Gear and Tactics: Trout fishing in the kettleponds

**3/13 Update: Trout have been stocked in a few Cape ponds! Head over to https://www.mass.gov/service-details/trout-stocking-report for details.

*3/12 Update: No trout stocked yet. Will update when I hear about the trucks. Sean and I hit four ponds just off-Cape on Monday 3/11 and found them all locked up with ice. I’m thinking they should be clear by mid to end of week.

Stripers came first for me on the fly. Then came the trout. This seems to be a logical progression for us anglers on the Striper coast, when the striper season just seems too goddamn short. Initially, picking up the 5wt for trout was just a way to extend the fishing season and shorten (or eliminate) the off-season.

But after a few trips down to my local kettle pond on some very cold March and April days, I felt myself becoming obsessed, and that same tinge of all-you-can-think-about obsession that I normally associated with targeting our striped friends began taking hold for our trutta friends.

This article will cover both tactics for targeting trout in the kettleponds: Fly and Spin. I’ll run through everything you need to fly fish for trout and most of what you need to spin fish for trout (because you probably already have a favorite light freshwater rod and reel).

We’ll also talk about best times to target, what to throw during certain times of year (on the fly and on the spin), where to look for feeding trout and some of my favorite stocked ponds in the area.

Trout: Where, when and how to catch them

Fishing in the kettle ponds is a different beast when compared to other types of trout fishing, and exceptionally different than fly fishing for stripers. Where the striper season means adrenaline pumping, blurry-eyed action, stillwater trout fishing is zen-like and focused. Stillwater fishing can be as technical as you make it, the most simplified version being akin to dunking worms under a bobber.

The kettle ponds that dimple the Cape are stocked twice per year with trout, and some, namely the deeper ones, can support the trout population year-round. During stocking periods (Spring and Fall), trout fishing can be fast and furious. The in between periods can mean slow—we’ll call it deliberate—fishing.

These kettle ponds range from developed, heavily-populated swimming holes to wilderness-surrounded lakes. They vary from rocky to sandy to muddy bottoms, and some—our most productive fishing spots—will get down to 80 or 100 feet at their deepest. As you can probably guess, finding a map (available here) and pinpointing seemingly-productive locations can mean the difference between a skunk and a dozen-fish outing. Trout, especially after stocking, will school up. So, don’t be afraid to move around the pond often, either on foot or in a kayak, float, or small boat.

In general, when the water is cooler, the trout will be shallow. Rocky outcroppings, sandy clearings and shallow muddy bottoms will be a draw for these fish. As the water warms, the trout move to the deeper parts of the body of water and targeting them on the fly becomes difficult.  

These trout will be stocked in a variety of kettleponds and other bodies of water all throughout the state. Stocking info and an updated stocking report can be found here. Many of these are traditionally deep, spring fed ponds. But others will surprise you. Fish are even stocked in a number of rivers in Eastern MA, including Eel River, Agawam River and Scorton Creek. I’ll talk about some strategies for fishing my favorite ponds later in the article.

Targeting Trout on the Spinning Rod

You may associate catching trout with an earthworm or Powerbait under a bobber. This is absolutely an effective way to target fish. Set up a few rods on the beach, bring a chair and wait for the bobber to disappear. This can be great fishing for kids or for you anglers who don’t like to move around too much.

Ultra-light rods, like the St. Croix Trout Series and a 1k-2k reel, like the Shimano Sedona or Sierra, loaded with 6lb-10lb mono or braid will fit all types of trout fishing.

A more active approach will be to target trout using lures. Year round, trout will hit a variety of jerkbaits, spoons and spinners.

Some tried and true jerkbaits and stickbaits

The trick, especially during the cooler winter months will be to move often and switch baits often. Here are a few more lures recommended by some of the best trout anglers around.

Trout can get finicky, so it’s important to switch up what you’re throwing often. Even a slight color or size change can switch the trout on and get them eating.

Spring Tactics

Keep an eye out for the trout trucks in March. Our local kettle ponds and lakes get gratuitous stockings of browns, rainbows, brooks and tigers in the Spring. This creates feeding competition with the holdover population, offering an excellent opportunity at a trophy brown or rainbow.  

Trout can be tricky to catch immediately after stocking. Your best bet will be to throw something big and ugly or something similar to the pellets they were eating in the tanks. The trout won’t have figured out that insect-equals-food yet, so you’ll need something that catches their attention. A brightly colored fly, like a San Juan or an egg imitation, will look like the pellets they’ve lived off of for 1 to 2 years. Egg sucking leeches are an excellent choice for the initial periods after stocking. A small gold spoon or a shiny spinner will work on the spin.

After a few warm days, look to the muddy bottoms for the big midge (chironimidae) hatch. If there’s a full-blown spring hatch occurring, you won’t need to look much further than a few inches in front of your own face. Midges and other spring hatch flies will sometimes cloud the air, and on calm nights, it can seem like it’s raining on the pond.

Fish can be had on dries, emergers, and nymphs. Even if there are trout on the surface, I’ve always found it best to start with a nymph. A disco or zebra midge will get plenty of looks as they fall toward the bottom. Dropper rigs can also be successful. A trout may get fussy during these hatches and only want to hit a Blue-Winged Olive sitting in the surface film, as opposed to on top of it. Your goal is to find a fly that the trout can key in on. Once you do this, the fishing will be fast. You’ll also get caddis and mayfly hatches as the Spring wears on. Larger nymph patterns and wet flies (like sparrows) will be the key when these hatches are occurring.

The great thing about the Spring stocking (other than that it’s our true beginning to the fishing season) is that we’ll have legitimate shots at a kettle pond slam, meaning a rainbow, brown, brook and tiger.

Fall Tactics

The Fall trout stocking occurs in the kettle ponds around the last week of September and the first week of October. While more fish are stocked in the Spring compared to the Fall, these specimens are usually larger. During the first few weeks of the stocking, target the areas where the fish were stocked. Then, find the flats with access to deeper water. The trout may not have figured out the type of food they should be eating, so, like in the Spring, throwing big flashy streamers is a great option. Woolly buggers, Goldies, mop flies, muddler minnows and zonkers all have their place in the fall stocking fly box. The fish will eventually begin to target the midge and other insect populations. If you see fish rising, try a dry or emerger pattern. If there is a midge hatch, but no rises, try fishing a dropper rig with a small midge nymph underneath.

This big holdover fell for a size 18 midge

The Fall is a great time to target big holdover browns on the fly. These fish are notably smart and will feed mostly after dark. Try a dusk trip and throw a big leech pattern in the shallows on a sinking fly line. But don’t overlook a nymph pattern, especially if you’re seeing midges flying above the surface. A big brown will eat a size 18 nymph fished slowly along the bottom or under a dropper. A brown will crush a big baitfish lure, like a jerbait or even a surface lure. Try a spook fished very slowly in the dark in the shallows.

Winter Tactics

One February day, during a slight warm spell I decided to check out one of the Cape kettles. I found one angler in waders fishing along a steep dropoff with a rocky bottom. I watched him cast for a long time, debating if I wanted to pull my waders on and step into that freezing water. As I was about to leave, he hooked up, and eventually brought a fat rainbow to the net. I suited up and walked down to that area. “Black woolly bugger,” he told me. “Fished slow. No flash.”

Your only bet during the winter is to target ponds with a known holdover population, specifically the spring-fed, deeper ponds. These will offer your only chance at a holdover trout. Hatches will be limited during the winter months to the all-important midges. But hungry fish will still bite a weird or flashy streamer and especially a jerbait or spoon. Fish these low and slow, but don’t overlook a twitchy strip. When fishing a nymph (like a hare’s ear or midge imitation), fish it under a dry dropper or a strike indicator. Takes will be subtle; so if you see your indicator do something funny, set that hook.

When fishing a spoon or jerbait, try working it just slow enough to get that wobble. Mix in occasional pauses to trigger reaction bite.

The cool thing is, you don’t have to limit yourself to trout. Open water and a serviceable fly cast will get you onto other warmwater species if you find the right pond. Perch and pickerel provide an exciting bycatch when the water gets cold.

Warmer winter days with light wind will get the trout moving, and a winter midge hatch is a possibility. If we get a string of warmish days and the water gets up to around 40 degrees, you should be out there.

Gear

There are many sub-$200 fly rods that perform like a rod three or four times their price points (Fenwick Aetos, TFO BVK, Redington Rise to name a few). But before you order a rod online, go down to your local fly shop and cast a few rods. Each casting stroke is unique. You need to find a rod that works for your personal touch.

A decent to very good 4/5 or 5/6 reel can be had for under two hundred bucks as well from Ross, Cheeky and Redington. Most will tell you that in trout fishing, the reel is just a line holder. But, do you want a reel with a sticky drag when you’re fighting a 24-inch brown trout? Probably not. And the click sounds some of these mid-priced reels make? Just beautiful.

Another recommendation: don’t cheap out on fly line. This is not where to find a bargain. In terms of fly lines, you get what you pay for. Want to cast like a hundred bucks? Shell out a hundred bucks for a top of the line (ha) fly line. You’ll want a floating line to start, but an intermediate or sinktip comes in handy when you’re trying to crawl a leech pattern along the bottom. Scientific Angler makes some excellent lines, like the MPX series. A great line will do a lot of the casting work for you.  

Favorite ponds and how to fish them

Little Pond

A crowd favorite, and I don’t use the word “crowd” lightly. This is a popular pond, and for good reason. The depth makes it a prime holdover location and there are some very large holdover browns taken every year (and I won’t even mention the slob largemouths that make their living eating stocked trout in here).

Some locations of note are the cove by the main parking lot, the cove in the far back of the pond, and the beach across from Billington Sea. These can all be productive location, but make sure to make your move if one spot isn’t fishing well. The fish like to really school up in this pond, especially in the Spring and late Fall.

Peter’s Pond

A large pond with two access points. Again, this is a deep pond so it’s an excellent holdover location. Lots of rocks, gravel and deep dropoffs. Bring your sinktip and target the many rocky depth changes with something that will get down to where the trout are.

Fearing Pond

A beauty in the State Forest. Clear water surrounded by big pines with plenty of room for your backcast. This pond is too shallow to hold a respectable holdover population, but its an exceptional pond to fish after stocking. It seems to fish best in the Spring when the fish are on midges. Wet flies seem to work really well here. There is a decent drop-off a ways off from shore, so when the water is high, it can be tough to get a fly out to where the fish are feeding. A kayak or small boat (no gas engines) is a great way to fish the dropoff. All sides of this pond fish well.

Have another favorite pond? Let us know.

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