We have two basic types of manmade ponds in the flatlands of the Rocky Mountain West – one-time gravel pits, and ones created by bulldozer as part of a municipal park or subdivision, mostly to look scenic and provide irrigation. Not sure what to call them; how about “landscaped pond?” As we scour the local countryside for a good place to fish, let’s focus on that second type:
I frequent a 2-acre pond near my home, east of busy soccer fields in a city park. By quirk, it’s hard to spot until you get right on it, which may explain why I am usually the only person there looking for a fish. It’s not a great fishery, but it has a few gullible largemouth, and bluegill best described as “small but sporting.”
At first glance, it’s indistinguishable from a couple ponds nearby that are virtually fishless. To help tell the difference, start a search on Google Earth. Click here to get it for free. Unlike gravel ponds, generally shaped like a bathtub, landscaped ones more likely follow contours; you want irregularities; small hills, drainage ditches, flats, anything that might extend into the pond. The value of a Google Earth photo varies depending on water clarity, season when it was taken, and other factors. But between Google and walking around the pond, try to spot likely weed beds or other underwater irregularities.
Again, explore on foot; resist the temptation to immediately throw in a line.
At this time of year, this pond is a bit murky, visibility maybe a foot and a half. Okay. Spot any weed beds? Maybe not in early spring, but by June or so weed beds should emerge. You’re hoping for coontail, among other things; indicates clean water. You’re hoping not to find “snot weed,” slimy stuff that is the curse of the shorebound angler.
No brush or boat ramps or streams flowing in, but it looks like the developer dropped in some rocks, built a small earthen dam and an incoming drain pipe. For a tiny body of water, that passes as “structure.” The park is also sloped so runoff drains into pond.
Is pond water used to water the darned soccer fields? That nearby building probably houses irrigation pumps. That sucks, but it’s also typical, using local drainage water to irrigate. It means the water level’s likely to dwindle as summer progresses, and during drought. Not good, so see if you can determine the probable depth of the pond, and whether it might have a deep spot or two where fish can retreat.
The dam is small, but has small and medium-sized rocks. Those little saucers on either side were probably made by spawning bluegill. A little deeper, there may be similar but larger circles used by bass. Those adults may be small, but you never know.
What else should you look for when assessing a pond for fish? Check Fish Explorer to see if there’s stocking information, or the homeowners’ association. In this case, the pond’s too tiny for that kind of effort. With larger ponds, you may find Colorado Parks and Wildlife records on stocking, which can range from catchable size trout to the juvenile warm water fish like bluegill, bass or catfish.
When you’re finally ready to drop in a line, here’s what you want to learn:
Large or small, cute or homely, can I get any kind of fish to bite? This place may be subject to fishkill, or dominated by non-game species like shad or carp, or stunted green sunfish. It may have a ton of tiny panfish and a few fat predators.
Am I at least seeing fish? What kind? Minnows? Crawdads? Both indicate a good food source for bass and catfish.
As I move around, am I finding flats, or deeper water? Some spots clearer than others? Is my bait getting hung in underwater weeds (that’s good) or hung up on rocks (can be good, unless it’s too shallow.
That’s it. Don’t hope too much for a small pond that gets heavy pressure, but don’t be too pessimistic either. A lot of folks just bait up and hope for the best.