This year is extremely difficult - an unusually late spring meant lower water temperatures throughout May, and then, BAM!, the thermometer shot up quickly in what has been a really hot June.
"It's been tough, really tough," Ponds said, referring to the fishing he's done near his Madison home during a month-long break in the Elite Series. He left today for the next event on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. "It hasn't been easy, but it got better when I got back to a couple of bass fishing basics."
First, Ponds said, he remembered to draw a mental map of the lake topography.
Second, he gave the bass what they wanted.
"What you have to do is picture a map of the lake and pick out the obvious routes that bass follow from shallow to deep," he said. "There's the obvious things like old road beds and creek channels, and the not so obvious like smaller ditches and old fence roads.
"Bass relate to those just like we do highways and streets. One of my favorite transition patterns is finding old roadbeds; they can be red hot in the spring. That and creeks, especially the shallow side of 90-degree bends."
Tracking the progress of fish along those travel routes is critical, and Ponds relies on a crankbait to do his searching.
"The past two weeks, I've had success with a Bandit 250 Ledge crankbait, using it to cover as much water as I could in the shortest amount of time," he said. "I was targeting those first drops out from the spawning grounds, looking for ledges that were about 6 or 7 feet on top dropping to 10 or 12 feet on bottom."
Bass are notorious for forming large schools in the spring, travelling en masse. But Ponds was having trouble finding more than one fish at a time on the crankbaits.
"I think this year, with how it was so cool in May and then got hot so fast in June, it has affected the fish," he said. "They weren't as aggressive as we normally see them once they start migrating."
Ponds explained that all bass are sluggish in the first 10 days to two weeks after spawning and moving out to the first drop, "but then they usually turn on and get very aggressive. This year, not so much."
He still found success.
"What I did was slow down," Ponds said. "I switched off the crankbait and went to a Carolina rig with a lizard and started catching fish in wads. You have to be aware that just because you aren't catching them on what you're throwing doesn't mean the fish aren't there. Fish stick to those routes. They are there. You just have to adjust to meet their level of aggression."
Another problem that bass fishermen are facing on big waters, like Barnett Reservoir and Sardis, Enid and Grenada lakes, is a delayed shad spawn. Biologists say the late spring pushed the shad spawn back.
"I noticed that on Barnett," Ponds said. "By now, the main shad spawn is usually over and the lake is covered by schools of shad. Not this year.
"The shad are still hanging close to cover in the shallows, things like riprap banks, timber and vegetation, and the bass don't really want to be there but they will be if that's where the food is. The shad have not moved out, but they will be soon if this heat continues."
On smaller lakes, where bass depend more on other forage fish, Ponds said it's a good idea to find the bream beds and start working the outside edges of those.
"I usually take a bream-colored shallow-running square bill crankbait and work those areas," he said. "The square bills are good hunters and produce in that situation. I also had good success last week on a lake where the bream were bedding using a swim jig, and, yeah, off course I was using the ½-ounce Talon Pete Ponds Finesse Swim Jig, in the Green Sunfish pattern.
"I used it around the bream beds and I also used it over the tops of deeper brush where I found fish suspended over the top of the brush. The best brush piles were in 10 feet of water, and the timber topped out at 5 or 7 feet. In that same situation, I slow-rolled a big spinnerbait over the top of the brush and they liked that, too."
In lakes with a lot of vegetation on the edges, Ponds will always give a topwater bite a chance.
"Oh yeah, you got to try a frog, and I like the Scum Dog, which you can walk like a topwater plug," he said. "It's not just a sunrise or sunset bite either. If you got submerged cover like logs, you can pull a big fish up to hit that frog. I fished a 60-acre lake last week where the fish were extremely aggressive around the bream beds. They were hanging close to cover, like grasses, near those beds. They were really on the frogs."