Written by Industry Expert Aaron Cushing, Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist
Developing a Fishery Management Plan (FMP) that is right for you and helps you meet your goals depends on many things; your pond’s current water quality, the quantity and variety of cover available, and the desired and supported predator and prey fish. Remember, not all kinds of fish can thrive in all kinds of ponds. A fisheries biologist will measure and consider all these factors, as well as annual water temperature highs and lows, to determine which fish species will best suit you and your pond long term. The fish in your pond are only part of the overall “Food Web”. The Food Web includes the “Food Chain” along with aquatic and environmental factors that influence aquatic life such as vegetation, water quality, nutrient levels, sunlight, and more. To maintain a prosperous aquatic environment the food chain needs to be in check and properly balanced, and this is best done by taking a look at the entire web.
To obtain a healthy natural balance, many man-made ponds and fishing ponds require some assistance. Aeration, vegetation treatment, predator harvest, and the stocking of grass carp and forage fish, are many of the fisheries management practices that should be considered. Before a fishery of any kind can reach its full potential there are dozens of variables that may need to be modified to bring stability to the ecosystem, including fish cover, aquatic vegetation, and water quality. Whether your pond is best fit for warm water, cool water, or cold water fish, or a combination, having the proper kinds of pond fish and the right quantity is fundamental.
The most commonly designed FMP’s are for warm water ponds. They are the most popular and can support many of the common game fish stocked in private waters throughout North America, including largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, channel catfish, bullhead and hybrid striped bass. Large deep lakes or ponds with moderate to heavy spring flow aren’t as common, but can support cool water game fish, such as walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, and tiger muskellunge in addition to warm water species. Trout species such as rainbow and brook trout thrive in rare cold water or cold spring fed ponds, though survival through the summer months is often the greatest challenge, due to their inability to tolerate warmer temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels.
Once predator species have been discussed, every FMP should focus on establishing a proper forage base and cover the importance of a balanced predator-to-prey ratio. The right forage species depends on your ponds water temperature, fish cover, water movement, predator species, and the base of the food chain, along with other management techniques. The characteristics of a good forage fish species is one that grows well in your pond, feed low on the food chain on things like plankton and insects, remain small as an adult, and reproduce prolifically and frequently. Warm water ponds in the southern United States, with high amounts of nutrients can support threadfin shad, a plankton filter feeder and tilapia, a tropical cichlid that feeds on pond algae. A major advantage of threadfin shad and tilapia is that they spawn frequently throughout the summer and then become easy prey in the fall for predators such as largemouth bass as water temperatures drop and they become sluggish.
No matter what species you add seasonally, remember that bluegill are the backbone of the food chain in warm and cool water ponds throughout the country, reproducing often and providing food nearly year round for the larger fish. The redear sunfish, or shellcracker, often stocked in combination with bluegill, eat snails and do not directly compete with them while helping reduce snail-borne fish parasites. Other forage options include stocking golden shiners as forage; though in most ponds they will require supplemental stocking every few years due to predation. Cold ponds often do not require forage fish, and trout can be stocked in ponds alone in low numbers, and will feed upon aquatic invertebrates. Higher densities and larger trout can be supported by artificial shoreline fish feeders or stocking golden shiners.
With a properly designed Fisheries Management Plan, you can minimize future efforts that may be needed to keep the fishery healthy and balanced. When it comes time to implement your FMP, remember to focus on a healthy environment for your forage prey base to help support the predators whenever possible. Your patience will be rewarded with faster growth rates on the predator fish.
Aaron Cushing is a Fisheries Biologist with SOLitude Lake Management. Since 1998, SOLitude Lake Management has been committed to providing full service lake and pond management services that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Services are available throughout the Eastern United States. Fisheries management consulting and aquatic products are available nationwide. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond and fisheries management needs.