Lake Erie is great, maybe the best in the country, the Ohio River is excellent, and there are lots of lakes from Indian to Salt Fork and Pymatuning that offer serious action. But day in and day out, some of the top fishing holes in Ohio are local farm ponds, if that is, they’re properly managed, and unfortunately, most aren’t.
Here in north-central Ohio, there are farm ponds that routinely produce half to one pound bluegills, four to five pound bass, and perhaps other species like channel cats that will bend your rod into a straining arc. Do you know any ponds like that? I do, maybe three or four and that’s out of dozens. The average farm pond in this area will have fair to decent fishing for bass and bluegill, while lots more have thousands of midget panfish and a few old bass.
The bluegill aren’t worth catching in such ponds, and largemouths are tough to take because they have all the food they can possibly eat. If your pond or a friends pond fits the latter description, you’re making a few basic mistakes.
Farm ponds are traditionally stocked with largemouth bass and bluegills. The bass are there to eat the bluegills, keep them under control, and grow large. The bluegills are there to feed bass, grow large in their own right, and produce some excellent panfishing. In a well balanced pond, there are enough of each, and the result is superb action for both species. Again, some ponds hold a few channel cats too, which is fine for put-and-take fishing, and they might have some redears, even yellow perch for variety. It’s rarely a good idea to stock crappie and bullheads unless the pond is very large, because both are prolific, and prone to become both midget in size and a nuisance.
What goes wrong in too many ponds? It’s that some owners allow bass to be hit hard by friends and casual fishermen, and kept! Bass are a status fish, and anglers like to say “Yeah, I caught eight bass out of that pond, and two were over four pounds.” Then they take them around to every barber shop and friend in town, and do a great testosterone trip. So, bass populations diminish rapidly, and soon there are only a few left.
At the same time bluegills, which are often being fished little if at all, increase their population enormously since the few remaining bass aren’t eating many, and soon dominate the pond. When bass spawn, hungry panfish hang around bass nests and eat the eggs at every opportunity. Then eat the fry as soon as they’re hatched. The result, again, is lots of stunted bluegill and a few old bass.
There’s an obvious answer, of course. Either take no bass from a one acre or so farm pond, or remove just 6-8 pounds a year. At the same time, fish bluegills hard and never return them. Small ones can be tossed up on the bank to become raccoon and opossum food, and usually disappear overnight. Or be placed under rose bushes, squash plants, even hills of corn.
Weeds are another major problem in farm ponds, since fingerlings and fry bluegills have good places to hide in their feathery fronds. A few are good, because they provide cover both for bluegills and ambushing bass, but huge beds can definitely upset the bluegill-bass balance. Control weeds with a few grass carp (white amur), watch your bass fishing, and hammer the panfish. You could be catching lunker largemouth and pansized bluegills for years to come.
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HOOKS & BULLETS
• Looking for some family bonding time or maybe a trip for your scout troop? Lake Metroparks in Lake County invites you to experience cabin camping at two locations in Madison Township. Strong Cabin is located in Hogback Ridge Park and the Resource Center is located on Palisades Road in Madison Township near Hidden Valley Park. Both are available for reservation on a nightly or weekly basis year-round. Lake Metropark has tent camping too, in seven unique locations with an area to pitch a tent, a place to build a fire, a grill and a picnic table. Sites are $10 per night for Lake County residents, $20 for out-of-county visitors. Call 440-358-7275 for details.
• I saw my first cormorant on Lake Erie some years ago,and was thrilled at the sight of this unusual bird. Now, it's grown so common that they're killing trees on West Sister and some other islands with their toxic droppings, plus eating lots of fish, and the ODNR is thinning the population to help solve the problem. Now white pelicans are beginning to move in along Lake Erie, and could be beginning to cause the same problems. The big white birds eat up to four pounds of fish per day, and have essentially no predators, so their numbers are near certain to increase. Though an interesting spectacle now, they might well cause the same problems as cormorants in a few years. And be treated the same way.
• Some of the most dedicated outdoorsmen in the country will gather for the twenty-first annual Sportsmens Alliance Save Our Heritage Rally on Sept. 9 at the Villa Milano Banquet & Conference Center in Columbus. The banquet will celebrate the outdoors lifestyle and raise funds to protect outdoor sports. Tickets are $50 and include dinner and drink tickets. To buy one, or more, write to the Alliance at 801 Kingsmill Parkway, Columbus or call 614-888-4868.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoors withmartin.com.