Small impoundments are an important resource in our country. If managed correctly, ponds can provide higher catch rates of quality-size fish than larger lakes and rivers. Consequently, many children and first-time anglers become “hooked” on fishing in ponds; however, many ponds are under-utilized because they are not managed correctly to meet the pond owner’s budgeted goals.
Pond owners today are faced with so many choices that they often become confused as to what they should do to create and maintain a fish pond that meets their expectations. A vast amount of information is available to pond owners covering every aspect of pond management. Similarly, a wide variety of products and services are available. Pond owners often encounter conflicting ideas about what options are best for achieving certain goals in ponds.
The truth is, every pond and every pond owner is different. Each pond may respond differently to a particular management strategy. Likewise, every pond owner has a different set of goals and abilities available to achieve them.
Some of the commonly-used management strategies in recreational fish ponds are: liming, fertilization, weed control, fish harvest, supplemental feeding, and fish stocking. Before deciding which options to implement and specifically how they should be conducted, there are several things to consider.
What are the primary uses for the pond?
Ponds often serve many purposes other than fishing, and these should be identified in order of priority. For example, a pond that is used strictly for fishing will be managed differently than a pond that is also used for irrigation or watering livestock. If aesthetics or swimming is the primary use, weed control may be a higher priority than fish production.
What is the goal for the fish population?
It is important for the pond owner to be realistic about the size and number of fish they want to catch. Many ponds are managed for a balanced predator-prey fish population, which will sustain a mix of all sizes of bass and bream. Alternatively, the fish population can be manipulated to produce larger bass or larger bluegill, but the trade-offs of each strategy should be understood. A pond that produces trophy-size bass will have low catch rates of bass, and the bream tend to be small. Feeding bluegill can increase their size and reproduction, but the feeding rate can become very costly in larger ponds. If simply attracting fish to certain areas is the goal, feed can be dispensed at a much lower rate. Conversely, a pond managed to produce large bluegill will have higher catch rates of bass, but their average size will be smaller.
The density of the fish population must also be considered. Pond owners wishing to maintain an abundant fish population will need to stay on a proper fertilization program. On the other hand, if a few bass and bream caught during each outing is acceptable, fertilization may not be necessary. Fish variety may be desirable to a pond owner where other species such as catfish, hybrid bass, or trout can be stocked periodically.
How much fishing pressure will the pond receive?
The number of anglers and the frequency that they fish the pond will help determine if a fertilization program is practical. A pond that will be visited frequently by several anglers that enjoy bringing fish home to eat should be fertilized for maximum fish production. The same holds true for a fishing club pond with members that expect to catch a lot of fish. Conversely, a large pond that receives little fishing pressure may not justify the time and money required to fertilize properly; however, there may be an increased risk of aquatic weeds. Furthermore, a properly fertilized pond requires that more bass be harvested per acre in order to sustain a quality population.
What is the budget for the pond and what are the pond owner’s capabilities?
Your local wildlife and/or fisheries division likely offers management advice for pond owners needing technical assistance. There are also private consultants that offer full-service pond management. This service is best suited for people that enjoy quality fishing in their pond, but don’t have the time or capability to manage it properly. Nearly every aspect of pond management can be done by pond owners if they have the time and patience to dedicate to it. There are some things that are best accomplished by the professionals, such as fish population analyses, lime applications, fish stockings, the use of fish toxicants, etc. Pond owners must know their budget and capabilities before management decisions are made.
What are the physical characteristics of the pond?
Certain attributes of a pond will help dictate management activities as well as assist in setting realistic goals. The surrounding watershed can greatly impact the fish population and what can be done to improve it. For example, a pond located in rich prairie soil typically can produce a high-quality fish population with far less effort than a pond located in the piedmont hills. A pond located in a pasture setting will perform differently than a pond surrounded by a dense canopy of trees. The amount of water flowing through a pond can dictate the effectiveness of a fertilization program as well as certain herbicide treatments. Ponds that are periodically contaminated by wild fish from nearby water bodies have certain management limitations.
The size and location of a pond can affect management decisions. Managing large ponds typically requires more investment than small ponds; however, a pond’s location can alter this concept. For example, a 2-acre pond located near a residence should probably be fertilized for maximum fish production. However, it may not be practical to fertilize a 40-acre lake located in an uninhabited area that will only be fished by a few people on rare occasions. Large ponds are candidates for stocking threadfin shad if supplemental bass forage is desired. Other forage types may be more appropriate in smaller ponds; however, the introduction of additional fish species could potentially reduce bream abundance or size. Ponds with excessive areas of shallow water typically require grass carp to be stocked periodically at a high rate to control the growth of aquatic vegetation.
Many other situations can dictate what management activities are practical. For example, a pond with excessive weed problems should not be fertilized until the weeds are controlled. Ponds with a high density of grass carp may not be a candidate for an intensive supplemental feeding program for bluegill. Other pond problems, such as leaks, heavy siltation, or muddy water will limit management options.
Pond owners may wish to consult with a fisheries biologist to help identify the factors that affect management decisions and put together a sound management plan that will achieve realistic goals.