East Texas fishing adventure for panfish, catfish and bass

These two river fishermen used live minnows to a catch a hefty stringer of crapp

One thing is certain – small ponds, creeks and lakes can hold big time numbers of panfish, as well as bass and catfish. There are hundreds of these small fishing waters scattered throughout East Texas on public and private property. They are all easily accessible most of the time and can be fished from the bank or in a small, flat-bottom boat.

Most of us got our start in the world of fishing with a bobber, small hook and some sort of live bait like a grasshopper, red worm or cricket. If it wasn’t for panfish like bluegills, long-ears and red-ears, a whole lot of us wouldn’t be into fishing like we are today.

When I was about 5 years old, my family went on a Saturday fishing trip to a friend’s two-acre pond near Jasper. First thing we did was use a butterfly net to catch a half dozen or so grasshoppers. That was half the fun. If you’ve never tried to catch your own winged bait, you have definitely missed out. On that particular day we used both hoppers and worms to catch a mixed bag of bream, crappie and a few small catfish. Everything was fine until my bobber got yanked under. I lifted up the cane pole and catapulted a 2-foot water snake right into my sister’s lap. It was calamity at its finest.

Some of the best fishing in Texas can be found on small ponds and lakes. For the past 23 years, I’ve been fishing a small cattle tank that’s not much bigger than a trailer house. But it’s flat loaded with perch and bass. It’s also provided us with cheap entertainment while we’re not deer hunting. Conversely, I’ve fished on 5 to 15 acre lakes that are well stocked with trophy-class largemouth bass and some of the biggest perch I’ve ever seen. Those perch are called copper-nosed bluegills and grow to be about the size of a ping-pong paddle.

A friend of mine owns a ranch near Lampasas. He’s got three tanks on the place that we stocked with bream, bass and catfish years ago. One of those tanks has nothing but catfish in it. We can drive up on four-wheelers and those catfish will actually swim up to the bank looking to be fed some catfish pellets. It’s provided us with fresh-caught catfish dinners for decades.

Gearing up to fish on small ponds and creeks is simple. A basic cane pole will catch perch all day long. This is as simple as small-water fishing gets. You take a pole, tie a 10 foot piece of line to the tip, add a bobber, a split shot weight and a No. 10 long shank bream hook. Bait up with a pinch of a red worm or cricket, and you are good to go.

The exact opposite of a cane pole is a fly rod. I’ve used a four piece 2-weight fly rod for years to fish small ponds, rivers and creeks. It’s definitely a sporting and fun way to catch bream and crappie. If you really want to have some fun, tie on a hopper-imitation fly or a sponge bug. Both are built with rubber legs that twitch on the surface and drive bream crazy, not to mention bass.

In between a cane pole and fly rod is something like a Zebco rod-and-reel combo. This is perfect for all age groups. A Zebco is a closed-face, push-button reel that anybody can learn to use. Load it with 8-pound test monofilament line and it’s good to go.

It’s usually best to go with a lightweight spinning reel on most small-water fishing trips — the lighter the better, since the fish will be on the small side much of the time. The two-piece rods are best and easy to pack along on deer or bird hunting trips. A small tackle box that’ll hold a dozen or so lures is perfect. Load it up with the following lures and you’re sure to catch more fish than your buddies. Yum Craw Chunks are a good imitation of the crawfish found in just about any pond. A Rebel Crickhopper is a small crank that looks just like a cross between a grasshopper and cricket. It’s killer. So is a Booyah Pad Crasher. This is a weedless soft plastic frog imitation. Tiny spinnerbaits will catch just about any fish that swims. A 1/8-ounce Booyah Colorado spinnerbait in white or white/chartreuse is an all-time favorite of perch, crappie and bass. That’s about all you need to successfully fish small ponds, lakes and creeks anywhere in Texas.

Remember this: Never, ever leave to go on a hunting trip without loading up at least one rod and a tackle box. It’s extremely rare to make a deer hunt on land that doesn’t have at least one small fishing tank of some sort.

Sometimes you’ll stumble upon an unexpected surprise fishin’ hole. I once got an invite to hunt deer and turkeys on a ranch near Del Rio. Come to find out it had about a mile of shoreline along the Devils River – one of the finest fishing rivers in Texas. It was loaded with largemouth and smallmouth bass, all sorts of perch and more catfish than you could shake a stick at. You just never know.


Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.