While recently browsing the fishing section of the DNREC website, I came across a listing of state owned public ponds, and it was only then that I discovered that there are twenty of them in my county alone, and I’d only fished three of them. Water is everywhere in Sussex county, with the bays, tributaries, rivers, and of course, the big pond we call the Atlantic, so my oversight can perhaps only be explained by an abundance of good locations near home; the ocean alone enough to keep me fishing without visiting the same couple of locations every other day. But twenty is a nice round number, and Sussex is not a big county, so like Mallory’s mountain, I’ll fish them all because they are there.
While I’d take note of where I’d been and fully intended to visit all of them, I must stress that this was not a gonzo fishing operation aimed at high fish body-counts or a reason to claim I’d “fished ’em all”. It would simply take me to new places that have been right under my nose the entire time, as fishing often does. If the fish wanted to contribute by willingly taking a fly from a stranger now and again, that would be fine, but having not known that some of these ponds even existed, let alone that they have fish in them, made me feel lazy and dumb about my surroundings. It is also an excuse to write about local waters from the perspective of the bank fisherman. I find that most fishing information left online or in books in regards to my local area begins by assuming the reader owned a boat. But what if you don’t?
Finding each pond on Google maps was easy enough, and I found that several were scattered around the lower third of Delaware in clusters; some mill-ponds, some man-made, others the remnants of when this neck of the woods was blanketed in Cypress Swamp. I was going fishing in the morning, and I had the day, so I marked a couple of ponds I could fish for a few hours each, and I’d see what I could see.
After a wrong turn that left me staring at an empty cul-de-sac, I found my way into the empty parking lot of Tussock Pond. It was unseasonably warm, and I was down to a long sleeved t-shirt before I finished rigging up.
According to my reading, Tussock had suffered from fluctuating water levels and this had contributed to a lower-than-average growth among fish. 400 largemouth bass fingerlings were introduced to the water on 2007 in an effort to boost the population, but the pond lost so much water in the fall of the same year that these efforts were probably hampered. The information trail goes cold here, but the pond and it’s waterline certainly looked very healthy to me, so the only thing to do is go fish it as well as you can, and see what it produces. This is not the best way to go into the fishing of a new water; with ‘below average’ stamped neatly on your expectations, but you also may think you can prove that theory wrong; at least by your own standards.
Most of the shoreline here is thick with brush, so good opportunities for casting a fly rod are slim. Working from the boat ramp wasn’t too difficult, especially with the nearby trees now bare and the leaves under my feet, but the area I could cover was small, and didn’t look promising. I searched it with a woolly anyway, feeling for bass, and finding none. I could see an open stretch of bank across the water; probably a good 40 feet of blue sky bookended by trees. Some stumps protruded from the still water before it. I reeled in and started my walk to the opposite side, which took me along a country road, where I stopped and leaned on a guard rail and made lazy casts to the far side of a rocky spillway, it’s very working existence confirming that water levels had returned to good health.
As I continued on, along the edge of a farm field and towards my spot, a noisy Dehavilland Twin Otter took of from nearby Kent Airport, and clawed it’s way into the air. I’d noted the airport on my map, and new it to be a small grass strip. Such an airplane, out in the countryside and operating from a grass strip, led me to surmise that it was for a sky diving operation. At least, I knew he wasn’t dusting crops.
There had been an optical illusion form the boat ramp on the other side of the pond. Those stumps weren’t nearly as close as they had appeared, but the bank was indeed clear of obstruction and I liked the view.
I tied on a small Clouser and began to send long casts out to the stumps; letting the fly sink and then beginning a swimming retrieve. If the bass were home, they weren’t interested, and I began to cast out to other water, or up along the bank, but the stumps were just classic bass cover and I returned the fly there with every third cast or so. Nothing came of it.
When I’m not catching fish where I thought I might, I tend to do one of three things: I change my fly, though I try to do this as little as possible, for the sake of my leader, and my sanity. I might move. Or, I’ll choose to take a moment to just sit and watch.
Moving wasn’t going to happen. I’d found my preffered spot on the shoreline, from where I could work the most water, and I was happy there. So I watched.
The sun was directly in my eyes, but not too high in the sky, and if I crouched and put the tree line between us I could watch the shady part of the water off to my left. The water lay as still and flat as tightly tucked sheets with the litter of fall motionless on it’s surface. Woolies and Clousers hadn’t produced any fish from the deeper water, and I knew there was a population of bluegill and reader sunfish here, although both are said to live with the bass in the ‘below’ average numbers’ category. So I tied on an Adams parachute, a favorite of mine for bluegill, and sent it softly into the shady water. The fly sat up on the dutifully, drunk on floatant, and before it’s concentric circles had dissipated, it was snatched angrily by a scrappy bluegill.
I thanked him for playing, then lowered him back to the water, as over my shoulder, parachutes, – red, blue, yellow – , drifted lazily from the sky.