Small Waters Strategies – Retention Ponds

Small Waters Strategies – Retention Ponds

Mar 9, 2013

Unconventional Retention Pond Tactics

By Mike Pehanich

In Reflections: Living the Small Waters Creed, SWF related the small waters success of a father-son team who fish retention ponds near their Illinois home. Much to my delight, Jim and 13-year-old Westin O’Neill identified several baits and presentations that fall under the radar of the mainstream angling public during our correspondence.

Jim and Westin O’Neill fish the kind of retention ponds extremely common in the upper Midwest and many other parts of the country — lakes designed for drainage purposes during the blueprint stages of a residential development.

Such lakes generally have moderate depth. Their water color ranges from clear to murky.

Westin O'Neill, now 13, fishes topwater lures throughout the open water season and even in the middle of the day when the sun is high!

A manmade rock rim often protects the shorelines against erosion. The submerged edge of that rock rim provides the most conspicuous and best-used structure on the lakes, many of which also possess a rim of shoreline-related vegetation that can grow thick and matted during summer.

Offshore patches of vegetation are also common.

The elder O’Neill arms himself with spinnerbaits and jig & pig combinations during the early season, taking particular advantage of the aforementioned structure at the base of the rocks by paralleling the shoreline with his casts.

It’s a sound “one-two combination.” The spinnerbait works well for active and moderately active fish, working effectively over the rock and through the vegetation. The jig & pig combinations can attract bottom-hugging bass and fish hanging tight to patches of vegetation or other cover.

Like father, like son? Only to a degree!

Westin has adopted jig and trailer combinations similar to dad’s, but with a twist!

His jig of choice, where conditions favor, is a heavy Deps Head Lock Jig, ½- and ¾ ounce models, with a crawfish-style trailer.

Two features of this jig stand out.

First is the hook eye position. Rather than standing straight up from the jighead or angled forward, the hook eye angles slightly backward toward the hook. As a result, the jig hangs almost perfectly horizontally when swimming or at rest.

The Deps Head Lock Jig matches up well with a variety of crawfish-type plastic trailers. Its most unique feature is a back-tilted hook eye that keeps the jig working horizontally.

Its second standout feature is the trimmed rubber skirt that flares out in breathing fashion and traps air to give off bubbles when the bait is at rest. (Note: Head Lock Jigs also come with silicone skirt options.)

“He swims it, lets it fall, waits for a response…then repeats the pattern along rocky shorelines and out 10 to 15 feet from shore,” reports Jim O’Neill.

A lot of ponds have little cover or structure, but by feeling out the underwater terrain with a jig like the Head Lock and “using a little imagination to figure out what’s beneath the water,” the jig becomes as effective a mapping tool as it is a fish catcher.

Mate this jig with a proper craw-style trailer, and you have a deadly combination indeed!


‘Waking’ the late risers

Like most bass anglers, young Westin loves to fish topwater baits.

Unlike most bass anglers, he fishes them when others don’t!

The Jackall Mikey and Mikey Jr. are swim bait-style swimbaits. A steady retrieve with the lure at the surface and producing a classic "V" wake is the simplest -- and best -- approach.

“My son fishes topwater lures any time of day and in any season, defying the rule of low light situations…and all our notions of when to fish topwater presentations,” says Jim. “He taught himself with the Deps Buzzjet and Jackall Mikey Jr.”

Jim’s account reminded me of Bassmaster Elite Series angler Zell Rowland’s advice: “The best time to fish topwaters is when you’re not!”

Two categories of topwater lures dominate Westin’s offerings: frogs and wake baits.

SWF ‘s library is chock full of froggin’ material, and we will cover wake bait fishing extensively in 2013. But, for now, let’s dial in on Westin’s two favorite wake baits.

Wake baits draw their name from the “V” wake that trails them when they are worked at the surface.

Baits like the Mann’s Minus-1 and Cordell Redfin CHECK, pioneers in the category, are actually shallow-diving baits that naturally run a foot or so beneath the surface. To function as wake baits, the angler must hold the rod high to maintain the bait’s surface ride.

Local retention ponds are often overlooked by other bass anglers. They are great places to learn new techniques and to test lures. Approach them with an open mind -- as Westin O'Neill has since his early angling years!

Others, like the aforementioned Deps Buzzjet and Jackall Mikey and Mikey Jr., were designed to stay at the surface throughout the retrieve.

Wake baits are mesmerizing baits. Bass sometimes seem transfixed by the track of a “waker” as it wobbles side to side and leaves its telltale “V” trail. On deep clear reservoirs in particular, it is not unusual to see bass – northern pike and musky, too! – nose in immediately behind the bait and follow it all the way to the boat or, in Westin’s case, to the shoreline.

Wake baits vary in shape and rudimentary design. They range from shallow-running crankbaits with almost perpendicular lips that keep them riding high, to long willowy minnow-style baits and jointed swimbaits.

In addition to its crankbait-style wobbling wake, the Deps Buzzjet creates added turbulence with its tail-positioned propeller.

Retrieve: simple is best

The Jackall Mikey and Mikey Jr. are jointed swimbaits designed to work at the surface. They attract big predators, including large bass and northern pike, but bass with no chance of choking down forage of this size have attacked my “Mikeys” ferociously!

When I wrote the first comprehensive feature on wake baits for Bassmaster magazine, a new wave of  “wake baits” had hit the market. Today there are dozens of them, each with its own niche and character.

You’ll have to spend time with them and get to know them. Some wake baits seem to work best within a fairly small range of retrieve speeds. You may catch some fish by working them with twitches and pulls. (The Deps Buzzjet lends itself more to artful presentation than many of the others.) But, generally, the most consistently productive retrieve is a steady, surface-riding, V-producing wake at a speed and cadence that brings out the lure’s best action.

And just what is that speed?

How many times a week do you pass small waters near home that rarely, if ever, see a lure?

Take a tip from Westin! Spend time on the water to find out!

But keep it simple. Keep it smooth. Wake that bait all the way back to the boat!

Note: The Deps Buzzjet, Deps Head Lock Jig, and Jackall Mikey baits are all available from Lee’s Global Tackle Connection.

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