bass are notorious for relating to structure and cover. It is important to take note of any wood, brush or weeds that is visible.
Choose tackle that you would use in fishing any other bass water. A stout rod and line in the 15 to 20 pound test range is good. Even in the best locations, there may be submerged stumps, timber and other debris. You do not have the luxury of being able to move to where the lure is stuck to remove it.
Accept the fact that you are going to loose some lures. Some tricks of the trade for shore fishing are: 1) Avoid casting to spots from which you know it may be impossible to retrieve a lure. 2) Learn to slow down the retrieve and hop a surface lure back over submerged logs. 3) Learn to reel back to the edge of weeds or debris certain to catch a lure, then reach the rod high and give the lure an inshore flip through the air.
The choice lure is one in which you have confidence. It can be a topwater plug or a spinnerbait with its single upturned hook that is hidden with a skirt. Anything that is virtually weedless is a good idea. Floater/diver lures are useful if there is a chance to dodge them around submerged objects.
Cast to openings and, if you suspect there are submerged objects between you and the lure, ease off letting the lure rise to the surface. The lure can be crawled past the obstacle and the retrieve resumed. As you approach the water, remember that it is not necessary to begin with a cast to the center. The more shallow portions of the dam waters are more likely to hold aggressive bass. In addition, the bass dragged from deep water may spook fish that have been holding in the more shallow areas.
It is important to keep moving along the shore until you have determined where the majority of bass are located. Usually, the water will have a small lip or flat that rims the entire body of water. It usually comes out from the bank and then drops off toward the middle. This is a good are on which to concentrate as it usually holds the cover and bass. It is a good idea to begin by casting parallel to the shoreline. This insures the lure is in that lip area for the maximum time. In addition, if a fish is hooked, this will assure that it will not spook any fish holding in deeper water.
After of couple of casts, work at an angle to the bank in an attempt to cover the outer edge of the lip. Finally, cast to the middle of the pond. Once this pattern is completed, then one can move down the shoreline a few feet and repeat it. The procedure is repeated until the entire body of water is covered.
Once a fish or two has been taken, observe what type of cast worked best and then concentrate on making casts in that area. Bass fishing in ponds is great fun. However, it is important to remember the resource. The bass populations in such bodies of water can be very fragile. It does not take long to change bass populations by keeping many fish.
Catch and release are very important in such small bodies of water.
A ribbon of blacktop stretches across the Mississippi Delta, Mickey speaks alternately on the telephone and two-way radio of his truck. This is his office and his way of maintaining contact with producers, the processing plant and his truckers with their loads of catfish. In a business where freshness is an essential, it is important to coordinate the actions of all the players.
A truck that is late to the plant can result in a production line shutting down at significant cost. That cost in turn goes into the price to the consumer. Late trucks are not really the problem in the production of catfish fillets. But, there are plenty of others.
Time was when commercial fishing was limited to wild fish taken out of rivers and lakes with large nets. Beginning in the middle to late 1950’s catfish farms began to appear in the south. Around the mid l970’s the farmers in the Mississippi Delta area between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers were searching for another crop. They had over used their land and depleted the production of cotton they obtained from it.
In Humphreys County, near Belzoni, MS, a local farmer by the name of J.B. Williams started raising catfish. He sent his first fish to put-and-take ponds in the north. Soon other farmers began to realize that Williams was on to something.
With the development of a floating feed pellet, the raising of pond raised catfish increased. The pellet is composed of corn, soybeans and some of the non-edible parts of catfish that are processed. It is a high protein, light feed that has a sweet taste and the catfish love it.
The land in the area is ideal for the building of catfish ponds. The clay content of the soil retains water, unlike other areas with non-sandy soil which does not. The underground aquifers are huge and near the surface. They only have to drill down 250 to 500 feet for a seemingly unlimited source of water for the ponds. The Mississippi River and the Yazoo River replenish the water of the aquifers.
They construct the ponds using a series of levees. Most are in the 10 to 20 acre size because they are most manageable. The ponds produce 3,000 to 10,000 pound of catfish per acre.
From April to September, fish farming is a very labor intensive business. It begins with the hatching of the fry. Eggs hatch in troughs at the hatchery. A series of constantly rotating paddles agitate the water to supply oxygen.
Once hatched, the fry stay in the hatchery for 7 to 8 days. Then they transfer to brood ponds for 6 months. During this time they grow to a length of about 4- to 6 inches. To facilitate their growth the fish farmers divide them into several groups and place them in other ponds. These levee ponds are usually about four feet deep. Here the fish live, fed daily, until harvesting time about at age 18 months.
Fish farming for catfish is very effective for food production despite being labor intensive. For instance, a beef producer must feed his stock 8 pounds of feed to produce l pound of meat. The catfish farmer has to feed 2 pounds of feed for each pound of catfish.
As we drive along, Mickey explains that before he buys a shipment of fish, they have to be tested at the processing plant.
In the last 7 days before the shipping, the farmer provides a few fish sample to the plant. A five-person panel tastes it after being microwave cooked. The purpose is to make sure that the fish do not have any offensive smell or taste. Three samples come in during the last seven days prior to loading with the final sample taken the same day as the proposed shipment. This insures a flavorful product.
Sometimes, if the fish has been in a pond that has a heavy population of blue-green algae, the fish will smell rancid as it cooks. They reject such a sample immediately. The farmer will sometimes place the fish in a pond with cooler and cleaner water.
Cooler weather will also cut down the amount of algae in the water and thus improve the taste of the fish.
Mickey turns off the blacktop onto the levee road and up ahead are several trucks parked on the road. Two of the trucks are Mickey’s with their large tanks to hold live fish. The third truck contains a crane to hoist a large basket of fish from the water and weigh it at the same time.
In the water five men draw a seine net across the pond and corner the fish in a small area. The basket dips into the water and scoops up the fish. When the truck is loaded it contains some 14,000-pounds of fish in sizes from 2 to 5 pounds each.
Mickey explains that the best fish for commercial use are those in the size of 2 to 4 pounds. They produce the fillet that is in most demand. If more than 10 percent of the fish are over 4 pounds there is a reduction of 10 percent in the price paid to the farmer.
With the fish loaded, we head back to the processing plant. A spotless, processing operation produces fillets, nuggets and a variety of by products from the fish. Fillets are sometimes breaded, other times marinated and sometimes just frozen. Some packaged fish have the insides and head removed for the whole fish market.
Fish that are quick frozen can be stored up to 120 days. Those that are in ice have a shelf life of 11 days and as a result they are off to the consumer within 24 hours. This scenario repeats each day, all year around. Hundreds of millions of pounds of catfish to market go each year from the Delta area.
Once the boat is in the water, Scott uses the trolling motor to propel us down the shoreline. We go but a few feet and the first bass hits Scott’s lure. The fish is just under the legal minimum but he gives a battle. There appears to be two year classes in this lake as all the fish we catch are either just under or just over the minimum. But we are practicing catch and release so it does not matter.
“In summer you can catch fish on a variety of lures,” says Scott Pauley of the Missouri Division of Tourism. An avid tournament bass angler, Scott explains that you just need to work the lures you have confidence in using under the existing conditions.
Scott explained a storm in the area has muddied up many of the lakes but this particular one appears to be relatively clean. The water is high, flooding much of the shoreline vegetation which might attract fish to it.
As part of his job, Scott prowls the many lakes, rivers and ponds that are open to the public. Recently he demonstrated his prowess by catching over 30 largemouth bass in this small lake in central Missouri. There are hundreds of such lakes across the state.
As water temperatures rise, fish move farther out onto points. The shad forage fish move to the main lake and the bass follow. Anglers must concentrate on the points if they are to find fish.
In creeks and rivers anglers find fish all year. Some flooding in the spring months raises water levels. In the summer, water levels drop creating current patterns. Visualize places where you know current develops. Look for funnels. This can be places like a bridge crossing a lake. A funnel is any place where the water creates a narrowed path.
Another good location to find fish is a long point. They hold on the downstream side of the point. Fish position themselves facing into the current, waiting for food to sweep to them. Throw upstream and fish the lure back with the current.
The only real way to find out what fish are doing in summer is to get out there and figure it out. This is especially true of ponds. Experience and time on the water are the real keys to successful summer fishing.
This lake we are fishing is one of three on a small piece of property owned by the University of Missouri for agricultural experiments. The lakes are small impoundments which provide a water supply for various farming operations. The one we chose is 15-acres. The University owns the land but the Department of Conservation manages the fishery.
To locate one of these public locations this summer just go to the Missouri Department of Conservation website http://mdc.mo.gov. Once there click on Fishing. Then click Places to Fish. From there you scroll down to MDC Resources. Then click on Missouri Conservation Areas Atlas. You can then look up a particular lake by name, county or region. Or you can just give a county or region and get all the lakes in them. You can also view the area from here via Google Earth.
In recent years a lot of talk has surfaced regarding this southern Illinois fishery. Most of it centers on the crappie population. With two years of decline in the number of fish over 10-inches in length is the cause is subject to a lot of conjecture.
However, last years surveys by the Illinois Department of natural Resources showed a slight improvement according to Fisheries Manager Mike Hooe. Hooe, probably more than any one person is responsible for the good years enjoyed by Illinois anglers fishing for its famous crappies. He was the person who introduced the slot limit that led to the increase in the numbers of larger fish.
In a recent report to anglers at the Williamson County Boat Show, Hooe explained that the size of crappies has begun to turn around and is rising. Says Hooe, “another year or so and the numbers of the larger fish should rise back to peak rates.” Leaving out the fishing pressure factor, Mike still believes the numbers of 10-inch plus fish should continue to increase. The popularity of this lakes fishery for crappie has place some considerable stress on it.
Moving from crappies to largemouth bass, Mike reports that the number of largemouth bass. Mike reports that the number of fish exceeding the 14-inche minimum length limit fell 26-percent in the most recent survey. At this time 28-percent of the adult bass exceeds the 14-inche limit. The number of fish over 20-inches in length is low but stable.
The majority of bass in the 14 to 18-inch class weigh between 1 1/2 pounds and 3 1/2 pounds. With the abundant food supply growth rates should be excellent helping the size structure in the coming year. Bass fishing this year should be about the same as it was last year.
Rend Lake continues to be a catfish factory. Natural recruitment remains strong and thus there is no need to do supplemental stocking of the lake. Channel catfish in the 1 to 3-pound range should be abundant this year, according to Hooe. He also is finding fish up to 6-pounds common.
Word is good on the white bass scene. Reproduction has been good in 2011, 2012, and 2013 and in the fall of 2015. This has resulted in a significant rise in the population to its highest level in 7 years. Mike explains white bass do well in years with flooding. The spawn is critical and the flooding provides great spawning conditions. Here on Rend the numbers are up with most fish being in the 12 to 15-inche length and weighing 1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds.
Another game fish found in Rend Lake is the bluegill, Illinois state fish. After two years of declining populations the overall size of the fish will be in the 6 1/2 to 8-inche length and they should be abundant. The number of fish over 8-inches is about the same as in prior years. Some bluegills will reach a weight of 1/2 pounds. The fishery as a whole is showing above average growth rates with excellent body condition.
Finally there are the hybrid bass. The population has been down for several years. It was almost down to zero. In the past 4 or 5 years the state has been stocking 4 to 5-inch small shad from Newton Lake as they become available.
Todd Huckabee is unorthodox because of his tackle selection.
As with most crappie anglers, Todd seeks aggressively biting fish. But that is where he seems to depart from conventional wisdom. Todd maintains, “Crappie will bite big baits.” By following and learning what the fish are eating he finds they take larger forage than is usually assumed.
For this reason he uses stiffer rods and heavy line. His jig choice is a 1/4 ounce jig with a 2/0 hook. He points out that a one pound crappie has a mouth opening the size of a golf ball.
He attributes his search for aggressively feeding fish to a past career as a tournament angler. He tries to learn from each fish he catches. He develops a pattern. By finding out what attracts the fish to a specific spot he finds others in the same location. As he puts it, “The most dominant fish set the table.”
Huckabee believes that fish are biting somewhere all the time. He maintains that crappies prefer to be shallow. It is there that they find food. The crappies feeding playing field is shallow. For this reason he uses a small cork and casts his offering up into the shallows. He always uses the popular loop knot called the Palomar Knot. It allows the jig to float in an more natural presentation.
“When you feel a bite it is the crappie taking the slack out of your line,” says Todd. That is why he likes the heavier line.
Crappies are a sunfish and Huckabee finds they like the sun to absorb sunlight in egg production and aggressive feeding activity. They spawn 6 to 12 times per year and the rest of the time they feed.
Another aspect of crappie activity is their lack of movement. Huckabee maintains that crappies live within 300 yards of where they were born, for their entire life. Lake born crappies will always stay in the lake and creek born ones will always stay in the creek.
In summer the best bite according to Todd is in the heat of the day.