Reflections — Farm Pond Access

Reflections — Farm Pond Access

Jun 1, 2013

Tommy Skarlis and the ‘Secret’ Handshake to Access Farm Ponds

By Mike Pehanich

Rare is the big-time tournament angler who didn’t start small.

I mean “small” as in “small waters.”

Walleye championTommy Skarlis often leaves the big waters and trophy fish that earn him a paycheck for the simple joys and great fishing of farm ponds!

Before the launch of Mike Pehanich’s Small Waters Fishing, I discussed my website concept with many top pros – John Crews, Edwin Evers, Mike Iaconelli, James Niggemeyer, Gary Klein, and Bobby Lane, to name but a few — and legends of the sport like Ray Scott, Bill Dance, Harold Allen, Doug Hannon and Mike Long. Not only did they all like the concept, they were quick to confide how small waters had factored into their angling careers, past and present.

Last week, I met with walleye pro Tommy Skarlis on the Mississippi River near the Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin/Marquette, Iowa pool. Our focus was on walleye tackle and techniques, but Skarlis was quick to sidle into his own small waters history, from pond hopping as a young boy to ice fishing farm ponds and fishing with his sons today!

Exclusive SWF video with Tommy Skarlis on Gaining Access to Farm Ponds!

Access issues

Tommy grew up fishing farm ponds in northeast Iowa. Despite his impressive tournament resume, which grew again this past April with his National Guard FLW Walleye Tour victory on the Red Wing pool of the Mississippi River, he has a special place in his angling heart for farm ponds and Iowa trout streams.

A lot of times, the best farm ponds are those you don’t see — far off the beaten track. With “modesty, honesty, and a little bit of hard work,” you can gain access to outstanding small waters, according to Tommy Skarlis.

Now there are hundreds of thousands of waters, large and small, in the United States today.  But some are remote, many are on private land, and many more have closed to the public through formal or ad hoc privatization efforts.

Indeed, “access to waters” is one of the most critical issues facing American sportsmen today. But don’t let the “No Fishing” signs get you down! Yes, we as anglers need to work with our legislators and local officials to keep waters open for fishing, but we can open doors for ourselves individually as well – sometimes with nothing more than a smile and a polite request.

The Skarlis handshake is no secret!

“Knock on the door, hold out your mitt, introduce yourself, tell them who you are and where you ‘re from,” advises Skarlis. “I was wondering if I could chase some panfish around on your farm pond.”

That’s all it takes?

The nightcrawlers that caught bass and panfish on farm ponds today help walleye pro Tommy Skarlis win major tournaments and set records.

Sometimes. Sometimes not. But you won’t know if you don’t try.  And chances are good things will happen if you stay positive and aren’t afraid to knock on several doors — even if things don’t go exactly the way you planned.

When I was 12, I begged my dad to take me to fish strip mine lakes. He stopped at a neat white house overlooking a picture book strip pit and asked if we could fish there. The owner declined, but she told us of a set of former strip pits that offered fishing access for a modest fee.

Years ago, high winds forced my young son and I off a popular public lake we had set out for that morning. Conditions called for a Plan B, so I drove down a country road, knocked on a farmhouse door, shook hands with a friendly farmer, and ended up spending a pleasant afternoon with farm pond bass and bluegill.

We don’t all have the country charm and charisma of a Tommy Skarlis, but all you really need is initiative, courtesy and honest-to-God good intentions.


The experience he garnered fishing trout streams and farm ponds helped formed the foundation of an angling career that has made Tommy Skarlis one of the most formidable anglers in tournament walleye fishing.

“With a little bit of modesty, a little bit of honesty, and a little bit of hard work, you can access small waters,” says Tommy Skarlis, pond hopper. “And lots of them are loaded with big, big fish!”


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