Pond ownership is a journey that can prove to be exciting and fun, as well as frustrating and disappointing. The good times are typically fueled by great memories of relaxing on the water or catching fish with family and friends, and the bad times are fueled by something that prevents those good times from happening. As owners, we would like the pond to always provide a high level of entertainment, allowing for a continuous stream of lasting memories as well as a source of excitement and energy that motivates family to draw closer together and enjoy the presence of one another.
Over the years, many private waterbodies that became a pillar of lasting memories start to change. Oftentimes these changes occur slowly, and at times it happens so gradually that the transformation goes unnoticed until the pond or fishery have been altered considerably. When this occurs, it is typical for people to be concerned and take action.
Unfortunately for pond owners, the issues that are often viewed as problems are actually symptoms of the real problem. As result, the obvious solution will not usually restore the pond back to times when things were good. Waterbodies are complex and as one variable shifts it influences another, which influences another. This “cause and effect” process results in the need for you to address what caused the change, rather than addressing what was affected by the change.
One of the most common examples of this is when waterbodies develop a vegetation or algae issue. Most would naturally think pond vegetation and algae are the problem, since they are the obvious issue jeopardizing the pond. In reality, they are a symptom of an underlying problem. So, when the average pond owner identifies vegetation and algae as a threat and takes action to control it, they become vulnerable to managing their money poorly, setting themselves up with false expectations and becoming frustrated. Although, in many cases, the vegetation and algae need to be addressed, the real fix is to address other variables such as the nutrient load and water depth. In some cases the nutrients can be mitigated; in other cases, they need to be redirected.
I’ve seen other examples of this with ponds that previously produced quality Largemouth Bass, but now only contain undersized bass. In this situation, it is typical for a novice to assume that the bass genetics are poor and need to be improved before the bass can grow, or that the bass ate all of the forage fish and that more baitfish need to be stocked. Although bass genetics could be poor, and stocking forage fish would provide food for the bass, neither option is really going to provide the desired long-term outcome. In some cases, people want to simply stock adult bass, not realizing that those newly stocked adult bass will suffer the same fate as all the others. In order to fix an issue of this nature, you need to move past the obvious and focus on addressing the real issues. In this case, the most common issues may be less than optimal productivity, which has resulted in a forage base that is under performing, an over-population of predator fish, or poor water quality resulting in stressed bass that are not feeding properly. In many cases, ponds suffer from low productivity teamed with too many predators.
A final example of this relates to bass catch rates. When low catch rates plague a pond, it is typical to feel the need to increase the number of predator fish. This obvious solution would work well if you have an exponential budget. Unfortunately, it is not the best choice for those who desire to maintain or achieve quality bass growth without spending more money, since adding more predators to a system will result in reduced growth rates if management strategies are not ramped up accordingly. In some instances, catch rates can be improved by altering habitat to congregate fish in key areas that allows anglers to target fish easier, as well as encouraging feeding competition amongst the bass, which are competitive with one another for food. Another solution would be to reduce the angling pressure by limiting the number of fisherman and the frequency at which they fish.
The principle of “thinking past the obvious” takes on an advanced form for Fisheries Biologists who have exposure to a large number of learning opportunities. Implementing management strategies and then comparing expectations to the actual outcome achieved is a continual process that helps biologists push the envelope on what they know and what is still unknown. Over time, science-based learning has pushed the industry to a point where quality fisheries can be created with high probabilities of success. As biologists move forward with trying to create better fisheries than ever before, it is clear that the industry needs to lean on scientific data. A scientific approach may be necessary to uncover the remaining unknown details that are more finite and complicated.
There is, however, a catch. Fisheries Biologists are managing entire ecosystems with a multitude of variables—each playing an active role in the outcome of the fishery. The complexity of ecosystems and their influence from a large number of both external and internal variables does not lend itself well to peer-reviewable scientific conclusions. Most conclusions made by private biologists are built on assumptions and, as result, the truth is harder to isolate. Without drawing scientific conclusions built on high quality data, these finite details that remain unknown become much harder to truly understand.
Most scientific research published in peer reviewed journals typically focuses on a singular objective that is studied in a relatively controlled environment. This type of data collection is far more precise, but the outcome is oftentimes only focused on one piece of fisheries management. Due to the time, energy, and expenses required to collect data of this nature, private Fisheries Biologists are unable to put substantial effort towards scientific data collection that is credible enough to withstand the peer review process. Although private biologists are confident in their experience and do their best to apply what they have learned, they are always vulnerable to misinterpreting or overlooking the significance of certain variables, as it is rarely possible to isolate each variable and quantify exactly how it contributed to the overall success of the fishery. Because of this, sometimes obvious things that have a positive influence on the fishery overshadow other things that we do not know.
While we know that all variables influence other variables through a “cause and effect” relationship, it is difficult to determine with scientific certainty what management strategies are contributing the most towards the success of a fishery—or holding it back from meeting its full potential. Many biologists and scientists across the country are working hard to better understand genetics, fish feed diets, plankton blooms, vegetation management, fish habitat, nutritional value of forage fish, etc. and, together, continue to piece together data that helps us better understand how to improve growth rates on bass. Although biologists have done a good job at understanding this “thinking past the obvious” principle, the industry still has many significant advancements ahead, and it will likely be decades before biologists have all the tools and knowledge required to extract the full genetic potential from the fish species they are trying to grow.
Fortunately for private pond owners, enough has been learned over the past few decades to create a great fishery with a high probability of success. As result, the tools and knowledge are available to help facilitate good times while avoiding the bad. So the next time you are faced with a pond issue, take a moment to think past the obvious before you inadvertently mismanage your pond budget, or set yourself up with false expectations.
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond, wetland and fisheries management needs.
David Beasley is a Fisheries Biologist leading the fisheries division for all of SOLitude’s service areas. David has an extensive background in progressive management techniques related to water quality, plankton management, fish species management and population dynamics, and is highly experienced in the creation and maintenance of both balanced and trophy fisheries. His expertise includes the management of ponds and indoor facilities for aquaculture purposes, and the development of more than 27 species of forage and predator fish, including warm, cool and cold water species.
SOLitude Lake Management is a nationwide environmental firm committed to providing sustainable solutions that improve water quality, enhance beauty, preserve natural resources and reduce our environmental footprint. SOLitude’s team of aquatic resource management professionals specializes in the development and execution of customized lake, pond, wetland and fisheries management programs that include water quality testing and restoration, nutrient remediation, algae and aquatic weed control, installation and maintenance of fountains and aeration systems, bathymetry, shoreline erosion restoration, mechanical harvesting and hydro-raking, lake vegetation studies, biological assessments, habitat evaluations, and invasive species management. Services and educational resources 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, drinking water authorities, parks, and state and federal agencies. SOLitude Lake Management is a proud member of the Rentokil Steritech family of companies in North America.