In the days of satellite mapping on cell phones, GPS with mapping chips, and internet forums where fishing information spreads like wildfire, it can be tough to strike out on your own and find a tiny little honey hole that you can keep to yourself. But if you are willing to put in the leg work, use the technology to your advantage, and come up empty handed a couple times, you can find some amazing tiny little spots, even close to the big cities.
One of my favorite little spots I discovered when living in the Twin Cities was so small that it would barely qualify as a pond. I would frequently fish the lake across the road for walleyes and panfish, and one day my curiosity got the best of me and I hiked over. After the first few holes I drilled brought up nothing but stinky black mud, I was a little disheartened and ready to turn back, but I pushed on and drilled out to the middle of the pond where I found depths of almost 30 feet, furthermore, there were several marks suspended on my flasher! I ran back to my little Otter sled and grabbed the first rod I could, dropped the walleye-sized spoon down the hole and was rewarded with a decent crappie flopping on the ice. While not a monster to most anglers, an 11” crappie inside the 94 corridor in the Twin Cities is something to be proud of. Most little ponds like this one won’t have the kind of depth I found that day, this pothole had several other things going for it: 1. it had water flowing through it which supplied oxygen for fish present to survive winter, 2. it connected to a larger waterway that had a decent fishery, and 3. The ring of cattails and other emergent vegetation gave it the appearance of being a shallow duck slough which kept other from trying to fish it.
Learning the little secrets of ponds around the metro that most drove past while on their ways to bigger waters gave me a huge edge when I was able to travel further from home. Small ponds like these are sprinkled across the ice belt, yet only a select few give them the time they are worth. One of the first steps is to log on to a resource like the MN DNR Recreation Compass or Google Maps. Pick an area you would like to target and start doing some research. Obviously lake surveys are a great place to start, but some of the best spots will either have a survey that is 20+ years old or they will not have one at all. Little ponds out in the middle of nowhere can be productive if you are out closer to the Dakotas, but for the most part around Central and
Minnesota they will be shallow and unable to support consistent
fish populations. However, feeder creeks, small rivers and streams can provide
enough oxygen and food to make panfish thrive. By clicking on the mapping
portion of the program, it will be much easier for you to identify these little
blue squiggles as they trace their way across the land. The small little feeder
creeks aren’t the only ones that can point you to a great fishery though, even
larger rivers such as the Mississippi, the
Rum, and the St Croix can have little
backwaters that are often overlooked by others. This can be either because they
don’t want to bother to check and see if there are fish or it could be that they
are concerned over ice conditions on the way to the spot.
A body of water doesn’t have to be tiny to be overlooked, however. Lakes that are on the way to, or are near more popular angling destinations often are bypassed in the excitement to get to a more noteworthy fishery. The Chisago chain of lakes near the Twin Cities is a prime example of this. As a very popular spot for panfishermen, these lakes see thousands of anglers a year. But a quick look at a map shows dozens of lakes that anglers drive past on their way to supposedly greener pastures. Many of these bodies of water have equal, if not better fishing (with much smaller crowds) than those in the Chisago area.
Lakes in and around the most populace areas have the same problem. Anglers still suffer from the misconception that you have to travel a long way out of the metro to find decent fishing. There are a few that have zero complaints about this ideal, since it provides them with some amazing fishing without the crowds mere minutes from home. Lakes in your own backyard, or even outside your office window, can produce some wonderful results if you are willing to give them a try. One lake my brother and I found a few years ago is right next to a junction of to major freeways in the Twin Cities. I would estimate that close to 200,000 people drove by this body of water every day. We didn’t even know it was there until we found it on Google Maps. Our next step was to research lake maps and survey info; to our surprise we found that it had a great panfish population. Just like that we were rewarded with our own hidden gem that was a mere 5 minutes from home.
Panfish aren’t the only overlooked angling opportunities to be found. When you are poring over survey info, don’t forget to take a look at stocking info. One of my favorite little metro puddles has had literally millions of walleye stocked in it during the last ten years. This “lake” is only around 150 acres, but puts out some fantastic walleyes every year because no one else realizes it’s potential.
Homework, it’s a dirty word to most. But it makes a huge difference between striking out and catching fish when scouting out some new honey holes. Google Maps, aerial photos, lake surveys, GPS, and plat maps (these help out a ton when trying to get onto private/semi-private waters) are all readily available for you to use. So why aren’t you using all available resources as opposed to the old word-of-mouth from the bait shop? The technology is there, set out on your own and find yourself a little spot that isn’t already crowded by truck-loads of other anglers.