Fine Kettles of Fish

Often overlooked by anglers seeking saltwater sport, Cape Cod’s many freshwater ponds offer tremendous action with largemouth bass all season long!

By Chris Nashville | Photography by Tom Richardson

Mention “Cape Cod” to an angler, and he is likely to conjure up images of striped bass, bluefish and bluefin tuna. However, the Cape also offers a freshwater option that’s equally exciting, not to mention more dependable and accessible, especially during the steamy summer doldrums or when the wind howls on the ocean.

The Cape is peppered with over 360 kettle ponds, many of which teem with well-fed largemouth bass, plus a supporting cast of trout, pickerel, perch, sunfish and other species. Many of the ponds can be waded around in their entirety, while others require a kayak, canoe, paddleboard or skiff to access the best spots. Free maps of the ponds showing their depth contours and access points are available on the state’s MassWildlife website.

Toothy chain pickerel spice up the pond action, but may cost you a few lures.

Formative Years

Kettle ponds were formed some 10,000 years ago by large chunks of ice left behind by the retreating Laurentide Ice Sheet. The remnant ice chunks were partially covered by sand and rocks carried in the glacial meltwater that helped create the Cape and Islands. As the ice melted, it left water-filled depressions in the soil. While the Cape’s kettle ponds can be up to 80 feet deep, most average 30 to 50 feet, and feature steeply sloping bottoms.

Fish-holding structure in the ponds mostly centers on aquatic or shoreside vegetation, although some ponds feature rocky bottoms that provide terrific structure for bait and predatory fish. And speaking of bait, a handful of these ponds serve as spawning and nursery grounds for migratory river herring, which provide a rich food source for some unusually large largemouths.

Pre-Spawn Strategy

The kettle pond bass fishery comprises several distinct phases during the season, each requiring its own set of techniques. The spring pre-spawn bite begins after the first good stretch of warm weather, usually around the end of April or early May. During this period, the bass are constantly on the move, searching for good spots to make their beds in the shallows. Therefore, they will mostly be found near shore in one to six feet of water.

Pre-spawn fishing can be difficult at times, since the fish seem to be more interested in breeding than feeding. Also, the fish move around from day to day, so you often need to put in some time to find them. One day you may see them cruising along the shoreline, while the next they may be out of sight in slightly deeper, darker water.

Casting six-inch Gary Yamamoto Senko soft-plastic worms, shallow crankbaits and even small jerkbaits is a great way to cover a lot of water during the pre-spawn period. A moderate to slow retrieve with a “wacky-rigged” six-inch Senko on a 1/0 Gamakatsu wide-gap hook can be deadly. By the way, this is a great time to target the trout-stocked ponds; if the bass bite is slow, the trout can pick up the slack.

Spawn Time

The next phase is the spawn, which tends to happen a few weeks after that first warm-weather window. You’ll know when the fish are spawning due to the number of beds—round, sandy depressions—along the edges of the pond. You’ll often see the number of beds increase two-fold in the course of a day during the height of the spawn. This is the perfect time to cast lures over or along the edges of the bass beds with unweighted soft-plastics and jerkbaits. Salamander imitations work especially well during the spawn. The bass will aggressively protect their beds as long as their eggs are present, and the strikes can be violent.

You’ll know the spawn is over when the abandoned beds start to collect leaves and other debris. This post-spawn period, which usually begins around mid-June, can be a challenging time. The fish aren’t as hungry from their reproductive duties and defense of their nests as you would think. However, searching slightly deeper water with jigs and deep-diving crankbaits can be productive.

Hot Summer Nights

Once midsummer arrives, those who venture forth after dark can reap big rewards. Jitterbugs and other topwater lures fished at dusk and through the night can elicit heart-stopping strikes from large, unseen fish as they patrol the shallows, drop-offs and the edges of lily pads, looking for a meal.

Anther shift occurs as summer gives way to autumn. Fall fishing can be hit or miss, depending on the weather. In mild years, bass fishing can remain productive into November, while other years it turns too cold, too quick. At this time, jerkbaits and other slow-moving lures can be the key to success. In ponds with herring runs, expect the bass to lurk near the creek mouths, waiting to ambush the departing young-of-the-year baitfish.

While kettle pond bass will never possess the mystique of a surf-caught striper or 500-pound tuna, at least they’re guaranteed to show up. The next time your ocean plans are foiled by the weather, or if you’re simply looking for a more laidback kind of fishing, give the Cape Cod ponds a try. Like some of the herring that end up in the bellies of big kettle pond largemouths, you may never return to the sea.

Kettle Pond Producers

Gary Yamamoto Senko Worm

Daddy Mac Viper Bluegill

Booyah spinnerbaits

Booyah Pad Crasher & Poppin’ Frog

Yo-Zuri 3DS Minnow

Baker Lures jerkbaits

Colorado spoons

Worden’s Rooster Tail spinners

Arbogast Jitterbug