FISH POND MANAGEMENT
“Fishing is a Tough Job, but We’re Willing to Tackle it!”
1. LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS:
Pond owners have responsibilities , so you should consult with your local Soil and Water Conservation District Office for the terms of stocking, maintenance, and liability requirements. When selecting your pond site and during construction contact a Natural Resources Conservation Service. Depending on the site, watershed size, and the purpose of the pond, federal and state permits may be necessary for construction. Dams need periodic inspections and repairs to ensure their safety. Pond owners are also responsible for the well being of habitats downstream of their property, and is liable for the replacement costs associated with the clean-up. Another consideration in site selection is dam failure, and what would happen if the dam failed and flooding or loss of life and property resulted.
2. SITE SELECTION:
1. Pond Types:
There are 2 basic types of ponds, embankment and excavated ponds. Embankment ponds are constructed by damming a small stream and can be economically constructed on stream sites where the slope is steep enough to limit the size of the dam. Excavated ponds are constructed by digging out an area fed by springs and runoff and can be used in a variety of situations.
2. Typical Sites:
Site selection is extremely important when building your own pond. You want to consider the location (more than one), shape of the land, water supply, and the soil type before you build. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office before you begin building. They will make quality control checks and assist in design, site selection, soil suitability, engineering survey and provide the information for the cost of the planning, design, and construction of the pond.
A Good Pond Site Contains:
1. Topography that allows for economical construction. It directly affects building costs and pond management. Put the pond where enough water can be impounded with the least amount of earth fill. Sites that are ideal and minimize areas of shallow water are ones where you can build a dam across a narrow section of a valley and where the slope of the valley floor lets you flood a large area. Avoid large areas of shallow water because they become too shallow to use in late summer and fall dry periods, and they encourage undesirable aquatic plants.
2. Soil with enough clay content to hold water. Clay and silty clays are excellent soils for holding water because they stop water from steeping through. Take soil samples at frequent intervals and have them analyzed to determine suitability.
3. Water supply that is adequate, but not excessive, for the intended uses of the pond, can be provided by springs, wells, or surface runoff. For ponds where surface runoff is the main source of water, the contributing drainage area should be large enough to maintain a suitable water level during dry periods. Drainage areas should not be so large that expensive overflow structures are needed and water exchange occurs too frequently. A pond should have 5 to 10 acres of drainage area for each acre of impounded water. Topography, soil types and plant cover influence the amount of runoff to be expected from a watershed.
3. Watershed Characteristics
The water quality in your pond will vary according to the land uses and geology in the area from which the pond receives runoff. If your pond’s watershed is used for grazing or crop production, or it is a dense urban area, poor water quality can result of runoff from the watershed is not filtered before it reaches the pond. A vegetated buffer strip at least 50 feet wide surrounding the pond can serve as a natural filter. If your pond is fed by a stream, the stream should have a vegetated buffer strip along both banks.
The size of your pond is the major factor that will determine what fish species to stock, the degree of management needed to maintain these fish, and how many fish you can remove each year. Many farm ponds are built for livestock watering and are less than 1 acre in surface area. Ponds less than 1 acre are more difficult to manage because the fish populations can easily be overharvested. Small ponds that are shallow, are more likely to have problems with aquatic vegetation, unbalanced fish populations, and low water levels caused by drought. Ponds less than 1 acre are best managed by stocking only channel catfish since they provide more fishing recreation and can be fed commercially prepared feed. Larger ponds you need a surface area of at least 1 acre or more for a good fishing pond. If these larger ponds undergo proper fish stocking, and are managed and harvested properly, then you can expect many years of satisfactory fishing. It is difficult to estimate the surface area of a pond and many pond owners have trouble. It is easy to overestimate pond size, but not a good thing. An overestimate of size often leads to overstocking of fish.
Pond depth should be between 6 and 8 feet, with maximum depth not greater than 10 to 12 feet is the average depth for a fishing pond. This lets fish forage on the bottom, even in summer, when low oxygen concentrations are common in deeper water, while maintaining enough depth to sustain the fish during drought. Less than 6 feet increases the chances of aquatic vegetation problems. Depths greater than 12 feet are not necessary for good fish production. Pond banks should be a minimum of 3 feet deep at the waterline. Deeper ponds do not necessarily produce more fish than shallow ponds. Shallow ponds tend to be more productive, but ponds that are too shallow suffer the risk of drying under summer drought.
3. Water Outlets:
Water control structure or drainpipe is an important feature of a fishing pond. This structure allows for draining of the pond to make repairs, manage the fish populations, and control aquatic plants. A drainpipe that contains a bottom draw maintains good water quality by drawing water from the bottom of the pond. A trash rack over the standpipe will help prevent structural damage. An emergency spillway is also necessary for water overflow from a pond. An emergency spillway carries flood runoff away from the pond so the dam is not damaged or destroyed.
4. Site Preparation & Contraction Timing:
Remove all brush, trees, and vegetation from the site before the pond is filled. This will easily help to keep fish populations in balance and obstructions out of the way. Late summer or early fall is when new ponds should be constructed in time to fill them.
5. Dam Maintenance:
Immediately after construction, establish permanent grassy vegetation on the top and sides of the dam. Once established, regular cutting on the top and sides of the dam will keep trees from growing, preventing weak spots in the dam.
Read also: Record keeping in fish farming
1. Water Quality:
Fish need water quality to survive, grow, and reproduce. Quality water has no pollutants,is high in dissolved oxygen, and does not have excessive organic matter. Fencing a pond is needed to prevent livestock from trampling pond banks, which causes pond shallowing, muddy water, and loss of fish. Fences should be 50 to 100 feet from the pond bank and completely enclose the pond. A vegetated border is needed at least 50 feet wide that will reduce soil erosion and the amount of fertilizer and pesticides entering the pond. Trees along the shoreline are desirable for shading and nutrient uptake. Water clarity should be at least 18 inches throughout the year and is necessary for plankton production.
2. Fish Structure:
If your pond contains very little fish cover, you may wish to add cover by providing artificial fish attractors. Not only do fish attractors provide cover, they also provide a substrate for aquatic insects, and they concentrate fish for better fishing. The primary purpose of fish attractors is to congregate fish for the angler. Brush piles, Christmas trees, stake beds, and rock piles all make good fish attractors. For ponds 1 acre or less, one attractor is enough and for larger ponds, one attractor for every 2 to 3 acres is needed. Attractors should be placed at depths exceeding 2 feet, and within casting distance of the shoreline, and you can even use floats to mark the location of your submerged fish structure. Stake beds are another great tool for creating fish structure. Any type of stakes can be driven into the pond bottom or nailed to a weighted frame and sunk. The stakes should be placed 6 to 8 inches apart, and the bed should cover an area of about 200 square feet. Another option for creating fish habitat is through the use of automobile tires, that can be used to construct a satisfactory permanent fish structure, but they must be prepared properly. Chum is also a useful attractant that will attract all fish types. It can be hung off of your pier, dock, or favorite fishig hole to attract those big fish your looking to catch. Chum can be purchased at Heinsohn’s Country Store.
Water fertility determines a ponds productivity. Fertilizer increases pond productivity by stimulating the growth of microscopic plants. Fertilization makes the water turn green, shading the bottom and preventing growth of nuisance aquatic plants. Once fertilization is started, it should be continued. Fertilizers high in nitrogen such as 21-53-0 or 10-34-0 should be used. During the summer months add fertilizer as needed to maintain 18 inches visibility. In the fall, stop fertilizing when water temperature drops below 60 degrees F. Have your pond water tested to be sure the lime content is adequate before beginning a fertilization program.
Ponds with soft, acidic water sometimes require the addition of lime to improve fishing. If alkalinity is below 20 ppm, add agricultural limestone to neutralize the pond bottom. A mud sample should be analyzed to determine the amount of lime needed. Lime should be applied evenly over the entire pond bottom. Late fall or early spring is the best time to apply lime. Ponds typically require liming every 2 to 4 years.
5. Aquatic Vegetation:
Aquatic plants supply oxygen, provide cover and can be food for insects that are eaten by the fish. Plants protect shorelines from wave erosion and serve as feeding and nesting habitat for waterfowl. Aquatic plants are desirable and beneficial to fish communities but can cause problems with fishing by interfering with angler access. Fish function better when aquatic plants cover 20% to 30% of the pond surface during the summer. Plant densities greater than 30% can cause fish kills. Aquatic plants can be controlled by manual, chemical, and biological methods. Manual control refers to physically pulling, raking, cutting, digging, shading, or mowing nuisance plants and should be done in the spring when the plants are first emerging. Chemical treatments can be very effective in controlling vegetation in small areas of a pond such as swimming areas or boat ramps. Stocking triploid grass carp is the most effective long term control for aquatic plants. The best way to prevent aquatic plant problems is proper pond construction. Shoreline depths of 2 to 3 feet with bank slope ratios of 3:1 are ideal.
5. FISH STOCKING
1. Stocking Considerations:
Your choice of fish to stock depends on the goals and resources available to the pond owner. Except for supplemental stocking of channel catfish, a pond that already contains fish generally does not need to be stocked. Moving fish from your neighbor’s pond, or a local lake to your pond, is not recommended. This can cause fish diseases and stocking a wrong fish species in an environment. Stocking your pond with the right species and number of fish is very important!
2. Fish to Stock:
If your pond is less than 1 acre, catfish will be the best decision to stock with. A pond less than 1 acre, is very difficult to manage bass and bluegill. Combining largemouth bass and bluegill is the the most common stocking strategy. This combination generally works best in ponds that are larger than 1 acre and also provides excellent fishing for both species. Bluegill will reproduce and grow rapidly with an abundance of food from a well-fertilized pond, and will provide good food for the bass. If bass are not over-harvested, they will keep the blugill population from overpopulating. Channel catfish may also be added to a bass and bluegill pond. The downfall is that the catfish will consume a portion of the food supply, slightly reducing the total pounds of bass and bluegill the pond can maintain. In Texas, recommended stocking rates of lakes and ponds vary with size, location, and condition of the pond or lake and the desires of the pond owner. A pond larger than 1 acre that will be fertilized, should be stocked with 1,000 bluegill fingerlings, 100 largemouth bass, and 100 channel catfish per acre. Stocking of 3 to 5 inch bluegill is most commonly done in the fall or early winter. Bluegill will grow and spawn by the following spring. In late May or June, bass are stocked and grow rapidly, feeding on the new bluegill fry. Bluegill will spawn 2 or 3 more times before fall, providing adequate food for the bass. Bass growth should average around 1/4 to 1/2 pound in the first year and can approach 2 pounds if food is plentiful. Catfish can be stocked in the fall or srping. Always stock catfish as large or larger than the bass if stocked together. Catfish usually cannot successfully reproduce in ponds with bass and bluegill populations and will have to be restocked as they are fished out. Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Redear Sunfish, Channel Catfish, and Trout are all excellent fish to stock in your pond.
3. Fish to Avoid:
Crappie, Flathead Catfish, Common Crap, Bullheads, Yellow Perch, Pumpkinseed, and Green Sunfish are species that should NOT be stocked into farm ponds. Crappie may cause management problems in small ponds by overpopulating, and compete with both bass and bluegill for food. In larger farm ponds, specifically more than 25 acres, Crappie can be stocked, but only after the largemouth bass have spawned several times. Largemouth bass harvest must be carfully controlled to ensure enough bass in the pond to control crappie numbers. Flathead catfish are voracious eaters, cannibalistic, and grow large enough to prey on even large bass. Bullhead catfish and common carp overpopulate rapidly, compete for food and resources, and can affect the survival of fish. Also, these types of fish are not recommended because they stir up the bottom, keeping the pond water muddy.
Read also: How to improve efficiency on your fish farm
6. MANAGING FISH POPULATION
The purpose of fish management is to provide good fishing.
1. Removing Unwanted & Overpopulated Fish:
The best management option when your pond becomes out of balance amd overpopulated, may be to destroy all fish in the pond and start over. Removing or killing the fish population usually is much easier and less expensive if the pond can be drained. Fish will survive in very small pools of water away from the main body of water to help treat your problem. Rotenone is a registered aquatic chemical that is used to kill fish. It comes oin liquid or powder forms, and a concentratio of 5 precent active ingredient. Rotenone should be applied at a rate of 10 pounds per acre-foot. The volume of water in the pond, must be estimated so this concentration of rotenone can be calculated. One gallon of the liquid form is sufficient to treat app. 1 acre-ffot. Powdered rotenone should be mixed with water (about 2 gallons per pound of powder). Liquid rotenone also should be diluted with water at a rate of about 10 gallons of water to 1 gallon of rotenone. Using buckets, sprayers, or pumps, apply rotenone evenly over the pond. Rotenone applied properly and at recommended rates will not harm most livestock. However, pigs might be affected by the formulation, and ducks and geese may suffer if they eat dead fish. Rotenone is usually applied in the summer or fall when water temperature is above 70 degrees F. Rotenone will dissipate within 3 to 10 days, depending on weather conditions. It is generally safe to restock 2 to 3 weeks after applying the rotenone. To check for the presence of rotenone, place a few small bluegill in a minnow bucket and float it in the pond. If the fish are still alive after 24 hours it is safe to restock! Before using rotenone it is best to contact a fisheries biologist or county Extension agent for information in purchasing, applying, and using rotenone. In Texas, rotenone can be purchased from most farm supply ot feed stores. You must have a private applicant license to purchase and use this chemical.
A balanced pond fishery can be established with the initial stocking. Maintaining that balance requires the pond owner to manage the harvest, which is usually the most difficult part of pond management. Although there are no hard and fast rules for managing the harvest, the key is to practice a conservative harvest. One way is with a minimum size of 14 inches. Another helpful guideline is to remove no more than 20 to 25 fish per surface area each year. Unfertilized ponds, harvest up to 40 lbs of adult bluegill (about 120 fish) and 10 pounds of adult bass (about 8 to 10 fish) per acre per year. Fertilized ponds, you can harvest 160 pounds of bluegill (600 to 700 fish) and 35 to 40 pounds of bass (30 to 35 fish) per acre per year.
3. Fish Feeding:
The amount of food produced in your pond determines the productivity of your pond and the weight of your fish. All ponds produce some natural food for fish but sometimes not enough to really get the fish you want. Supplemental feeding is usually not required, but in some cases where the harvest demand is high or where large fish are desired, fish feeding may be beneficial. Formulated fish feeds in pellet form are very common and available in a sinking or floating form. The floating pellets are advantageous because the person feeding the fish is able to see whether or not the fish are eating the feed, since the feed floats. Artificial feeding will also increase your fish weight. Fish feeders are very useful, and can be used in almost any pond for a productive and easy way of increasng fish weight. Fish feeders can be found at Heinsohn’s Counntry Store, where you will find afordable and life time feeders from brands of Aqua Pro to Tomahawk.
4. Record Keeping:
Keep accurate records of numbers and sizes of fish caught in the pond that will help you evaluate the status of your fish populations and if any additional management is needed. Record the size and kind of fish caught. Periodically review your records to see if there are any differences in the number, size, or kinds of fish now in the pond.
5. Fish Kills
The most common cause of fish kill is suffocation, which occurs when aquatic plants do not produce enough oxygen to the fish to breath. This may occur during heavy snow and ice cover in winter, during rapid plant die-offs after a cold rain or several days of cloud cover or following aquatic plant die-offs from herbicide applications. Once fish suffocation starts, it is too late to stop it. Fish kills in general can be best prevented by properly controlling nutrient inputs and overabundant aquatic vegetation. Winter kills can be prevented by circulating the water either by motor-driven air compressors or wind driven baffles and artificially aerating. This will usually stir up organic materials and result in more oxygen consumption as the materials decay. Summer kills can be prevented by making sure no fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides or organic run-off enter the pond. Chemically threat aquatic vegetation early in the growing.
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