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Hunting for Fishy Waters

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2007

Last revision: Nov. 30, 2010

Those who hunt on public lands often find the best success far from roads and parking lots. Walking that extra mile, targeting remote areas, and getting away from others are proven strategies for success.

These same tactics can also produce big dividends when it comes to fishing public waters. This is certainly the case on many of the hundreds of unnamed, often overlooked ponds tucked away on Department of Conservation areas. Although fishing these ponds may pose a few challenges, a good game plan and some persistence can open the door to exceptional fishing.

Giving up Amenities

Public lakes are popular not only for quality fishing, but also for amenities like boat ramps, privies, mown shorelines and fishing jetties and docks. However, such amenities are typically not possible, practical, or even desirable on most conservation area ponds. In fact, the secluded, primitive nature of these ponds makes fishing them a unique experience.

Most of the time you will need conservation area maps to locate ponds because many of them will not be visible from the road or have signs directing people to them.

Many ponds will require a cross-country hike to access—anywhere from a short walk to a several-mile hike—so bring bug repellent and watch out for poison ivy. The trouble is worth it, though. If you are willing to “rough it” a little, you will often find great fishing.

Small Waters—Big Fish

Many anglers believe that you need a big lake to produce big fish, but this is simply not true. Some of the Midwest’s largest bluegill, crappie, redear and largemouth bass, including several Missouri state record fish, have been caught in ponds.

As long as a pond has good fish habitat and a balanced fish community it can produce catches that rival any lake. Those who fish private ponds know this to be true, but many anglers don’t realize that ponds on public lands can also provide great fishing.

A Mix of Fishes

The fish community in conservation area ponds usually consists of largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish and, occasionally, redear sunfish. It’s the same combination that is recommended to private pond owners.

This mix of species works well together and reliably produces quality fishing under a variety of conditions. Other species either do not fare well in ponds or they create management problems.

Good Fishing Ponds

Although fishing is the best way to determine whether a pond is a good fishing spot, you can often quicken your search by looking for

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