How to Build a Farm Pond with Best Practices | Great Days Outdoors

So, you want to have and enjoy, but don’t know how to build a farm pond. You probably think that all you have to do is get a bulldozer, dig a hole in a low spot and let the rain fill it up. Wrong! We’ve researched what’s required to build the best farm ponds by talking with two outdoorsmen who know plenty about this subject,  Barry Smith of Pike Road, Alabama, and Trey Montgomery of West Greene, Alabama. We’ve learned about funding a farm pond with Morgan Hutcherson of Alabama Ag Credit.  

Getting Started on How to Build a Farm Pond with Barry Smith

Barry Smith with a farm pond largemouth bass

Barry Smith believes that with the proper planning, construction and management farm ponds can produce trophies

Barry Smith holds a master’s degree in fisheries science from Auburn University and was the chief of fisheries for Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and the co-founder and co-owner of American Sport Fish with his partner, Don Keller. These two men created the popularly-stocked Tiger Bass, using a female Florida bass that weighed 12 pounds or more and a super-aggressive male northern bass to produce these bass that grew faster and would attack lures and bait much more aggressively than the pure Florida strain of bass.

Keller and Smith also created the Gorilla bass, a northern strain of black bass genetically engineered to bite and grow faster than most northern black bass. Smith, who has been a farm-pond consultant educating people on how to build a farm pond for many years, emphasizes that, “The best and the least-expensive way to build a farm pond is to work with three types of professionals, including

  • a contractor who has a good reputation and years of experience of building successful farm ponds that have withstood the test of time, have provided recreation and have increased the value of the property
  • a pond-management service with a reputation for helping landowners manage their ponds to reach whatever goals each landowner has – perhaps providing water for livestock, a recreational fishery for the landowner, his family and friends and/or a source of income from catch-and-release ponds where anglers may catch their biggest bass ever or enjoy a commercial catfish pond
  • a financial advisor who can loan the landowner the money required to build and maintain a pond. After gathering information from the contractor and the pond-management service, the landowner should know almost to the penny the cost to build and maintain that pond. The landowner also needs to consider asking for an extra 10-20 percent more money for unexpected expenses. He needs to work with a financial company that has experience in loaning money for farm-pond construction. That company also can estimate how building a farm pond improves the value of the property.”  

Smith advises that if you’re in a pond building mood and are committed to learning how to build a farm pond, you need to acquire the advice and help from these three professionals to determine if building a pond is feasible on the property you own before you ever start thinking about:  

  • where the pond will be located;
  • how big the pond will be;
  • what type of fish you want in the pond; and
  • how much money you’ll need to spend to build the pond.

What the Contractor Will Know

Your pond management consultant and contractor help you choose the right farm pond for your property.

Your pond management consultant and contractor can tell you if the kind of farm pond you want to build on the type and size of your property can hold water through droughts and floods.

 

A drawing of the farm pond keeps the project defined and serves as a goal

A drawing of your farm pond and the land that will be impounded identifying ditches, gravel beds, cover and structure and other details will help keep the project defined and clear.

“I recommend you work with these three kinds of professionals, since they have plenty of knowledge and know where to go to get answers quickly on questions that may come up,” Smith explained. “The contractor will know

  • whether the land you own is suitable for a pond or not
  • what amount of excavation will be required to create the pond, and what other expenses like spillways, drain pipes and dirt moving you’ll encounter;
  • whether or not you’ll need a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before construction;
  • what watershed requirements will be needed to fill up your pond with rainwater but also continuously replenish the water in the lake as it evaporates or if floods or droughts take place;
  • what correct soil types will hold water in your pond once it’s built;
  • what degree of slope the banks of the pond must have to prevent creating too-many shallow- water areas, since if a drought occurs, it may cause aquatic weed growth that may damage the lake’s environment;
  • how to correctly build your dam and determine its size;
  • what impact the pond will have on your property and/or other lands;
  • what effects overflow water may have;
  • how much dirt will have to be moved to create the pond, and how that excess dirt will be used;
  • what the slope of the dam’s backside needs to be to enable you to mow it to insure trees don’t grow there;
  • what size the spillways on either side of the dam need to be to carry out excess water from floods; and
  • what will be the estimated price of borrowing the amount of money required to build the pond of your dreams.” 

What Other Construction Assistance to Consider 

Smith also recommends you contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/ that has technicians in some counties, that can provide information for you how to build a farm pond and suggest a group of contractors  who have been building ponds in your region. Smith suggests you look at some of the ponds that any contractor you’re considering has built and that you talk to the landowner about how satisfied he is with how the construction on the pond has been carried out and learn all you can about how to build a farm pond.

 “A typical mistake a landowner often makes when he decides to build a pond is to hire a friend or a relative with no experience in building farm ponds to build the pond.   Although the landowner may think this person he knows will save him money, in the long run that person actually may cost the property owner more money than the landowner will spend hiring a professional pond builder,” Smith said.  “Usually, the county extension service in each state will have compiled a list of experienced pond builders too that you can talk with and interview.”

Why You Need a Reputable Pond-Management Service and What It May Recommend

After your up to speed on how to build a farm pond, before any construction is started, you need to meet with and get advice and suggestions from a quality pond management service, especially if you want to raise fish in that pond for recreational fishing, commercial fishing or fish farming.

“If your pond is to provide fishing opportunities, whether recreational or commercial, you need to talk to and work with a reputable pond management service before construction starts on the pond,” Smith emphasizes. “A pond management service understands how to structure your pond to include sections in the pond that will concentrate bass and bluegills. First you want to consider creating spawning areas that both bass and bluegills can utilize. You can elevate these regions made up of underwater islands with pea gravel on them to about three feet deep to create productive spawning places for both bass and bluegills on the upper end of the pond, within casting distance from the bank.”

If trees have to be cleared out to create the pond, save them to make brush piles about 50-75 yards from each other in the pond. When the bottom of the lake is cleared, you may want to put in a trench that’s a bulldozer’s width wide, running from the deep-water portion of the pond up to the shallow-water part. These ditches or trenches provide easy access for bass and bream to move from the deep water of the lake up into the shallow water where they can feed. You can use big limbs, logs or stumps too in the bottom of the lake to create structure.

A company that makes concrete sewer pipes may have some cracked and broken ones, that will make productive bass habitat. Sometimes you can get them for free or at a minimum charge, if you’ll haul them off. Other people sink metal like old cars, refrigerators and other metal structures. However, metal will rust, deteriorate and have sharp edges that cut fishing line.

Barry Smith reports that, “That’s why I suggest using either wood or concrete structure when you’re building recreational or commercial fishing ponds. Of the two, I consider wood the best structure for building fish attractors. The pond-management company can help you with all these decisions before you start constructing your pond.

What to Consider When Stocking a Pond

“The cost of stocking and maintaining your pond is a figure you need before construction ever begins and then you’ll have a more accurate cost to discuss with your financial advisor,” Smith mentions. “You don’t have to wait until the pond is full of water to start stocking. If you stock 1,000 to 1,500 bluegills per acre, your estimated cost will be about 30 cents for each bluegill, or approximately $300 per acre.

“Bass will cost about $1 each, and you may stock as many as 50 to 100 bass per acre. If you’re interested in managing the lake for bass, you must stock threadfin shad too in five acre or more ponds. So, the cost will be about $2,000 to stock.”  

 

If a farm pond begins to fill with water in the fall, different strains of bluegills can be stocked prior to the introduction of bass

Consultant Barry Smith recommends that if a farm pond is dug and begins to fill in the fall with water, you can stock bluegills so they can begin growing before stocking the bass in June. He also advocates stocking coppernose bluegills a faster growing and larger bluegill strain.

 

Smith recommends to stock first into a pond the sunfish, bluegills and shellcrackers, that don’t need a full water pond for stocking. “Once four or five feet of water is in the deepest part of the lake, or the water’s that depth and is stained, bluegills and shellcrackers can be stocked successfully.

“If you build your pond in the late fall, and it begins filling with water, you can stock bluegills and shellcrackers when the water depth’s right, although the pond may not completely fill until June, after all construction is completed on the pond. That way, the sunfish can start growing before the bass are put into the lake, perhaps in June with this timeline, and depending on the size of the pond.”

Historically Smith has recommended stocking coppernose bluegills, because they show somewhat faster growth and take supplemental feed better than the common bluegill.

“If you stock bluegills in the fall or winter, and feeders are set-up on your pond, you may have harvestable-size bluegills, weighing 1/4- to 1/3-pound each, in a year. An active supplemental feeding program may mean the bluegills are even larger. After three years of this feeding program, the first stock of bluegills may weigh as much as one pound each.”

Barry Smith likes three varieties of bass, the Gorilla Bass, an aggressively-feeding northern bass; the pure Florida strain of bass that grows quickly but can be difficult to catch; and the Tiger Bass that’s very aggressive and is a genetically-engineered bass that crosses the northern and the Florida bass. Smith explains that the Tiger Bass exhibits quicker growth than the northern strain of bass and exhibits more aggression (a willingness to bite) than the Florida strain of bass.

“We’ve seen a Tiger Bass grow from two inches to two pounds within a single year,” Smith reports. “The Tiger Bass can weigh as much as five pounds in only three years.”

What to Look for When Purchasing Feeders

For maximum growth from sunfish and bass, Smith recommends putting up one feeder for every three to five acres in a pond. “You should feed the fish in your pond three to four times per day, using an automatic spin feeder. The fish should consume all the food that the feeder throws out each time you feed within five minutes after the feeder stops. If all the feed is gone within the five minute period, you’re feeding the right amount. But if all the feed that’s put out at one feeding is gone within 60 seconds, then you’re not feeding the fish enough supplemental food.”

Smith likes a battery operated feeder with an attached solar panel to keep the battery charged. Although you can buy inexpensive feeders for about $150 each, they don’t tend to be very reliable. Smith recommends you spend about $700-$800 to each feeder for reliability and less maintenance. These feeders go off every day they’re programmed to, no matter the weather or  your schedule.

 

Fish Feeders will help farm pond fish grow quicker

Fish feeders for farm ponds come in a wide range of different sizes, quality and prices and with supplemental feedings your fish will grow quicker.

A consistent supplemental feeding program helps your fish grow bigger and faster than not having one. Be sure the feeder has a way to lock the lid down after it’s empty, because a storm can blow the top off the feeder if not and ruin the fish food inside. Also, people who come to fish will open the top to throw some feed out into the water to get the fish to actively feed and forget to put the top down.

“I like a fish food that’s about 32 percent protein,” Smith says.

What Your Financial Advisor Can Do to Help You Have the Lake of Your Dreams

Alabama Ag Credit, part of the Farm Credit system, is a lending institution that also pays dividends, and when you borrow money from one, you become a member of that association. These associations understand how building a farm pond definitely increases the value of the land and can be used to generate more income from that property.

To get a better understanding of Farm Credit associations, we talked with Morgan Hutcherson, VP relationship manager for Alabama Ag Credit https://www.alabamaagcredit.com/, an agricultural and land lender for central & south Alabama. Farm credit associations are located all over the United States and Puerto Rico.

“One of the advantages of having a local Ag lender, like Alabama Ag Credit, is that we better understand the wants and needs of the people who buy or own land in our area,” Hutcherson says. 

“We can offer a loan too that’s like a construction loan in that you don’t have to borrow the total amount of money you’ll need to build a farm pond, and you don’t pay interest on any money you already haven’t borrowed. You either borrow exactly what you think you’ll need for the farm pond construction, or you can get a line of credit that allows you to borrow as you build. One of the advantages of a line of credit is that often construction projects like building a pond may exceed the estimated costs. If you need more money, you can draw it out of from the association. An advantage of having a term loan is we often will fix a rate of interest over 20 years, rather than 5-10 years, and you’ll have a longer time to pay back the loan. “Alabama Ag Credit does a wide variety of recreational loans that relate to the land. Besides loaning money for the construction, the stocking and the management of the pond, we do rural-construction loans for houses too.”

Doing your homework and learning as much as you can about how to build a farm pond helps your credibility when you talk to a financial institution about funding.

You can contact Hutcherson at 251-743-2865, 251-743-3559 or morgan.hutcherson@alabamaagcredit.com.

How Erosion Created Trophy Bass Fishing

Your farm pond contractor can help you understand all of the technical and administrative details about construction before he starts digging

Your pond contractor should be able to tell you where and if you can build the size pond or
lake you want to build, what the soil type is, whether or not that soil will hold water, and whether
or not you need to meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before he starts digging.

Trey Montgomery and his wife, Pam, the owners of Leavellwood Lodge and the Lakes of Leavellwood, have been in the pay-to-bass-fish business for over 20 years. What started out as a conservation project has resulted in their fishing business and they had to learn about how to build a farm pond from scratch.

“One of the reasons we decided to build a lake was due to the erosion on our property,” Montgomery recalls. “Because of poor farming practices in the 1970s and 1980s, a piece of the land we’d bought was facing some serious erosion problems. To stop the erosion, we built our first lake and then a chain of lakes to slow down the runoff on the property. One lake wouldn’t hold all the runoff from our land. Building lakes that flowed into other lakes enabled us to stair-step the rainwater down and stop the erosion.

“Currently we have 107 acres of water on this property, Leavellwood Lake with 35 acres, 42 acre Sleepy Hollow Lake and 24 acre Sawgrass Lake. When I built my first lake, a friend of mine, Paul Bracknell, already had built and managed several trophy bass lakes called Dream Lakes in central Alabama. He shared with me his years of experience of building, managing and growing numbers of big and trophy bass. He also shared with me why he had put structure in the lake and the type of structure before he filled the lake with water. I learned from Paul how to manage hot water, cold water and the effects of shadow and shade. I also learned why structures of concrete and wood seemed to hold up the longest and provide the best habitat for bass. I listened to his advice and began to build my lakes from his recommendations.

“I also took the knowledge I’d learned from fishing on Alabama’s Gulf Coast about how artificial reefs could attract and hold red snapper. We discussed the type of structure we wanted to put into our lakes even before construction began. I had a friend in the dirt moving business, who had built cattle-watering ponds and commercial catfish ponds. I hired him, and we sat down and discussed my goals and hopes for building lakes for trophy-bass fishing for a fee. I was convinced he was the man to build my lake.

“I visited the lake site every day. We built underwater mounds and put pea gravel on top of them as bedding sites for bass and bluegills. We also dug ditches and drains from what would be shallow water out to what would become the deepest part of the lake and left some trees in the lake. We used a bulldozer to move around and place some concrete structures and brush.

“Back then, we relied heavily on the Fisheries Section of Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, and if you built a pond or a lake on your property, the state would stock that water for you with fish, free-of-charge. But eventually when the state stopped doing that, I sought advice and purchased fish from pond management companies, and other people who had built fish ponds or lakes on their properties.”

Before the Montgomerys got into the fishing business, they had farmed corn and soybeans. Then when the market for corn and soybeans bottomed out, they started raising hay and cattle. Although the Montgomerys began building lakes to stop erosion, they discovered that lake building could become expensive very quickly. Trey Montgomery decided to begin selling weekend fishing trips to try and help defray the cost of building the lakes and began to learn how to build a farm pond.

“As people came and paid to catch bass and bluegills, we realized this could be a very-good business for us,” Montgomery remembers. “I guess you’d have to say that we more or less backed into our fish-for-fees program.”

What Leavellwood Lakes Charge and Learning About the Bass There

According to Montgomery, “Today our rates are $325 per person to fish for the day, which includes a boat and a motor and lunch at our lodge. For our overnight packages, we charge $450 per day which includes three meals, lodging and the use of a boat and a motor. All you need to bring is your fishing tackle and overnight bag.

“If you want to hire a guide, our rates are an extra $100- $175 per day, if the guide furnishes his own boat and tackle. Our guides have fished these lakes for a long time, and they’re familiar with what the bass are doing, and where the bass like to hang-out at certain times of the day.

“When I’m asked how many bass can a person catch in a day here, I ask, ‘What’s your experience level in bass fishing, and what type of tackle do you have?’ If an angler is a fair bass fisherman and has pretty-good equipment, he or she can catch and release 40-50 bass per day. Even catches of 100 bass per day aren’t uncommon. An angler who catches 40 bass in a day will pull in some good-sized bass, generally several three to five  pound bass.

“Our lake record on numbers of bass caught is one boat catching and releasing 247 bass in one day. Our biggest bass was a 15-pounder caught on Sleepy Hollow Lake that was released back into the lake. Leavellwood Lake’s record bass weighed 13 pounds, 4 ounces, and Sawgrass Lake’s record bass was a 12-pounder, with both bass released back into the lake.”

When the Montgomerys first built their lakes, they wanted to provide a place where anglers could come and have one of their greatest days of bass fishing ever, anywhere, and have the possibility to catch the biggest bass of their bass-fishing careers. Leavellwood doesn’t promote its bluegill fishing, but their lakes home numbers of good-sized bluegills. Often, a customer may start out bass fishing, and then once he or she sees the size of bluegills available, he may choose to finish off his day fishing for bluegills.

To learn more about Lakes of Leavellwood and Leavellwood Lodge, go to www.facebook.com/leavellwoodlodge and the webpage at www.leavellwood.com, or call 205-372-2323.   

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