Sportfish and Pond Management
Each year Alabama anglers spend an estimated $835 million on fishing and fishing-related activities, much of this money going to rural areas. The recreational fishing industry has a dramatic impact on Alabama’s economy. Ponds can provide recreational pleasure for landowners. A farm pond is not a creation of nature with its own set of checks and balances. The pond owner must provide the management to carefully monitor the fish populations for continued successful harvesting.
It is important to understand how ponds work in order to have a productive pond. Good pond management requires enhancing food availability for fish, controlling harvest to maintain a balance of predator-prey populations, weed control, preventing situations that cause fish kills, and maintaining good water quality.
The cornerstones of healthy fish populations are proper location and construction, fish selection and stocking, removal of undesirable or overpopulated fish, liming and fertilization, harvesting and record-keeping, pond balance, and aquatic weed control.
Stocking ponds correctly is important. Experts at The Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries say that the best choices for stocking Alabama farm ponds are bluegill, largemouth bass, and redear sunfish. The protocol for stocking a pond that will be fertilized is 1,000 bream (bluegill and redear) and 100 largemouth bass per surface acre. Ponds that will not be fertilized will receive half of this amount. The beauty of the largemouth bass-bluegill system is its simplicity. In a well fertilized pond, zooplankton and insect larvae will be plentiful enough to supply food for young bass and all sizes of bluegill. Bluegill grows rapidly and reproduces repeatedly throughout the spring and summer. The bluegill provides bass with an abundant food supply. With proper harvest techniques, the bass will grow rapidly and prevent bluegill from overcrowding the pond. Channel catfish can be added to the largemouth bass-bluegill pond. However, catfish compete with bass and bluegill for natural foods and lower the number of bass and bluegill caught. If catfish are added, the recommendation is 50 per acre in a fertilized pond or 25 per acre in a non-fertilized pond. Species that should not be stocked into farm ponds include black and white crappie, gizzard shad, flathead catfish and bullhead catfish, common carp, and shiners. These species may rapidly overcrowd ponds and/or may reduce the populations of desirable fish species. Pond owners need to consult a qualified fisheries biologist if they stock these species.
Ponds should not be fished for at least one year following stocking. As a general rule, fertile ponds can sustain an annual harvest of 25 to 35 pounds of bass per acre. If the pond is infertile, no more than 10 pounds of bass should be removed per year. Bluegill should also be harvested. A general rule is to remove 10-15 bluegill for each bass taken, or 4 pounds of bluegill for each pound of bass. If the bass in the pond look stunted or have a weakened physical condition, the pond may be “bass-crowded” and the solution is heavy harvest of bass. Catfish should be restocked to replace those that have been removed. Catfish fry do not typically survive in ponds with bass and bream. In addition to managing ponds correctly, several other techniques can improve farm pond fishing. Stocking fathead minnows for forage, adding fish shelters, supplemental feeding, checking and adjusting water levels, aeration and mixing of pond temperature layers, and providing preferred spawning substrate are enhancement techniques. For more information, contact the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at www.aces.edu or The Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. (Managing Wildlife, Yarrow and Yarrow, 1999) (Sportfish Management in Alabama Ponds, Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, 2003)