How To Build A Pond – Stocking and Maintenance
Congratulations. You followed the first part of the “how to build a pond” process and are now the proud owner of your own fishing pond. You invested thousands of dollars, a bunch of time and effort and not to mention, a lot of sweat to make sure that your own private fishing mecca was built absolutely perfect.
The banks have the right slope, it has access and is “fisherman friendly”, there is fishing holding and nurturing contours, benches, drop-offs and even structure on the bottom and edges, the dam and spillways are solid with the correct slope in front and back and everything is in place. The watershed is large enough to ensure an on-going pond water level, all of the safeguards are in place and you are rocking and rolling.
Ok…so now you have a great “state-of-the-art” pond…but, uh…there is nothing to catch…now what?
Norman Latona is president of Southeastern Pond Management, which offers services that cover the waterfront of pond development and management. SEPond provides ecosystem analysis, management programs, pond construction, liming, fertilizing, fish inventory assessment, removal processes, stocking of forage and game fish, pond maintenance and more.
As weird as it sounds, when you are starting out, having a pond that is devoid of any fish is a good thing if your primary goal is to manage the pond for fishing.
“When you are restocking or stocking fish for the first time it is critical that the water we are stocking is free of fish,” Latona said. “We need to prep it properly and make sure that there is nothing that will compete with what we are going to introduce and interfere with that dynamic.”
Latona said that a popular misconception of pond owners is that when making a pond, it has to be completely full before stocking efforts start.
“We stock a lot of ponds that are a quarter or a third of the way full and that is typically plenty,” Latona said.
Regardless of whether you want to manage the pond for trophy bass, big bluegill, crappie or to have a sparkling pond for your grandkids to swim in and catch whatever bites, the forage fish always, always, always go in first. Latona emphasized the importance of allowing the forage fish time to establish themselves and go through at least one spawning cycle before predator fish, like bass, are introduced.
“The more secure and abundant the food source, the faster the bass are going to grow. When I say forage fish, I’m talking about everything from bluegill to shellcrackers, fathead minnows, golden shiners and even threadfin shad,” Latona said. “Typically, the bluegill that we stock are in the one-to-two-inch size range and the ideal forage stocking timeline is from early fall all the way to late winter.”
How many forage fish and largemouth bass should you stock is a question that inevitably comes up when considering how to build a pond.
According to Latona the time-honored standard is approximately 10 forage fish to one predator per acre, which is a 10 to 1 ratio. That can change depending on what the pond owner wants to accomplish. If the goal is to produce trophy bass, Latona may cut down on the number of bass stocked or substantially increase the number of forage fish to make sure that those bass that are stocked have plenty to eat for maximum weight gain. On the other hand, if the goal is to ensure a bunch of respectable medium size bass to catch and large trophy size fish aren’t really in the picture, the ratio of bass introduced may increase as well as the forage fish at the beginning of the process.
How To Build A Pond – Erosion
A pond is a “physical plant” and over time, it will show signs of aging and deterioration. Probably the most common and damaging problems ponds have are shoreline erosion and erosion around dams and spillways.
“The pond is obviously going to be the lowest spot and all the water will run to it and that running water will cut its way through the bank. The remedy is to make sure that the banks are properly sloped, seeded, mulched and that there is an established stand of “non-woody” native grasses and vegetation established all the way around the water’s edge,” Latona explained. “Otherwise, you can get water channels and cuts that will deteriorate the shorelines and structure of the pond and it can become quite a mess.”
Laton said that if the pond is big enough and has significant wave action that can erode the banks it may even be necessary to add rock or rip-rap to break up that wave lapping action.
Latona emphasizes that it is really important to make sure that your dams are safe and that there are no channels or ditches undercutting the foundation. In addition, make sure it is absolutely free of woody vegetation in the front, top and back sides and the reason is roots.
“While woody vegetation and the subsequent roots anchor the soil to some extent and help prevent erosion, they can severely tunnel underneath and even into the dam and if a storm knocks down that tree suddenly you have a big hole that most likely will fill with water and possible result in structural problem,” Latona said. “You want the sides, top and back of the dam to be free of woody vegetation and have the right slope to be able to use a bush hog or other equipment to keep things cut or, if necessary, you can use herbicides”.
How To Build A Pond – Weed and Aquatic Vegetation
While weeds can be beneficial in stabilizing soil and helping with erosion control and aquatic vegetation provide cover for bass and other fish, sometimes it can just get out of control and literally take over a pond. The question becomes, “How much vegetation is too much?”.
While chemicals have their place in the pond management arsenal, there are other more organic ways to control a pond’s vegetation inventory. Latona pointed out that most aquatic nuisance plants have their origins in the mud in the bottom of the pond and need sunlight to develop and grow. Consequently, by coloring the water and limiting the amount of sunlight that penetrates down into the water column to the mud, that alone inhibits aquatic weed growth and that means fertilizing and even liming.
While on the surface, it sounds nonsensical and rather contradictory, applying sound pond management techniques such as fertilizing and liming to support algae growth, can cut down on unwanted aquatic growth by reducing the amount of sunlight exposure to the problem vegetation.
“When you talk about liming and fertilizing to control vegetation, it sounds kind of counterintuitive in that you would think that if you fertilize you will grow more weeds,” Latona said. “But what we are attempting to do is grow planktonic algae in the water that give a pond that green tip, reduce sunlight penetration and stop weed growth.”
“Collectively, that actually adds up to a giant shade cloth and cuts down on the visibility and sunlight penetration. Those weeds need to have sunlight to grow and if we can keep some of the sunlight off of them, we can usually control the growth because most aquatic weeds need to have some pretty intense direct sunlight to grow,” he said.
If the liming and fertilizing strategy isn’t cutting it, there are other options, including aquatic herbicides and, especially in shallow ponds, introducing grass carp.
“Grass carp are not going to completely eradicate aquatic vegetation unless you stock them at a super high density but they are a piece of the puzzle and part of the strategic solution,” Latona said.