In Praise of Ponds

They may be your best bet for early-season trout.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The summer cottages are still shuttered and dark. The docks and swimming platforms seem oddly quiet. It's still a month or two before the raucous routine of summer vacation will bring the shoreline to life, and so-for the time being, at least-this is a trout fisherman's pond.

It's an early-season scenario that prevails from Maine to northern California, made all the sweeter because most trout fishermen insist on flogging the waters of cold April rivers. For those in the know, however, trout ponds will usually yield more and often larger spring trout. The following tips should help, whether you're into flyfishing, spinning, or even laid-back trolling.

Flyfishing Still Water
Typical tackle includes a 9-foot (or longer) rod matched to a smooth-running reel holding a full fly line plus 100 yards of backing. Many ponds offer at least an outside chance of hooking a truly large rainbow or brown trout, so backing is essential. Line weights will most commonly be 5 or 6. You'll need one setup with a floating line, plus a spare reel spool (or complete second outfit) rigged with a medium-fast sinking line. Other types of sinking lines (e.g., sink-tips or full intermediates) are sometimes useful, but a medium-fast sinker is the one to have if you have only one.

There are lots of productive flies for pond trout, but two are essential in the absence of a major hatch: Black Woolly Buggers in sizes 2 through 8, and Hare's Ear Nymphs in sizes 6 through 20. All should be tied unweighted.

If the trout aren't rising, you'll have to search for them. This is easily done in one of two ways. When you're fishing from a small boat, canoe, or kayak, try drift fishing with a nymph and your sinking-line rig. Fish a size 12 or 14 Hare's Ear on a short leader tapered to 5X, for example, and cast or otherwise pay out about 60 feet of line as the breeze pushes you over the surface. Essentially, you'll be slow-trolling your fly as you drift across a cove or along the shoreline. Strikes can be gentle plucks but are more often good, hard pulls. Don't leave your rod unbraced in the boat, in which case it could be yanked right over the side.

Wading flyfishermen typically work along the shoreline, throwing a series of casts in a fan-shaped pattern to cover the water from near shore to straight out into the lake. Allow different time intervals to give the fly time to sink to different depths, and use a slow-stripping retrieve with either a nymph or a Woolly Bugger.

Spinning Tactics
You can troll a flat line (meaning at the surface) with spinning tackle, too, but you'll probably have to move faster than a windblown drift to make the lure work correctly. Troll with your lure about 100 feet behind the boat at a speed of about 11/2 to 2 miles an hour, best for lures like small Needlefish spoons or Rapalas. Small Flatfish, which work especially well for rainbows, require a slower trolling speed.

Using a light line, preferably 4-pound, will gain you more strikes whether trolling or casting. Because such light monos have lots of stretch, your hooks must be needle sharp. Light line will also give you longer casts with light lures when tossing toward the shoreline from a small boat, or when wading and casting outward. Small Panther Martin spinners (I like silver blades with yellow bodies) can work especially well on stocked trout; don't overlook black, yellow, or white marabou jigs in 1/8-ounce sizes that can easily be worked near the bottom.

Early-Season Trolling Some specialized gear will make your trout-pond trolling more productive without blowing your bank account. Lead-core trolling line spooled on a wide-spool baitcaster (e.g., Abu 6500 series) is my go-to gear for trout ponds when all else fails. Although I don't use downriggers, I do put the reel on an inexpensive, light-action downrigger rod, the flexible tip of which helps to absoorb the shock of a strike. The rod's straight handle also fits easily into a rod holder clamped to my canoe's gunnel. A 30-foot leader of 6- or 4-pound-test mono completes the rigging.

I usually troll with two colors (60 feet) of lead-core line in the water, which in combination with a long leader puts the lure about 90 feet behind the boat. That weighted line length runs about 8 to 10 feet deep at typical slow-trolling speeds. Favorite lures include No. 7 Rapalas in silver, gold, or rainbow-trout finishes, Needlefish spoons about 2 inches long (copper, silver, or brass-all with red heads), and small Flatfish in perch-scale or black-spotted orange.

One of the great things about trout-pond fishing is that any wild or holdover fish you encounter tend to be much larger than those in nearby rivers. All that pond trout have to do is swim around and eat. They're not burning energy fighting the cold spring currents of a major river.

In a way, the same is true of fishermen. I don't like fighting the freezing flow of an April river, either. That's why my pond-fishing canoe usually has a Thermos of coffee and a box of Krispy Kremes on board. Pond trout are comfortable. So am I.