Welcome to Warmwater Fishing!

Go Cat, Go!
By Joe Hyde, Baldwin City, KS


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 fished.

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 bluegill action.

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 spawn.

"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 arsenal.

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 strange.

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 -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 little bass.

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 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

About 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 'day job.'

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