My brother, Ron, and I pushed off from the bank of the 10-acre pond in a 14-foot john boat just as the sun brightened the eastern sky.

The water's surface was not yet discernable from the heavy morning fog that was clinging tightly to the surface and turning the surroundings into a hazy, pastel gray.

I tied on a brand-new Pop-R, and cast it into the mist, its landing making a barely visible but noisy splash. I took up the line slack and gave the lure one pop. The lake surface exploded in an eruption that resembled a rifle report. I never felt the bass. It snapped off my new lure at the knot with shear speed and the viciousness of a straight razor.

I whined to Ron about getting only one cast out of my new lure as I scrambled in my tackle box for another. I noticed my hands were trembling as I rushed to tie on a second Pop-R. My line held for the rest of the morning, and we limited out with fabulous topwater action.

I had recently retired and intended to do a lot of fishing. During my career, I had been fortunate to live in places where I could fish many of the famous lakes around the country - Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend, Lake Guntersville, the Potomac River basin and many others.

On that foggy morning in Jones County, I wondered if pond fishing just might be my modus operandi for the retirement years.

That trip and a few subsequent ones hooked me on doing my fishing in small waters, primarily farm and recreational ponds. I had previously owned a big fiberglass boat with a big motor for which I had paid big bucks. I enjoyed the luxurious rig on the big lakes where a run of several miles was necessary to get to the good spots.

But now, there seemed to be a need to slow down, downsize and seek out the less-crowded, closer-to-home waters. Quicker, more convenient accessibility and fuel costs influenced this new approach. Not only did I slow down and save money, but I was about to retreat to some of the best fishing of my life.

Some anglers understand that there are thousands of mostly privately owned lakes and ponds that on average yield bigger bass, and often bigger bluegills and crappie, than most of our large impoundments.

One of those anglers is Paul Meek, the well known turkey call maker of Raleigh.

Big bass catcher

"I lived for 26 years on Ross Barnett Reservoir," says the 59-year-old Meek, "and I never caught a really big bass there."

Meek is one of those who fishes only for big fish, and has become known for his success since his recent move to rural Smith County. He has pictures of many oversized bass in his tackle shop in Raleigh that were landed by him and his family members in small impoundments.

Landowners across the South want water on their property. During the middle years of the 1900s, the then-named Soil Conservation Service was well funded to assist landowners in pond building. Their conservationists determined the runoff area of proposed sites, their engineers designed the dams and the agency assisted with funding. They even helped pay for stocking the new ponds with fish. The goals were soil and water conservation, water for livestock and recreational fishing.

This undertaking was one of the government's most successful, and it continues even today. The result is a countryside covered in ponds, a big percentage of which are underfished. Even in those where poor management and neglect have led to poor fishing, they often hold at least a few trophy-sized bass. Many of these lakes are healthy and provide consistent catches.

Meek has obtained permission to fish many of these private ponds within five or six miles of his home. Also, the southern edge of the huge Bienville National Forest is just outside of his town, and it holds several small lakes with big bass in beautiful forested settings.

His equipment list can serve as an example for anglers who want to experience great fishing in usually quiet, secluded waters.

"I use a 14-foot john boat and a two-seater plastic boat made by Buster," he advised. "Both are powered by trolling motors. The john boat slides into tight places a little quicker, but if there are two of us fishing and we aren't rushed, we launch the Buster."

Meek considers the plastic boat the best he has found for fishing small waters. It is actually a miniature pontoon boat, so stable that a person can stand on the side of it and barely tilt. The seats are more comfortable than a john boat's bench seats.

"A unique advantage is that the Buster has a keel in the rear that can be up or down," Meek points out. "In the wind, you let the keel down and the boat won't twist around like a john boat will."

Meek has an aluminum boat trailer, so light that one person can pick it up and move it around in tight quarters common around private ponds in wooded areas.

Other small craft that are suitable for pond fishing are canoes, fishing kayaks and pirogues, all of which are quite portable. Even float tubes could provide the ultimate portability for long walks to remote waters.

Unusual choice

Meek uses a medium-action rod, but his choice of reels may surprise most fans of big bass. He often uses standard baitcasting reels, but his reel of choice is a Zebco 33 Platinum, which has dual ceramic line pickups and five ball bearings.

"If I'm working a tight place like in a cove and a bass surfaces behind me or over a shoulder, I can twist and make an accurate cast and react quicker with the pushbutton reel than with a baitcaster or spinning reel," he said. "Also I can cast better under overhanging limbs with the Zebco."

Twelve- to 14-pound-test is Meek's standard line size.

His lures are favorites of most bassers. For topwater action, he prefers the noisy ones - Devil's Horses and Tiny Torpedoes. A favorite is another lure that has been around a long time, the Skipjack. It lies a bit deeper in the water, allowing its fore and aft spinners to really churn the surface.

An eye-opener is the action that Meek prefers with these popular old lures. He tunes the spinners so they will turn at the slightest movement. He has had the best results on big bass pulling the lures in a steady retrieve, just fast enough to make the spinners turn rather than the pop-and-rest action used by most anglers. His retrieve mimics a slow-moving buzz bait.

Many of Meek's oversized bass were tricked by plastic worms worked, as every good worm fisher knows, slow, slower and slowest and on the bottom. He uses 5- to 8-inch worms on a 2/0 hook rigged onto a swivel and no added weight. He prefers the coach dog colors in sinking worms that he has made for sale in his shop in Raleigh. Purplish, greenish and pumpkin colors are favorites, in that order.

His wife, Connie, is his usual fishing partner, and she prefers rigging lizards with which she lands her share of trophy bass. They both try to keep the big ones from jumping by thrusting the rod tip under water and keeping the rod bent without rushing the fish to the boat.

A depth finder, landing net, tape measure and a camera complete Meek's equipment list. He measures, photographs and releases the big ones. The measurements allow his taxidermist to reproduce the fish if a mount is desired.

When asked to describe his ideal bass pond, Meek provided a unique clinic on finding big bass.

"When I first see a pond, I want to see tree and brush cover around it. Caterpillars and insects fall into the water from this type of cover," he said, suggesting that this influences the type of feeding bass do and makes them vulnerable to the lures he uses. Their diet comes from outside the pond and is not limited to minnows, crawfish, bluegills and other swimming food.

"I look for old trees on the dam," he advised. "Thirty-year-old trees on the dam will indicate an old pond."

Old ponds may hold old bass and thus heavyweight ones.

"Next I use my depth finder to scope out the bottom," he said.

Meek has a portable depth finder that easily switches to either of his boats. If he finds a ditch or old stream channel in the pond, he has found what he's looking for. He positions his boat where he can cast into the depression where the big ones usually lie.

Meek fishes for bass in these small waters year round, changing tactics slightly as conditions dictate. For example, he sometimes uses spinnerbaits in the shallows if the bass are just bumping but not taking topwater offerings.

This dedicated bass angler lets the pond owners know that he does not drink and fish, and that he takes care of the property. He leaves no gates ajar and no trash or other evidence on the property that renders it unattractive. Also he doesn't take guests onto the water without permission from the owner.

Bluegill, catfish and crappie anglers can enjoy the fruits of small lakes and ponds with the same success that Meek has with bass. The same basic equipment is easily adapted to these fish.

Bluegill beds are easily located if they are formed over gravel that was put into the lakes specifically for bluegills to use for bedding. Shellcrackers (chinquapin) are often found bedding adjacent to bluegills, and these feisty fish will strike surface popping bugs as a reaction to invasion of their nests by the "bug."

This writer has standing invitations to fish several small private ponds that are fished by only a few anglers. The very nature of these ponds excludes them from crowds. They are small, on private land, often far off a road and can stand only a limited amount of fishing pressure. The truth is that many of them that are protected from pressure end up being seriously underfished, thus they contain fish that bite lures and bait readily. Pond owners are sometimes anxious to not underfish a neglected lake, and this fact may result in an invitation.

Your bass blueprint

The new angler, just beginning to manage his or her fishing passion, would do well to consider seeking permission to fish several small bodies of water. Don't overlook small lakes and ponds on public lands such as state and federal forests, Corps of Engineers properties and remote pockets near brackish-water marshes.

Equipment and tackle can be accumulated with much less investment than the typical large boats, motors and trailers that are so numerous on large lakes. The cost of a small boat, trolling motor, battery and charger, landing net, life jacket and tackle can fit into most family budgets.

A logical plan for fishing a half dozen small waters could look something like this: Go deep for wintering bass in January. Move up toward the shallows for bass as the weather warms in February. Locate spawn-minded crappie beginning in late February through the end of their spawn in the shallows, perhaps in April. Enjoy topwater bass action from April or so until hot summer arrives.

Hit the bream beds around every full moon in April or May until they slow down in late summer. Go deep for bass in the heat, except fish surface lures early and late and then during the cooling days of October and November. Fish deeper and slower for bass in December.

Catch catfish any time of the year, especially during the spawn of the species present.

Fans of a particular fish will alter this plan to catch their favorite fish year round by knowing where and how to find them during any month.

This writer has enjoyed the run-and-gun fishing on many of the country's popular large lakes. But I have found the advantages of gaining and maintaining access to a few small ponds that are nearby, free of competition and that hold plenty of fine fish. You will often hear it said that the very biggest bass are to be found in the small, lightly fished waters where they have the opportunity to grow old. I believe it.

Also, I fish one 10-acre pond that is overpopulated with eating-sized bass that attack my surface plugs with brutal intensity, thus filling my box with fine fillets and my spirit with delight.

If you are lining up your fishing future, going small and nearby and low budget is a scheme to be considered. And you just might be spending some of the dollars you save at the taxidermy shop.