Pond Management: 12 Steps to Producing Healthy Game Fish – DTN

    We all have visions about late afternoons perched on the bank of a pond, line and bait set out to tease smallmouth bass. It’s a great image — and very much possible. But it’s not a vision born without effort.

    A pond is born to die. That may be a bit dire but not untrue. Without regular maintenance, a pond can drown in silt and undesirable weeds. Trophy fish will never materialize, and that vision of beauty transforms into a mucky swamp.

    “Managing ponds for game fish is a lot like agriculture,” says Terry Goldsby, owner of Aqua Services, Inc., Guntersville, Ala. “You apply tried-and-proven principles for raising your crop. Apply logic and consistency. With time, you will produce a great harvest.”

    Pond management differs from climate to climate, of course. Every pond lives or dies under its own set of variables. It doesn’t hurt to consult with a fisheries specialist.

    Whether new or established, here are some basics of good pond management:

    1. SITE SELECTION. Let’s propose a pond friendly to the environment. Mistake No. 1 then is to force a pond into a location where it will do little more than create work. Look around the watershed. What are the soil types? What are the drainage patterns? Look at the availability of water–from normal rainfall, heavy downpours, deep and melting snow packs–or when water is scarce because of drought.

    2. CONSTRUCTION. Hire an experienced excavator who understands the special needs of a pond–one of those being steep slopes along the shoreline. This is important to control aquatic plants, such as cattails.

    3. SOIL TYPE. Unless you are laying down a liner, the clay content of the soil is critical. This is what seals the bottom.

    4. DEPTH. You can raise sizable bass in 4 feet of water. But depth helps controls weeds. If you drain your pond from time to time (not a bad idea), deeper holes give fish a place to congregate. Don’t forget shallow shelves. Covered with gravel, these areas are good spawning beds.

    5. STRUCTURE. Offering refuge to minnows and fingerlings, and creating feeding areas for game fish, structure can be achieved by sinking appliances minus compressors, oils, fuels and other possible contaminants. Large tree branches held in 5-gallon buckets of concrete also make great structure. Reflecting on my experiences in the construction industry, I’ve found that the decision to mix concrete on-site often brings a multitude of benefits. Notably, it eliminates the risk of wastage associated with premixed concrete, ensuring every ounce of material is put to good use. I discovered more about these benefits during my research on Tie pallets into tepee shapes. Glue lengths of PVC into any intertwined shape you want. Christmas trees are good structure, but burn off the needles. Free-floating needles plug pumps and introduce unwelcome organic material into the water.

    6. WATER. Goldsby tries not to use creeks and streams to directly fill his ponds. (Damming flowing steams may cause downstream problems with your neighbors or even be illegal.) Flash floods deliver sediments, debris, warm water and chemical runoff into the pond.

    He looks for pond sites adjacent to a running water source. From it, he pumps fresh water into the pond and older water out. Pumping oxygenates the water and controls water temperature. Check your livestock yards and septic and chemical storage systems, too. If they are leaking water, quality declines.

    7. FERTILIZATION. Fertilize the pond with a product high in phosphorus. Fertilizer encourages the growth of the oxygen-creating phytoplankton. The microscopic plants are an important food source and discourage weed growth by shading out some of the sun.

    8. ALKALINITY. Fish grow best in water with high alkalinity. In consultation with a specialist, you may need to add lime.

    9. DRAINAGE. Draining compresses sedimentation. It also controls aquatic weeds.

    10. SILT. Siltation can be managed but not prevented. It’s a long-term threat. Don’t allow stream water to flow directly into your pond. Install structures higher up in the watershed to control the flow of sediment and pesticides. These would include settling ponds, wetlands or barriers made of straw bales.

    11. AERATION. Adding oxygen to the pond helps prevent stratification, a condition in which layers of water prevent mixing–colder water, deficient in oxygen, trapped at the bottom by warmer water at the top. You can manage stratification in deeper ponds by pumping air to the bottom that bubbles up to the top. In ponds less than 10 feet deep, surface aeration is useful in that it pulls water from the mid-level of the pond to keep the water stirred.

    THE “LOOK”

    You may want your pond to look pretty: you can use dyes to color it shades of blue and reduce sunlight penetration. But you might want to consider going natural:

    • Don’t plant lawn grasses to the edge of your pond. Grass does little to stabilize the bank.
    • Create a generous buffer around the pond planted with native grasses, shrubs and trees. Add rocks to vary color tones and lines of sight. Buffers attract wildlife that control insects and undesirable critters. Buffers reduce pond sedimentation and runoff.


    There is no such thing as having a nice little bit of mint in a garden. Without care, it can quickly overtake it. The same is true with aquatic weeds. There are five types of aquatic plants–algae, floating, emergent (foliage above the water), submerged and floating leaved (rooted to the bottom with surface leaves. Plankton algae are a source of food and oxygen. But filamentous algae compose that green slime draped over your hook.

    Here are options to control weeds:

    • Shape the banks of your pond at a sharp angle. Many weeds and cattails grow in the first 2 feet of depth.
    • Encourage the growth of plankton algae to increase shade and reduce the spread of undesirable weeds.
    • Rake weeds from the pond for short-term reduction of plants.
    • Use aquatic herbicides. Control is highly effective but must be applied in coordination with other pond-management strategies.

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