Spring is a special time for fishing farm ponds or small lakes. Fish are gorging after a long winter and fresh fillet dinners are welcome by most people with an appetite. My father called spring, “Man’s reward for enduring a long, cold winter” – common sense that especially holds true this year after deep snows and chilling temperatures.
Some anglers walk instead of riding in a fast boat on smaller lakes or ponds, making more of nature’s beauty visible. Spring water is generally clear enough to see the bottom, sometimes up to 3 feet. Leaves lying on the bottom sometimes appear when the water magnifies their perfect shape. Even different colored rocks seem enhanced by this remarkable water clarity.
Casting from the shoreline of a clearwater lake or pond allows time to reflect too. I try to forget problems and remember past fishing trips and old friends or family. My first spring fishing trips in the middle 1950s with grandparents and parents started my youthful imagination wondering what lurked under the surface. My grade school mentality imagined colorful fish, frogs, turtles and snakes swimming around each other through beautiful underwater plants. I did not imagine that most everything was looking for a meal and small fish were generally the main course while bigger fish would have gladly eaten the small turtles or snakes.
Spring waters sometimes allow you to see that lure lost the past fall on a submerged stump like a lost decoration on a discarded Christmas tree. Even lost lures remind me of more innocent times.
I watched an elderly man that was very close to my family strip down and wade out in spring’s chilling water to pluck a crappie jig off an old stump in the 1960s. A crappie jig cost 8 cents in those days.
Years later, I realized that he raised a family during the Depression and learned never to waste resources. He has long since moved on to a better fishing camp, but I will always remember the 8-cent crappie jig that was important enough for him to wade out in uncomfortably cold water.
I don’t remember any single lure that I owned in those days, but I remember his yellow crappie jig that should have served as a lesson of “Waste not, want not” instead of a humorous curiosity. That crappie jig showed another lesson that I have learned by fishing 40-plus years: lures in the spring don't have to be fancy.
I like to cast an inline spinner like the Angila Mepps with a light brown buck tail and gold spinner. Floating Rebel or Rapala balsa minnows, crappie jigs tipped off with a small bobber or beetle spins are just as productive in the spring.
I don’t have to think about my technique. I simply cast my light tackle with 4-pound test line and retrieve, experimenting with speeds. You will catch a lot of fish on this assortment of lures when they flash through the water.
Stringers might hold bass, crappie, bluegill, walleye and an occasional channel catfish. Note that some farm ponds are better served by removing stunted bass when populations become too high. Healthy bass should be caught and released for the betterment of any small impoundment.
Warm spring air drifts across the pond, helping or holding cast after cast. This is my time to reflect instead of worrying about deadlines or other problems that will still be there after my fishing trip. I become quiet and lost in my thoughts.
You might be surprised what occurs while being quiet. Several years ago I heard yelping from a nearby field close to the pond where I was fishing. I thought a puppy might be in trouble and quietly slipped up to the brush-filled fence to see what was happening. My eyes were treated to young turkey gobblers chasing each other while establishing their pecking order. Occasionally one would get too rough and the victim made a comical high-pitched sound.
I have watched countless ducks and geese fly over while searching out their perfect place to land in the spring. My eyes were treated to a dozen blue-winged teal flashing overhead and dropping in the pool I was fishing late last March. I watched them circle and then splash down close enough to see water drops reflect the evening sunlight. A couple dipped their heads for a sip while others swam around in little circles, probably looking for danger and surprisingly ignoring me.
Clearly they had not been shot at and were content to drift around in the cool, clear water while I cast in an unproductive direction to avoid spooking them. I watched them long as possible until the lead hen decided it was time to move on. They jumped off the pond as one and flew to the west, no doubt in search of a more private waterhole.
The only problem with daydreaming while fishing in March or April is the definite chance that a big bass might gulp down your lure. This happened to me many years ago while fly fishing with popping bugs. I found a school of big bluegill who were gladly accepting my offering. My fish sack promised fillets for dinner when a big splash out in the lake caught my attention. I thought it might just be a carp flopping or some other fish that probably would not bite.
I continued flipping my fly in the bluegill school and was surprised to see another splash, this time closer to the school but too far from shore to warrant a cast. Now my curiosity took over and I started watching for more splashes. Soon another splash and then another when my popping bug disappeared in a whirlpool. I set the hook and my light-action fly rod doubled to the point of breaking.
In those days we used fiberglass fly rods. I doubt that a light-action graphite rod would have taken the same punishment. That rod literally made creaking sounds with every punishing run made by the fine largemouth bass. I could only feed line out and pull it in during hot runs towards shore. Soon I caught, measured and weighted the 6-pound bass before releasing her to chase bait fish and small bluegill. I have since caught big bass in the spring, but few as memorable.
Trout streams are equally enjoyable in the spring after opening day is a distant memory. Trout don’t do anything special in cool weather like pond fish; they are always in cold weather. I do sense that they feed like any other fish after winter. Whatever the reason, trout bite very well in the spring.
Most of my favorite trout parks are in the Missouri Ozarks, a special place to enjoy spring colors like blooming dogwoods. Hardwood trees lining these banks are generally budding out. Ground cover is generally thickening up. A combination of cool air, good fishing and wildlife make it understandable why I endure the faraway drives to the south.
Fishing in the spring will do two things: whet your appetite and make you sleep like a baby. I seriously doubt that any doctor can prescribe medicine that will have the same healthy effects.
This month is yours, so seize it and take time and go fishing alone in a place where you can wade or walk the bank. You will return home more relaxed than you have been in years.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org