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Manage Fish-friendly Farm Ponds

Get your farm pond fish-ready this summer with these maintenance tips and tasks.

By John Morgan


(Page 2 of 2)

Farm pond horse
Allowing livestock access to your pond means increased soil-particle movement and animal waste. Use fencing to keep them out.

Stocking Pond Fish 
A well-positioned and well-designed farm pond is poised to be the foundation of a great fishery. Avoid the temptation to stock a pond with fish caught from a different area. Not all fish species are well-suited for pond life. Ultimately, the practice often leads to undesirable results, because predator-prey relationships are unbalanced. Maintaining balance of a pond-fish community is the most important facet of a long-lived and productive farm fishing pond.
 
Years of experience and research should take precedence over trial-and-error self-stocking. State fish and wildlife agencies or private consultants can generate a fish program best suited for your farm pond.

In Kentucky, Prather has a proven formula that works. A common combination for a farm pond is bluegill (prey) and large-mouth bass (predator). In the fall, fingerling bluegill are stocked at a rate of 400 per surface acre of pond. The following spring, 120 fingerling large-mouth bass per surface acre of pond are added. To add a little more diversity to the pond, redear sunfish can replace 40 percent of the bluegill. Adding 50 fingerling channel catfish per acre in the fall is a great option, because while they aren’t sustainable in a pond setting, they make great table fare and fishing fun. 

After stocking a new pond, it will take several years to develop the fish community. Stocking is most often done with fingerlings (just a few inches long), so it takes time for them to grow before you can harvest. The time period will be tied to the fertility of the pond. In ideal circumstances, large-mouth bass will reach 12 inches in one to two years after stocking and usually will reproduce their second year. Bluegill should reproduce in their first year. Pay attention for bluegill fry the first summer after stocking. If they’re present, you can begin harvesting them the following summer. 

As you harvest, be careful not to harvest just one species. Many pond keepers fall victim to focusing on bass, inadvertently allowing bluegill to become overpopulated. To protect the predator base, consider instituting a 15-inch minimum for the harvest of bass. Be cautious when enacting a strict catch-and-release fishing program, because the pond fish population can become out of balance—not to mention all the work going into creating a farm-pond fishery should be rewarded with fine table fare! Prather notes, “A good rule of thumb is for every 1 pound of bass harvested, 15 to 20 individual bluegills should be removed, and on an average pond, harvest between 15 and 20 pounds of bass per acre.” 

Total fish harvest is determined by the pond’s fertility and size. A 2-acre pond in the middle of a forest may only support 100 pounds of fish harvest per year, whereas a fertile farm pond may support a harvest of 800 pounds of fish per year. Fish growth is tied to the pond’s fertility. A simple measure that correlates to fertility is alkalinity. An average pond has alkalinity of 50 to 100 parts per million. Forty to 50 percent of a pond’s fish production can be harvested in a year. Production is a measure of fish weight, not the number of individuals. 

There may be no better way to increase your pond’s productivity than fertilization, but it can backfire or be a waste of money. Infertile ponds are often clear and have excessive amounts of pond vegetation. They exhibit poor fish growth and low numbers of fish. If you consider a fertilization program, it must be maintained annually. Avoid fertilizing in circumstances where natural pond fertility is adequate, your pond has excessive water outflow or light penetration in your pond is inadequate.

To ascertain that your fertility regimen is a good investment, consult a fisheries professional. Excessive nutrients can lead to algae blooms, which can lead to fish kills, should the algae die from a lack of light. Your management professional might recommend adding water-soluble liquid fertilizers, phosphorous or granular fertilizers to the pond.
 
An Aged Farm Pond
Should you have some older ponds with existing fish, you may think you’re ahead of the game. That certainly could be the case, but most likely it’s not. Was the pond appropriately stocked initially and harvested appropriately? Are combinations of predator and prey in the appropriate balance? In many cases, the answers to these questions are no, but you might not have to start completely over.  

Pay attention to what’s caught in your pond to determine if your old pond is functioning properly. A well-balanced pond will have a strong population of bluegills 6 inches in length and larger and a diverse array of bass weighing up to 2 pounds and larger. 

Overcrowding can happen with both predator and prey species. If there are many 3- to 5-inch bluegill and a rarely caught large bass (greater than 2 pounds with few smaller bass), then the pond is overstocked with bluegill. Remove excess bluegill from the pond, protect bass, and consider stocking fingerling bass at a rate of 50 per surface acre for one or two years. If bass are overpopulated, then only large bluegill (9 inches or larger) will be present, and bass will be numerous and small (less than a pound). The remedy in this circumstance is removing excess bass. Pay attention to changes in fry populations and your catch after you make these adjustments.
 
Not all situations have a remedy. This can be the case with an “inherited” fishing pond. These ponds often include undesirable species, including carp, bullhead and crappie. Prey species are often stunted in size and can have enlarged or bulging eyes. Predators, such as bass or catfish, will exhibit large heads and slender bodies. The best remedy for these extremely unbalanced situations is to drain the pond and start over. 

A farm pond for fishing is a natural community in an unnatural setting. Prather says it best: “A man-made pond is unnatural, so be prepared for unexpected situations.” There could be circumstances that cause fish kills that can’t easily be detected. Should it happen to you, don’t get discouraged. Learn from the experience, and move forward. Fishing is a great way to connect with family and nature, and some may argue a hobby farm without a fishing pond isn’t a hobby farm at all.  

About the Author: John J. Morgan is a certified wildlife biologist with degrees from Penn State University and the University of Georgia. He owns a hobby farm in Kentucky with his wife, Bobbi, and daughter, Bailey.

This article first appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Hobby Farms.

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Manage Fish-friendly Farm Ponds

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Reader Comments
This articles seems very good and I needed the information in it to maintain and develop my pond. I would really like some information on the best way to clear out one side of the pond that has been filling in over the years and how to prevent the green algae floaters from forming in the pond. Right now the water is clear and it does have Bass in it. Thank you Don
Don, Hannibal, SC
Posted: 4/10/2014 11:45:41 AM
Would like to see some info on non-spring or creek fed ponds like ours. It is much harder to maintain water quality.
Beth, pensacola, FL
Posted: 6/30/2010 12:50:00 PM
Nice idea, but according to this article you need a minimum of 13 acres to even start JUST the pond! 1 acre for pond, and 12 for watershed, then it uses only on fish combination, that is NOT local in this area. :-(
Tobias, Alberta, CA
Posted: 6/23/2010 7:50:39 AM
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