It’s no secret that bass fishing in ponds is fun, accessible and You don’t need the fanciest gear and sparkly bass boats are out of the equation, which can leave more room for simple enjoyment that takes you back to your childhood.
There’s one problem: Many of the best-looking ponds are found on private property and the owners don’t let just anyone fish ‘em. If you play your cards right, however, you might get lucky and gain permission to the best ponds in your area.
My dad and I used to drive around on Saturday mornings in his 1952 Chevrolet pickup and ask local farm owners for permission to fish their cow ponds. We didn’t always get the answer we wanted, but I learned a lot about the process and I’m thankful I learned to hear—and accept— the word “no” at an early age. I think it’s good for kids, whether they fish or not.
From watching Dad interact with these old farmers, I learned some tips that I’ve continued to use as an adult. They’re not failsafe by any means, but I think they’ll help your chances in your search for a new honey hole.
Handshakes say a lot about someone
Within a few moments of shaking another man’s hand, I’m able to get a pretty good grasp on the type of person they are. First impressions are hugely important and a strong handshake and direct eye contact go a long way, especially when you’re trying to gain access to a good-looking private pond. That’s why I always prefer to speak to a property owner in person.
Back when I was a kid, I’d walk right up to someone’s front door. But with the way the world is nowadays, I wouldn’t really recommend it. People can be pretty sketchy, so I actually try to catch the owner outside if possible. It won’t always work out and you definitely shouldn’t drive by every day and stalk them—that’s kind of creepy—but if you happen to be driving by and they’re outside, pull over and chat with them.
Before saying anything, give them a smile, hold your hand out and introduce yourself with your first and last name. The worst they can say is “no”, so what do you have to lose? See where the conversation goes and be respectful regardless of their response. It’s just fishing, so don’t get to stuttering and mumbling your words; you’re not asking them on a date, so there’s nothing to be nervous about. Confidence is always well perceived in this situation.
Mention catch and release early
If I were a pond owner, I wouldn’t want someone I barely know keeping fish from my pond. There’s a big difference between periodically taking some for a fish fry and filling a cooler every weekend. It takes a lot of time and money to keep a pond in tip-top shape, so the owners can understandably be very stern about catching and keeping fish.
For this reason, I’ve always had the most success when I purposely mention my catch-and-release conservation philosophy early in the conversation. I make it absolutely clear that I will not take a single, solitary fish from their pond. As time goes on and you earn trust with the pond owner, perhaps the issue of keeping a few fish can be revisited. But the introductory conversation is not the time to bring it up.
They’re doing you a favor by letting you fish on their property. Don’t take their fish from them unless you get permission.
Ditch the guests
I manage a trophy bass pond—I don’t own it—but it has given me a lot of perspective regarding common issues pond owners face. One of the worst nightmares of any owners is the whole “bringing a friend” thing. It may sound innocent enough, but hear me out.
Some people just don’t have much sense. And if you bring one of those people, they now think they have permission to fish the pond as well. Then they’ll bring their friend. Then that friend starts blabbing around town about this awesome pond full of nice fish. Next thing the owner knows, he has strangers coming onto his property and knocking on his door every week. One bad apple can, and will, spoil the bunch in this situation. I promise.
When I was younger and dumber, I almost lost permission to my favorite farm pond because I made this mistake. One of my goofball buddies took it upon himself to fish it by himself and guess what? He left the dern cattle gate open and some heifers got out. The farmer was waiting on his front porch for me before my next fishing trip and he was fuming mad. And he had every right to be furious.
Again, this is something you can ease into as time passes and a level of trust is earned. But for now, be very clear that you will not, under any circumstances, bring a guest with you. It will be appreciated.
If I had a dollar for every pond bank I’ve weedeated and mowed with an old push mower, I might be a rich man. Shoreline maintenance isn’t fun and lots of property owners don’t like fooling with it. You’ll get soaked when your weedeater line hits the water and you’ll be in the presence of some big snakes, but you’ll earn a lot of respect right off the bat.
It’s a win-win for both parties, however. Yeah, you’ll have to get your hands dirty and work your butt off a few times a month, but the owner gets free maintenance and you get a private pond all to yourself. I’d take that deal any day of the week.
Are letters okay?
I get asked this question a lot and personally speaking, I think they can be perceived as somewhat of a cop-out at times. But if you’re unable to catch the owner outside as we previously discussed, it’s a good Hail Mary play. The odds aren’t in your favor, but again, it won’t hurt I suppose.
I’ve had moderate success with this strategy. I suggest a hand-written—not a typed—note on company letterhead if at all possible. Keep it short, leave them a business card with your phone number and offer a face-to-face meeting before a decision is made. When you show up to meet them, bring ‘em a bag of boiled peanuts or deer jerky; that’s what works well here in the South.
Let’s be real, here. Your letter will most likely end up in their kitchen trash can. But all it takes is one “yes” and your whole fishing situation can change for the better.
With permission, fillets can be a powerful tool
I have caught and cleaned many a catfish and bluegill throughout my life, just to give the fillets to a property owner who allows me to fish on their pond. If they frequently mention fish fries or you’re just getting the vibe that they love a good bag of fillets, offer to catch a few fish for their dinner table.
But don’t just leave a cooler full of whole fish on their doorstep. Take ‘em home and clean them for the pond owner. When you bring the fresh fillets back to the owner, I’d wear some decent-looking clothes; not the ratty fishing clothes they’re used to seeing you in. Call me old-fashioned or maybe it’s just a Southern thing, but I think it’s important to show these folks that you can look halfway decent. After all, they’re letting you onto their property.
With a little homework, a firm handshake and confident attitude, you’ll have a good chance of getting onto that great-looking pond you’ve been driving past for years. Yes, it can be a bit awkward if you allow it to be, but these tips can put you in prime position for some unbelievable bass fishing opportunities.
Next time, we’ll talk about using two important tools for locating hidden ponds you might not be aware of.