AS SEEN IN Pond Boss Magazine, May/June 2016: Written by Industry Expert, David Beasley, Fisheries Biologist & Director of Fisheries
Seeing your child’s face light up while landing a fish is priceless. These beautiful moments help slow our busy lives, allowing us to catch a breath as our fast-paced world seems to speed up. This may be one reason some people decide to build a pond on their property, allowing family and friends an opportunity to gather and enjoy each other’s company in an intimate private setting. For those who are looking to create a family retreat of their own, it is important to understand all ponds are not created equal. If you have resources, building a pond that meets all of your desires is the best way to ensure you are successful at reaching these dreams.
So, where does one begin when looking to build a pond? Well, for one particular landowner in Virginia, building a pond of his dreams started with a combination of patience and foresight. Although this individual chooses anonymity, his experience may be helpful to those looking to create a pond that meets their desires.
His journey started three and a half years ago when he set out to find the perfect property and build a trophy bass pond. Drawing inspiration from other ponds and pond builders, he had a basic idea of what he wanted. His primary goals were to have an aesthetically pleasing waterbody that would support largemouth bass greater than five pounds. Another important feature was having the shoreline accessible to anglers who want to fish from the bank. If he could meet these goals, he was confident that the pond would provide a lifelong source of enjoyment for family and friends.
Knowing what he wanted from the pond, he began looking for properties within a set geographic area that would fit various types of outdoor recreation such as hunting and ATV riding in addition to fishing. As he hit the road in pursuit of the right property, it became apparent that each site came with its own unique challenges. Some had limited access for heavy equipment, while others had topography that would require significant excavation. Both of these issues would drive up the cost of the project beyond the budget.
To reach his goal of creating the perfect pond, it was important to surround himself with the best team of people he could find. In the beginning, when looking at properties to determine if they were suitable, he would find several properties with good potential and would load up a civil engineer and a fisheries biologist in his truck. Looking at several sites together they were able to efficiently figure out what sites were worth further discussion and what sites he should pass. This step of finding the correct location played a key role in his success. Far too often people buy a property, then look into building the waterbody. By taking the more methodical and patient route, he was able to obtain a property that met all his desires.
Once he found a couple properties suitable to build a pond, he contacted excavation companies to get an idea of what it would cost to move dirt per yard or per hour, allowing him to make a reasonable estimated cost of the construction of the dam. From there he spoke to county officials to make sure a build would be possible and that he’d have no permitting problems.
When building a pond, you will find that several government agencies need to be involved. During this process it is important to keep in mind that agencies all have their own agenda. Some keep the neighbors safe downstream and others ensure that no wetlands are disturbed during the build. It takes a high level of commitment to build a pond, and you need to be prepared. Our friend from Virginia found that people were quick to give guidance and tell of their experiences. You may have heard government agencies are difficult to work with, but he did not find this the case at all. They told him exactly what they were looking for and expected it to be completed in a timely manner. Think of it this way, if you always do the speed limit, you will find that the police don’t harass you every time you drive around town.
Once the best property was chosen, he soon realized the need to set a realistic commitment level to the project since it would affect his family for the next year of purchase, planning and construction, as well as the rest of their lives as they enjoy the property. Like building a house, you need to set a budget and prepare to have some cost overruns. That’s the nature of the pond building beast. One change to any portion of the build could measurably raise the cost of the entire project. Building a pond has budget gaps that are nearly impossible to detect. For instance, what if you need to move more dirt than expected? What if you run into more rock than anticipated? If you’re building the pond yourself, how many times will the engineer need to come out and set stakes because the operator keeps running them over?
Based on the nature of the site and the capabilities of the owner, he decided to buy the needed equipment and build the pond himself. The primary reason this route was chosen is because the entire waterbody needed to be excavated, similar to a borrow pit. The cost to pay a company to build the pond would have been well over budget due to the sheer number of hours the project would entail. Excavating a pond costs considerably more than building a dam and impounding water behind it.
Working with an engineer, drawings were put together to provide guidance throughout the process.
After four months of planning and six months of excavation, the pond was built and ready for water. Additionally, a variety of docks, including a boat house as well as a boat ramp, were nearing completion.
The pond is 5 acres and holds approximately 15 million gallons of water. The bottom of the pond has an assortment of dirt, rock, and wood to serve as a largemouth bass playground. With the attention to details that a seasoned fisherman would greatly appreciate, similar to an artist starting with a blank canvas, the owner was able to dream up what cover, structure, and fish attractors he wanted and where it should go.
By this point, the pond was coming to life and years of hard work were beginning to pay off. Many people who reach this stage of pond construction start feeling a sense of accomplishment and let their guard down. Although the pond may be ready for water and will soon be teeming with aquatic life, the future of the fishery is approaching a critical phase that can jeopardize the years of hard work.
Implementing a fisheries management plan that allows the fishery to develop properly is a time-sensitive process critical to achieving a desired result. Prior to letting the pond fill, the owner treated all standing water with rotenone to ensure no fish were present. Once he was certain the treatment was successful, the pond was allowed to start filling with water.
By this time it was late in the fall of 2015. The pond filled in just a few weeks, far faster than projected thanks to several timely heavy rain events. Although stocking forage fish in the late fall was highly desired, the decision was made to see how the pond’s water level held over the winter months. In Virginia, the forage fish do not grow much in the winter anyway, so delaying the initial stocking was not going to hinder the fishery’s progress. Throughout the winter months, the pond held at full pool, providing a sense of confidence to all involved.
Throughout the years to come, various management tasks and strategies will need to be implemented. Keeping a proactive agenda rather than a reactionary one is the best way to ensure he will reach his goals. He plans to keep the water healthy, increase natural productivity at high levels, harvest when appropriate, and monitor results.
Although this landowner had to endure several years of decision-making and hard work to build the pond, his patience and dedication are starting to pay off. Like many of the best things in life, the process he went through was tedious early, and although the fishery has a ways to go before the owner’s dreams are met, the majority of the hard work has passed.
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond and fisheries management needs.
David Beasley is a Fisheries Biologist and Director of Fisheries with SOLitude Lake Management. SOLitude Lake Management is committed to providing full service lake and pond management services that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Lake, pond and fisheries management services, consulting, and aquatic products are available nationwide. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.