A Season on a Wild Trout Pond

Years ago Tim Shaw sent us this request.

“I would like to see a little article on the tackle (lines, leader, flies) and techniques (area of pond, water temp, depth of water, time of year) for fishing in the ponds when no visible hatch is occurring. I am an experienced fly fisherman but have limited knowledge of pond fishing.”

We have to say one of the hardest skills to refine is learning how to work a trout pond throughout the fishing season. There is an ice-out season, mayfly season, Drake (Hex) season, spring hole season and fall season.

First you’ll need the right tools for the job. Water temperature is always important so a good thermometer will help you determine what you should be doing.

You’ll need at least two fly lines, a floating and a sinking. If you own only one sinking line it should be a fast-sinking that is also a full sinking line, one with a sink rate of around 2 1/2 – 4 1/2 inches per second. A fast sinking, 10′ sink-tip would be the next and a super-fast full sinking line if you plan to fish ponds where water depths are greater than 15 feet.

At ice out, the water will remain under 40 degrees and insect activity is minimal. As the water slowly starts to warm mayfly nymphs start to actively feed in swallow 2-10′ of water especially along the shoreline the sun shines down on. This renewed insect activity provides a banquet of food for dragon fly nymphs that now are crawling on top of the duff along a shoreline gobbling up the easy prey. It is here and now that the sink-tip line is important. With a good dragon fly nymph imitation you can cast along drop-offs. Then let your sink-tip line take the nymph to trout patrolling the shoreline. All you need is a short, 6′ piece of 3X tippet material as your leader.

Nymphs slowly crawl along the bottom so a slow retrieve works the best. This is a good time and place to use a black or olive woolly bugger also. If there is a good minnow population a streamer imitation like a black nose dace could do the trick, just use a faster retrieve

As the water begins to warm after the ice has been out for a week of more you’ll begin to see fish working the surface on any calm afternoon but you can’t spot obvious insect activity on the surface. It’s midge season and time to haul out the tiny fly box that contains Griffiths Gnat , Blue Wing Olive, and Clusters in sizes 20-24. You’ll need 6X tippet material and a very steady hand. Because they are near impossible to see on the water I like to use midges as a dropper 2′- 3′ behind a larger dry fly. It lets you know where the midge is and acts as a strike indicator. Trout tend to sip midges making it hard to see the take. If your larger dry moves at all just lift your rod. Remember you could be playing a larger than average trout on a very tiny hook on very light leader. It’s a tug of war you can win if you are not too heavy handed.

When June arrives and water temps climb into the 50’s so does the mayfly hatches. For the first couple for weeks of June fish like keeping bankers hours. By mid-day high sun warms the water a few degrees and mayfly hatches begin and continue all afternoon then end and fish stop feeding. You might as well head for Happy Hour because late evening feeding isn’t that popular to trout this time of season. If you want to stay you might catch a spinner fall just at dark but fish are fat and happy from their major mid-day meal and quite often not that interested. Mayfly hatches include Blue Dunns, Black Gnats, Adams, and Quill Gordons in sizes 10 or 12. If fish get finicky I will use an nonweighted nymph as a dropper a couple of feet behind the dry. A selection of different color Hare’s Ear and Pheasant Tail nymphs do a good job.

Pond trout don’t keep bankers hours that long. When the heat of summer arrives warming shallow pond water over 70 degrees send trout to the cooler 55-60 degree water of spring holes where they will spend most of their time until fall when water cools. If it wasn’t for cold spring water entering the ponds from the bottom, often in an area no bigger than the foundation of a house, trout could not survive the heat of summer.

If there is a magical time during the summer trout pond cycle it comes around the beginning of July when the Green Drake or Hex hatches. These monster mayflies hatch just before dark and bring out the biggest trout in search of these huge mayflies often referred to as cheeseburgers with wings. If you have even witnessed the first drake hatch on a pond you will never stop talking about it.

Once the Drakes are done hatching, usually by mid-July, trout spend all their time in the cool water of the spring holes. Trout have already seen a great season of hatches and remain in the spring holes living on the fat they put on earlier. Fish can be caught during the heat of summer but it is very technical nymph fishing with sinking lines in the only spring hole of a pond that is a closely guarded secret of those who know it’s location. Every trout in the pond will be gathered in an area of spring water that may not be any bigger than a tennis court. And if you are not fishing close to the bottom where the cold ground water enters a pond you are fishing in bath water where there are no fish. The consolation prize of finding and properly fishing a pond’s secret spring hole is huge. All the trout are there and they all will gladly eat the right nymph as it goes right by their nose.

Once the heat of summer breaks and cool nights arrive, around the beginning of September, water temps begin to drop back into the low 60’s and the bath water of summer releases its hold on the ponds. The time has come for trout to exit the spring holes and go on a hard feed before they spawn in October. They haven’t had a square meal in weeks so they are very hungry and not necessarily fussy eaters.

By the second week of September you should find trout cruising around ponds in search of a meal. There is little to no hatches that time of season so you won’t see many rising fish but they are looking and circling a pond searching for something to wrap their lips around. About all you need to do in the fall to catch cruising trout is tie on a Orange Grasshopper or the like and let it lay out there on the surface then twitch it now and then so it makes a set of rings to let fish know something is struggling on the surface. Cruising trout will find and gladly gobble it down. You’ll be  pleasantly surprised how many fish show up all wearing their fabulous spawning colors.