Proper Management Ensures Good Quality Fisheries in Ponds
Pond owners or managers can manage their ponds to develop and maintain good-quality fisheries. Consistently successful sport fish management in ponds addresses the physical or structural attributes of a pond, water quality, plant community, fish stocking, fish harvest, monitoring and records.
Permanent water is the most important physical aspect of a pond pertaining to fish management. A pond needs to have adequate depth, soil and watershed size to maintain permanent water during extended droughts. In south-central Oklahoma, 7 feet is the shallowest maximum depth suitable for fish ponds with adequate watershed size and without seepage problems. Other structural aspects of ponds, such as overflow pipe, drainpipe, fencing and sloped pond edges, are important because they help minimize or correct problems, but a pond manager can obtain successful results without these features as long as the associated preventable problems are not severe.
Ideally, water in a sport fish pond would have a greenish color that restricts visibility in the range of 12 to 30 inches. The greenish color is caused by phytoplankton, which is the base of the food chain. It feeds zooplankton, which feeds invertebrates and fish fry, which feed small fish, which feed large fish, which feed us. Yet, successful fisheries can be obtained in clear water when adequate aquatic plants are present. Water should not be polluted with soil, organic wastes or pesticides. Muddy water limits fish growth and production.
In my opinion, the presence of some aquatic plants is desirable in sport fish ponds. Plants provide fish habitat structure, invertebrate substrate (for growing fish food) and maintain better water quality (facilitate removal of soil, organic wastes and pesticides). However, when submersed and emersed aquatic plants dominate more than 25 percent of a pond, fishing becomes difficult and the plants might impact predator-prey balance.
Appropriate species and numbers of fish should be stocked to develop quality-sized fish and appropriate predator-prey balance. A common stocking rate utilizing 1- to 3-inch fingerlings in ponds larger than 0.5 acre (without fish) is 100 largemouth bass per acre, 500 bluegill per acre and 100 channel catfish per acre. However, the appropriate species and numbers of fish to stock depend upon a pond's surface area, its goals, the species and sizes of fish present and the sizes being stocked. When stocked correctly, most sport fish species suitable for ponds, such as largemouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish, do not need restocking when fish are harvested and the pond is mana ged properly. However, catfish are an exception. Harvested channel catfish and catfish that die of natural causes should be replaced to maintain catfish fisheries in ponds with abundant bass.
Largemouth bass harvest management is the most important aspect of fish harvest. Improper bass harvest is one of the most common causes of poor-quality fisheries. Most ponds do not have adequate numbers of large bass (longer than 15 inches) to justify their removal. Too many large bass can be taken out of a pond in a short period of time relatively easily. Removal of several small bass can be appropriate or necessary in ponds with overabundant bass or excellent bass recruitment when adequate prey such as bluegill is present.
Important aspects of sport fish pond monitoring include records of fishing effort, fish catches and fish harvests. Fish surveys, such as seining, hook and line fishing or electrofishing, provide additional information about fisheries, especially unknown fisheries. Important records to maintain include measured surface area, fish stocking details (species, sizes, numbers, dates and sources), fish harvests, catch per unit of effort (if collected), fish survey data (if performed) and water analyses (if performed).