5 Tips for Fly Fishing Beaver Ponds

Despite the hype of big, trophy-trout rivers with impressive hatches and formidable runs, tiny beaver ponds remain one of my absolute favorite waters to fish.

Often tucked into meadows along small creeks, beaver ponds can be hotbeds of small trout activity. Though they sometimes contain several different species, brook trout are often the most plentiful.

In addition to an often endless supply of catchable trout, you’ll find your fair share of solitude. I’ve rarely, if ever, had to compete for space fishing beaver ponds. Most anglers overlook them on their way to bigger rivers or alpine lakes.

Their loss, because it’s hard to have a bad day fishing beaver ponds.

1. Use dams to your advantage

Dams are the skeleton that makes a beaver pond area what it is. They range from just a few inches of twigs to massive walls that are above head-high. Without the dams, there’d be no beaver ponds to fish. But, their usefulness goes beyond just the creation of prime habitat.

Learning to use dams to your advantage is easy and pays off big time.

The most basic use of these wooden walls is, instead, as bridges. As the water backs up behind a dam, silt and mud are deposited. If you’ve ever tried to walk straight through a beaver pond, you’ll know how this feels. It can be nearly impossible to cross some ponds, and I’ve seen poorly-tied boots lost to the mud.

Dams provide a much needed solid footpath through the ponds. Most are pretty stable and keep you almost entirely out of the water. Walk carefully for your own safety and to avoid damaging the dam.

Dams can also be used for stealth. If you find a sizable dam that’s still under eye level, fish it from below and “hide” behind the dam. This just means you’ll stand on the lower ground below the dam when you cast, making you impossible to see from the fishes’ perspective.

A beaver pond with trees in the background

2. Use long leaders and delicate casts

One of the best things about beaver ponds is how calm and peaceful they usually are. But, that also means you need to stay under the radar.

The same rules apply as most fishing situations: be quiet, move slowly, cast up to the fish. The rules are magnified here, though. Luckily, casting from downstream isn’t a problem since using the downstream dam is already in your best interest. Making the cast itself stealthy is the next step.

The still, clear water gives the fish an advantage. Ripples from a landing fly line, or a break in the surface from a thick leader can be easily spotted. Use a long, fine leader to give yourself the best chance at a good presentation.

Casting well is an equally important step. If you crash the line down on the surface, expect every fish in the greater area to be long gone. Practicing a feather-light presentation is crucial for fishing ponds.

3. Look for moving water

Fish hang out throughout ponds, but many of the actively-feeding fish will sit in the small sliver of moving water between dams. This is where I like to start when I come up to a pond. If I accidentally make a bad cast early on, I’ll have gotten a chance to fish the most productive area before blowing it out.

It’s still never a bad idea to take a few casts elsewhere as well, and you may very well catch fish across an entire pond. Just expect your best bet to be where there’s some flow.

In addition to the moving water within ponds, don’t forget the the moving water between them. Tiny streams connecting ponds are a great place to drift a dry fly.

A series of streams flows through a meadow

4. Be prepared for lots of willows

Perhaps the only thing I don’t like about beaver ponds is the dominance of willows in the nearby flora. I enjoy the scene of ponds and spider-web streams within a meadow of willows, but for fishing they aren’t very practical.

Walking is tough through willows. Some are thick enough to prevent passage entirely, and even when navigable put up a fight.

If you’re barelegged, be prepared to nurse your scratched thighs later. Worse, if you have waders on (especially if they’re thin), you may need to have a wader-patching session immediately upon your return home. I had a pair of waders (albeit cheap ones) that was turned to Swiss cheese only two weeks after purchase thanks to willows.

Casting in the willows isn’t any better. Woody branches will hold a misplaced fly until you physically walk over and retrieve it. Trying to pull it loose usually ends in a broken tippet. Also watch your backcast and any line looping up near your feet, as these are willow magnets.

A meadow of streams and beaver ponds with a mountain in the background.

5. Treat beaver ponds individually

You’d think that once you keyed in to a single pond, you’d have found the golden ticket to all other ponds in that network. This is sometimes the case, but I’ve found on more than one occasion that each pond has a life of its own.

Sometimes the reason is clear. Maybe one pond is mostly stagnant, deep water, while another is shallow and has decent movement. It’s not surprising that these may fish differently.

Other times, though, twin ponds will have two different personalities for no obvious reason. The stream between them may be completely different as well. In this case, don’t be afraid to switch through techniques frequently until you figure out what’s working. Since beaver ponds are typically quite small and contain a limited number of fish, it should only take a couple casts with the right technique to elicit a response of some sort. If you’ve been going for a couple minutes without so much as a look, try something new.

With a little practice, beaver ponds can be some of the most productive waters out there. If you’re a size-junkie, they may not be your cup of tea. But if high numbers, solitude, and good views are what you like, beaver ponds can’t be beaten.

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This is a list I made and use for my own trips, and I think any backcountry angler will find it handy.