Land Management: Pond Management Tips and Tactics

Vibration hits the line, signaling action on the business end of your fishing rig. A millisecond passes, and you set the hook. The fight begins, and within a few minutes, you beach that monster 10-pound bass. It’s the stuff of dreams, and it’s all thanks to sound pond management tips and tactics.

Some say pond management is mostly science. Others say it’s largely art. Of course, it’s both. Pond management varies from state to state, county to county, and pond to pond.

This is due to vast differences in overall geology, specifically annual rainfall, animal species, plant species, soil types, terrain types, and more. Here’s what you should know for a successful pond management effort.

Focus on pond management efforts and build a recreational fishing destination that you and your family will enjoy forever.
Focus on pond management efforts and build a recreational fishing destination that you and your family will enjoy forever.

Pond Management 101

Pond management includes a vast array of things to know and do. Understanding the basics of pond management will make it easier to maintain a healthy pond.

Manage Fish Populations

The biggest part of pond management is maintaining the fish population balance. This involves stocking the pond with fish that have good genetics and carefully managing the food chain by supplying bait fish. You may also have to harvest any game fish that become overpopulated to restore the right balance.

Manage Aquatic Plants

Fish need cover and habitat to survive, let alone thrive. Managing aquatic plants is part of that process. Assess the vegetation in the pond and ensure existing plants are serving purposes. Where needed, introduce new plants that fish benefit from.

Manage Wildlife Species

Nuisance wildlife can impact pond management. Certain amphibians and mammals can impact fish. Address these problems as needed. Of course, stay within the confines of regulations surrounding take or harvest for each species.

Take Water Quality Measurements

Taking regular measurements helps determine the short-, mid-, and long-term water quality. With test results in hand, it’s much easier to remedy an issue.

Create a Watershed Map

The best way to prevent unwanted things from entering a pond is to create a watershed map. Sharing this with everyone involved helps prevent pesticides, fertilizers, and other harmful chemicals from entering the pond. Another aspect of understanding the watershed includes controlling nutrient and sediment inflow. In addition to chemicals, these can negatively impact a pond as well.

Conduct Annual Maintenance

There are many aspects of annual pond maintenance. Some of these include mowing dams (at least two to three times per year), examining dams (and spillways), studying banks for issues, inspecting all areas for erosion, monitoring plant species, eradicating invasive species, taking Secchi disc measurements, maintaining equipment used, and more.

Build and maintain your dream recreational fishing pond.
Build and maintain your dream recreational fishing pond.

Pond Management Problems and Solutions

Pond management is commonly met with problems and solutions. Ponds vary greatly from one to the next. Each one is different with a unique situation.

According to Penn State University, up to 75% of pond owners have issues with their ponds. These challenges come in many different forms.

Pond Size Issues

Without question, the size of the pond construction matters. A pond that isn’t compatible with area rainfall and drainage can be an issue. It must be large enough to be compatible with the area watershed, meet fishery goals, and more.

Pond Dam Damage

Pond dams are meant to survive the lifetime of the pond. Unfortunately, rush jobs, and poor construction practices, can lead to leaky dams. To prevent this, build the dam with a compacted clay core. Trees should not be planted or grow naturally along the dam, as they can weaken it with roots, tree falls, etc.

The same is true for spillways. That said, it should harbor grasses and other smaller vegetation to prevent erosion.

Pond Bank Problems

Pond banks can create problems if not constructed, compacted, and sloped at the right angles. These should have steep slopes to approximately 2 ½ to 3 feet. Keep livestock away from pond banks, as they can cause erosion and create divots that harbor weed colonies.

Pond Floor Seepage

The pond floor can become degraded over time, too. Fortunately, a pond floor with a soil composition of at least 20%-30% clay minimizes that risk. On a similar note, ponds should maintain an aquatic coverage of at least 20%-30%.

Pond pH Issues

Alkalinity and pH are very important elements in pond management. In some cases, ponds should be fertilized. However, if done incorrectly, it can do more harm than good. So, take soil tests, test pH, consult professionals, etc.

Most fertilization begins in March, and usually subsides in October. Remember, though, fertilizing weedy ponds oftentimes makes for even more weeds. Lime, on the other hand, is more commonly needed. When alkalinity is below 20 ppm, lime can help improve the pond status.

Note, hydrate (slaked) lime must be used with caution, as a rapid rise in pH can kill the fish.

Overall, in most situations, maintain a pH of 7.0-9.0, but anywhere from 6.0 to 9.0 should work (in many situations).

Pond Oxygen Levels

Oxygen gets into the water via the air. It also enters the pond water via photosynthesis. Several things can decrease oxygen.

For example, in winter, foremost is ice and snow. Decreased light prevents photosynthesis and can even lead to plant death. All said, if oxygen levels get too low (regardless of reasoning), fish will die.

Pond Contamination

Most contamination issues come from livestock, such as cattle, hogs, goats, sheep, horses, etc. Limit or prevent livestock access to key ponds, especially those designated for recreation, such as fishing. Where pond access is needed, consider fencing around ponds to where livestock only accesses an offshoot channel from the pond, and that it isn’t a wadable size or depth.

Pond Drainage

The watershed, which is the typical drainage in the area surrounding the pond, can lead to significant overfilling. Match the pond size to the watershed. Furthermore, establish overflow pipes through the dam to keep water levels below maximum capacity.

A well-designed drainage system makes it easier for you to maintain and repair the pond as needed. By implementing the right drainage solutions, you can keep your pond operating smoothly.

Pond Erosion

Pond erosion is impacted by soil type, as well as the surrounding slope and vegetation types. Livestock is a significant trigger for erosion, too.

50 to 75-yard sod strip buffers between ponds and fields can reduce the amount of contamination runoff that reaches the pond water. If erosion needs fixing, the longer it waits the more money and time it will require to correct.

Pond Weeds

Unwanted algae and plants can take over quickly. Weedy ponds aren’t ideal, and make fishing and general pond management more difficult.

Good drainage systems optimize water level and streamline weed control. It even makes pond stocking more efficient, given that fish survival tends to be higher. If weeds do become an issue, it’s crucial to identify the specific problem plants to choose a viable treatment.

Each of the above problems can lead to even more issues, most notably poor fish growth or outright fish kills. This usually occurs due to low dissolved oxygen, as well as very poor alkalinity and pH. Those who need additional assistance with any pond management problem should consult their local agriculture extension agency.

Consider pond size when stocking it with fish.
Consider pond size when stocking it with fish.

Pond Stocking for Specific Fish Species

Stocking ponds should be done with a plan and goal in mind. Target compatible game fish and feeder species. Oftentimes, it’s best to stock a pond with only two species.

For example, stock largemouth bass and bluegill. Generally, the preferred stocking rate is 10:1, or 500 bluegill and 50 bass, per acre. In some instances, managers might prefer 20:1 or 30:1. Using a larger stocking ratio (with more bluegill), it’s possible for bass to grow 2 or more pounds per year.

As fish sizes and populations grow, bass spawning can decrease, and if pond size and structure isn’t adequate, overpopulation can occur.

After the initial stocking, stock more quality fish as needed. Harvest fish as needed, too. Also, in a well-constructed and well-managed pond, feeding isn’t necessary for success. Accurate stocking efforts create an ecosystem for the fish to thrive.

Keep an eye on production, though, and don’t let fish go hungry, either. In most cases, it takes approximately 8-12 pounds of bait fish for a preferred game fish to gain a pound, or slightly more.

While it seems silly, and maybe overkill, genetics can play a significant role in pond stocking, too. Choosing fish from proven fisheries can produce better results than lesser establishments. And, of course, if you want an 8-pound bass, you must toss that 5-pounder back in the water.

Stocking Your Pond for Success

Step 1: For Bream (bluegill) stocking, pond sizing should be at least ½ acre. Stocking of bluegill is common from fall through winter. The stocked water will produce offspring that eventually feeds the bass. With quality cover and food, bream should self-sustain over time.

Step 2: Bass require at least a ½-acre pond to do well, too. These are usually stocked from May through June. Furthermore, it’s good to stock these after stocking bream, ultimately allowing the bass optimal opportunities to start feeding immediately.

Step 3: If your pond isn’t right for bass fishing, consider stocking non-problematic catfish species. Most catfish do well regardless of pond sizing. They can thrive in larger ponds, but survive in ponds under ½ acre, too. Generally, it’s OK to stock these more densely than with bass species.

Some fish species are trouble for pond managers. Just a few of these include bullhead channel, crappie, common carp, green sunfish, hybrid bream, musky, pike, walleye, and others. Each should be avoided. These are not good options for recreational ponds.

For example, bullheads deliver excessive reproduction and muddy the pond. Carp muddy ponds, too. Green sunfish also reproduce excessively and outcompete more important species. And crappie reproduce too rapidly in pond settings and can even outcompete bass and bluegill.

Regardless of the fish species or combination of species chosen, seek out reputable hatcheries in the area. Working with local hatcheries increases the likelihood of stocking fish that offer the best genetics, exhibit healthy starts, and are attuned to the local water conditions.

Maintain your pond(s) in a safe, effective manner.
Maintain your pond(s) in a safe, effective manner.

Responsible Pond Management

Pond management requires following specific regulations. This often involves being mindful of things like fertilizer use, herbicide treatments, and other pond maintenance activities. The best approach is to follow the guidelines from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), as well as any local, state, or federal regulations.

To properly maintain your pond, it's important to stay informed about the rules and regulations around pond management. This includes keeping the dam in good condition, managing drainage systems, controlling aquatic weeds, and addressing any other necessary upkeep.

Finally, don’t be afraid to hire a professional. Resources are available to whip ponds into shape and keep them there. Lean on those individuals who can help you master pond management and learn their pond management tips and tactics. Together, it just might bring your pond to life.

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