AS SEEN IN Pond Boss Magazine: Written by Industry Expert, David Beasley, Fisheries Biologist & Director of Fisheries
Thanks to the information age and rapid online answers to most any question, creating a high-quality fishery is within closer reach to pond owners than it has ever been. As a result, many pond owners are taking a do it yourself approach to try and produce high quality fisheries. Sifting through the vast resources available on the Internet, pond owners are able to piece together a fisheries management plan on their own, one step at a time. Although this process seems appealing to many, it comes with a larger risk than having a seasoned fisheries biologist help develop a plan and provide foresight and insight as to what to expect. Management processes such as stocking strategies, installing aeration, understanding water quality, and feeding fish can be self-taught, but investing in the opinion of a professional often greatly enhances the odds of being successful.
In the last two years, I have had the pleasure of meeting a large number of people who have taken this do it yourself approach to develop high quality fisheries. In conversations with them, I observed several common threads. First, each of them built new ponds or drained and dredged older ponds, since each of the landowners were well informed that new and reset ponds have much greater potential than trying to fix a broken fishery. Secondly, all of them were capable of affording the advice of a professional, but gained enough confidence through their own research to avoid that expense. Lastly, while all of these pond owners were given good advice through their resources, they were all stumbling over similar issues, resulting in their seeking professional advice prior to stocking predator fish.
When developing a trophy fishery, there are fundamental elements to every management strategy that are relatively straightforward and pertain to most ponds across the nation. There are also management strategies that pertain to each pond that are unique based on the waterbody’s characteristics and local climate, as well as the owner’s goals and budget. It seems that these pond owners in particular were able to complete the broad management strategies fairly well, but stumbled with confidence and execution on the management strategies unique to their waterbody. There were pieces of the puzzle each landowner didn’t quite understand.
Most of these pond owners were comfortable up to the point when a predator strategy needed to be figured out. Designing habitat they thought was prudent and developing a stocking plan for their forage fish seemed easy, but it got complicated when they started researching predator fish. Each of them had a general idea of what they wanted, but the more they looked into it, the more they questioned what approach they should really take. I attribute much of this struggle to the reality that once the predators are stocked, there would be no turning back. These decisions loomed critical.
In my discussions with these landowners, they were struggling with the concepts of how many predator fish to stock, what genetic strain, what size, if they should go with female-only populations, when predators should be stocked, and what growth rates or catch rates could be expected.
With each of these fisheries, one common mistake was the lack of a complete plan from the start. A fishery should not be six to twelve months into its development without having a good idea of what the desired catch rates and growth rates of predator fish will be. This is because nearly all management strategies tie into both catch rates and growth rates of predator fish. So, although these pond owners did a great deal of good leg work, they were missing a vital component to their management plan.
To help ensure a fishery is successful, one should start with knowing what the end goal is, and then work to set the stage so that fishery can be developed. If looking to create a trophy fishery, it is important to understand most natural trophy fisheries have a catch rate of less than one fish for every two hours of fishing. If looking to grow big fish using natural forage, you can expect catch rates to be low unless you are willing to spend a great deal of money. If looking for high catch rates of mid-size fish, you should understand the risks of overpopulated predator fish and how a goal of this nature can lead to compromised results if you are not careful.
Many pond owners fall into the trap of seeking advice once things are going wrong, but the best and most cost-effective approach is to seek advice early in the process to ensure you stand the best odds of reaching your goals.
Knowing what management strategies are the best fit for your situation is difficult to determine without an onsite evaluation from a seasoned biologist. Each pond is unique, and determining the best management strategy requires a firm understanding of all of the pond’s characteristics and the local climate, as well as goals and budget. To get the most out of your fishery, it is wise to consult with a fisheries biologist when starting your project to ensure that your management plan is the best fit for your situation. At that point, you can proceed with a do it yourself approach with greater confidence.
The biggest benefit of consulting with a biologist who manages many ponds simultaneously is the foresight they can provide. With most fisheries management strategies, Mother Nature has a way of disrupting plans. The more insight into how your fishery could fail, the greater your odds of being successful. In addition to discussing the traditional management strategies and potential shortcomings, an experienced biologist can help you apply progressive management techniques they are developing.
Outside of the uncertainty related to stocking predators, I also observed several other trends amongst these pond owners. Those who installed aeration systems had all installed undersized systems. This is a significant mistake that can lead to poor fish growth due to the fish being stressed, and in some cases, undersized aeration systems can lead to a fish kill.
Other mistakes observed were both underfeeding and overfeeding. Feeding fish with floating pelleted fish feed is key to promoting a thriving forage base in many ponds, but both underfeeding and overfeeding will impact the fisheries success. There are general guidelines to follow when feeding fish, but dialing in your feeding program requires a firm understanding of your water quality as well. Good water quality is one of the most critical components to a successful fishery and is one of the most overlooked by do it yourself pond owners.
Unfortunately, water quality is not well understood by many pondmeisters simply due to the fact that most do not own a professional level water quality meter and don’t know a great deal about the inner relations between the various water quality parameters. Additionally, water quality has many seasonal trends, so if you are serious about creating a quality fishery, it is critical to not overlook the importance of healthy water. When uncertain, seek advice.
Many variables play critical roles in the success of a fishery. Starting with a firm plan that matches the best strategies based on the waterbodies needs will go a long way in helping both your confidence and your fishery develop. Prior to implementing a self-taught management plan, consult with a seasoned biologist to ensure your plan stands a high probability of being successful, or hire a biologist to develop your plan. Developing a high-quality fishery takes years of hard work and financial commitment, so be sure you take a proactive approach by involving a biologist, rather than asking for advice only when things seem off kilter.
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond and fisheries management needs.
David Beasley has over 12 years of experience growing and managing successful trophy fisheries. David earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries and Aquaculture from State University of New York in Cobleskill and is currently the Director of Fisheries for SOLitude Lake Management, servicing the eastern United States and offering fisheries consultations nationwide.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. Our services include lake, pond and fisheries management programs, algae and aquatic weed control, mechanical harvesting, hydro-raking, installation and maintenance of fountains and aeration systems, water quality testing and restoration, bathymetry, lake vegetation studies, biological assessments, habitat assessments, invasive species management and nuisance wildlife management. Services, consulting and aquatic products are available to clients nationwide, including homeowners associations, multi-family and apartment communities, golf courses, commercial developments, ranches, private landowners, reservoirs, recreational and public lakes, municipalities, parks, and state and federal agencies. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.