I had three choices of where to head to:
a couple of medium-sized fixed-volume lakes
(both of which I've fished before and have
had good luck in) or a farm pond I've never
Undiscovered territory always holds a strong
allure, so I ended up going there, but not
without reservations. The owner had said
earlier that she doesn't want any bluegills
taken out. As much as I love eating bluegill,
the owner's wishes represented a disincentive
to fish that pond. But she also had said that
the pond holds bass, channel catfish and at
least one really big crappie.
So after a few weeks mulling the idea of
fishing this pond, I finally decided to
give the place a try, primarily to satisfy
my curiosity about what lives in it. But
also, going there would give me a chance to
do some catch-and-release fishing - something
I'm never opposed to. And for all I knew,
the owner might change her thinking about
removing bluegills if I reported to her that
I'd caught lots of them. At 7:00 a.m. I arrived
at the pond definitely expecting to enjoy good
I'd brought my canoe with me and could have
used it, but from where my pickup was parked
the carry down to the water would have been
about 100 yards. I deemed it not a smart
idea to carry a 52-lb. canoe above my head
while walking downhill across wet, slick
prairie grass. This meant I'd be fishing
on foot today, casting from the shore. A
somewhat alien experience for me, but there
was little choice.
At the east end of the pond dam, I saw a
small submerged tree poking its branches
out of the water. Judging from the adjacent
terrain, the water there wasn't going to be
all that deep. I began probing the submerged
limb area very carefully, using a #10 flashback
Hare's Ear nymph. Not probing it carefully
enough, though: a dozen casts into my visit I
snagged a branch and had to break off my nymph.
I had just one #10 nymph left in my fly box,
and decided against risking it.
Fish were working in the pond; I was seeing
decent-size swirls indicating that aggressive
fish packing some body weight inhabited this pond.
I assumed the fish were largemouth bass from the
way they were chasing after prey items.
I'd not had a single take on my FBHEN and really
I should have, given the type of structure I was
casting to. The 'gillies should have been there
knee deep, but they weren't. Well, okay, I'm new
to this place: If this is primarily a bass pond
then I'll use something bass like. I unzipped my
fanny pack, opened my "bigger fly" box and there
sat the last surviving member of the three Pinkie's
Flies I'd bought at Cabela's during the crappie
"Y'all bass feel like chasing minnows, huh? Okay,
chase this!" I threw Pinkie's silvery minnow out
around the submerged tree branches. Two casts
later I caught a little bass about 10-inches long.
The next cast, I snagged it on a limb and had to
break off Pinkie's minnow. Sometimes I wonder why
anybody fishes from the bank, the way you lose gear
so easy. If I'd been fishing from my canoe, it
would have been no big deal to just ease over,
dip my rod tip into the pond and work my fly free.
Instead, here I am, fifteen casts into the trip
and I've already lost two of the best flies in my
Large fish were still active, I could tell
from the size of the swirls on the pond
surface and the bulges the fish were making
when attacking just underwater. So I opted
to stay large, selecting for my next fly an
all-black #10 woolly bugger. Which might
have been the way to go from the git-go since
this pond had received runoff from a 2-inch
rainfall only 48 hours earlier, leaving the
water a bit murky still. Black is a good
contrast color to use in murky water, or so
I've read from other fishermen's accounts.
The fish I'd seen moving around that submerged
tree, it (or they) wasn't showing any interest
in the bugger, though. So I tippy-toed down
the pond dam, fishing my way along very slowly.
Although it gets regularly mowed, the dam has
areas of tall grass and small willows growing
at its waterline. These caused me some small
grief as I had to limit myself to approaching
the water's edge only where openings in the
vegetation existed. Soon enough, at about
mid-dam, I reached the pond's drawdown pipe.
There was a small opening in the vegetation,
a place where I could stand while I cast.
I sent my woolly bugger angling beyond the
drawdown pipe, then cut off my outgoing line
at the last moment, making the fly whiplash
around to the left and land as close to the
vegetation line as possible. The water below
the fly couldn't be any more than 3 ft. deep,
and my intent was to retrieve the bugger
parallel to the vegetation at a depth of
about one foot.
The retrieve would have worked out that way,
too, if halfway back to me something really
hungry and mean had not grabbed the bugger,
put me in his rear-view mirror and hit the
throttle. This fish was on the reel in less
than 3 seconds. After it zoomed 20 feet into
the pond without showing any hint of rising
and wanting to jump, I started getting the
impression that this was a channel cat. And
sure enough it was, as I discovered a couple
minutes later when it finally surfaced. This
cat weighed maybe 2 pounds or a bit more.
At the west end of the pond was another pocket
inside which lay what looked to be a low-growing
willow branch that was down in the water thanks
to the recent rain. I sent the bugger into this
pocket, and it got hammered by what turned out
to be a green sunfish that looked to go about a half
pound, a very nice specimen. I sent another cast
into the pocket, running the bugger a bit closer
to the bank and...CRUNCH...another heavy fish
grabbed hold. Here is where things got a bit
This was a channel catfish, too, and it took
my woolly bugger at a very shallow depth.
But instead of diving and running into the
pond's deeper main body, which catfish
normally will do, this one began showing
some nifty surface moves, maybe thinking
that life in a farm pond is less boring if
you're a largemouth bass than if you're a
channel catfish. I kept waiting for it to
dive and run, but it wouldn't. So after a
few seconds of seeing how determined this
cat was to continue with his surface thrashing
exhibition, I just hauled back on my 3-wt. St.
Croix and scooted him across the top and into
the shoreline grass, where I pounced on him,
unhooked and released him. This fish went
around 3 lbs. I estimate. The strange thing
is, I've had longer and more bitter fights
after hooking a ½-lb. bluegill. Maybe I
taught that catfish that he should really
try to keep himself underwater more, next
time somebody hooks him.
The west and north sides of this pond looked
to be the best, just from the cover there.
But all I caught on the west side was another
The pond has a short footbridge that lets
you walk out onto a small but very densely
overgrown island. No place for a fly fisher.
However, I spotted swirls of a fish chasing
prey directly underneath the bridge. I tried
side-arming my bugger under the bridge and
succeeded a couple of times, but got no takes.
It was getting hot now, around 10 a.m. and
the idea hit me that I should give it up for
the morning. But walking around the last of
the trees I came upon a small boat dock and
decided to throw a cast parallel to it,
running the bugger through the shaded water
on the dock's north side. It always feels
weird casting alongside man-made objects,
but when my woolly bugger got creamed midway
through the retrieve, the bent-rod sensation
in my right hand felt happily familiar. This
was yet another channel catfish, and three or
four minutes later I unhooked and released him.
By now, I was almost back to the exact spot
where I'd begun fishing over two hours earlier.
I was all set to leave when I looked ahead and
there, in the east corner of the dam I'd fished
first, I saw bulges in the water and chase wakes
made by a predatory fish pursuing food. Well,
okay...if they're still in the mood to eat,
I'm in the mood to feed them a fly!
I crept in real quiet on tippy-toes,
threw my black woolly bugger into the
same pocket where I'd struck out earlier,
and this time the bugger got whacked hard
by another rocket ship channel cat, as
evidenced by the forked tail I spotted
a minute into the battle. When he ran
away from the submerged tree, I walked
along the bank keeping pace with him,
letting him swim my fly away from danger.
After releasing this cat (about 2 ½ lbs.)
I threw one more cast into that same pocket.
Except this time I angled my retrieve so
that the bugger would pass close beside a
floating tree trunk. The bugger got
hammered by something very feisty, and
for a few moments I couldn't tell what
it was. Finally I brought in a very
large bluegill-looking fish, except it
wasn't a typical bluegill. This one had
to weight one and a half pounds if it
weighed an ounce; it had a mouth you
could drop a 50-cent piece into. I suspect
this was a hybrid bluegill. It still is one,
if that's what it is, since I unhooked it
and let it go just like all the others.
I sneaked around to the other side of
this submerged tree and out of curiosity
sent my bugger swimming slowly past the
other side. It got nailed, and the
attacker was...another channel catfish,
one that ran around 2 lbs.
By now, I was starting to get the idea
that this is primarily a catfish pond
with only a few other species represented.
Since I was feeling sorta "in the groove"
on big fish, I continued on down the pond
dam a second time and 50 feet farther
stopped at an opening in the willows and
sent the black bugger flying out for another
parallel retrieve past the grass line.
Channel Cat Number 6 liked what he saw, and
his release a few minutes later brought my
catfish count up to an even half dozen, at
which point I decided to call it a day.
This is by far the most action I've ever
had catching channel catfish with fly
tackle. I guess in a farm pond where
they live in good numbers, you may as
well go after them with woolly buggers
or some other meal-size fly rather than
using live bait. These six catfish I
caught were obviously sight-feeding on
live prey. They weren't doing your
stereotype bottom-feeder thing on my
woolly bugger, that's for sure. ~ Joe
From Baldwin City, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts
upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years
has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby
Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles
while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping
trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's
'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.
Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the
Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor
sports, writing and music have never earned him any money,
but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the