Outdoors Column: Taking advantage of small pond ice fishing

by Jeff Weaver
Contributing Columnist

How many times have you driven past a pond or slough and wondered if there are any catchable fish in it? You may be pleasantly surprised, because many of these small bodies of water are all inter-connected to larger bodies of water in any one area’s given watershed.

High water in the spring, after a long snowy winter, or heavy summer rains will allow fish and other aquatic creatures to migrate through these water ways taking up residency without any interference from any fishing pressure.

Staying light and mobile will allow you to explore small bodies of water. Photo courtesy of Jeff Weaver

Many of these small ponds are not able to sustain fish life on the very harshest of winters. Lack of sunlight and oxygen in the water spells instant doom to the fish populations, but if conditions from Mother Nature do not naturally eliminate any catchable fish, there maybe a window of great fishing for a couple years.

Without question, this winter has been the most ideal in recent history to get out and explore many of these hidden jewels which dot the landscape in every county across the Midwest.

In the southern reaches of the area, farm ponds can be a real winner.

Many times sunfish and crappies will be present and willing to take a bait. If you are along a river system pretty good chance it has flooded in the last few years.

If any of those flood waters engulfed a large enough area in a flood plain, or even backed up a feeder creek or stream, there are pretty high probabilities that some panfish or even some walleyes migrated up and into some of these smaller ponds.

One of my favorites small pond venues are up in the north woods.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of these small wetlands that are only accessible by foot that are oozing with potential as fish catching bonanzas.

Approaching one of these potential honey-holes doesn’t require a ton of effort.

Keeping your equipment to a minimum is standard operating procedure and will make your adventure quite affordable.

My usual bucket list consists of a five gallon bucket, a Vexilar or some other depth-finder unit, a couple of light weight jigging poles, a pocket full of tackle and some wax worms. For an auger, I turned back the clock and dug out of storage an old spoon type auger. The reason I am using one of these relics is that ice thickness is not an issue this year, and the weight of this auger sure makes a difference if you’re hiking in a ways to get to your pond. Just make sure your auger is plenty sharp if it has been sitting on the shelves for years. There is nothing worse than a dull auger that won’t bite the ice.

In my mind the two most important piece of equipment you will have with you are your auger and your depth finder.

Punching a series of holes even before you start fishing will make your approach to a small pond much easier.

One helpful hint I always look for is any sign of a hill or steep bank adjacent to your pond which may translate into a deeper section of water.

The depth finder with a winter transducer set up can easily be moved around to your predrilled holes looking for any structure or subtle bottom differences which may hold fish. Only until you zero in on a fish holding location, or you mark some underwater activity, do I actually set up and drop a bait.

Once I drop the bait down searching for fish, I use a simple rule of thumb. Start you search for active fish in a depth which is two-thirds the depth of the location you are fishing. So, if I am fishing 21 feet of water, I will begin fishing in 14 feet of water. The next step is to watch your Vexilar, or other fish finder you may have, for activity in the water column.

If activity is seen higher or lower in the water column, adjust accordingly.

I also start my search with a wax worm or larva type bait.

These small winter morsels are an attractant to all kinds of fish ranging from perch to crappies, with sunfish the most likely to inhale a well-placed offering.

Exploring overlooked resources of ponds and sloughs that dot the landscape this winter may just provide you with a super-secret location that provides hours of fun. There are not many winters that make exploring the woods as easy as the winter we are having this year. Get out and enjoy what our area has to offer.

Jeff Weaver is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.

  • Isaiah Lahr

    Wha bait would you recommend for early ice channel cats, I’m twelve years old and an avid fisherman at that but wondered what the pros thought.