Managing Small Waters for Better Fishing

By Marc Rogers

There are countless opportunities throughout North America for anglers to pursue fish in small ponds. Many of these waters are ponds consisting of one acre or less in size. They are located on farms, golf courses and subdivisions that keep the access private, allowing only select individuals to use them. The ponds may have an abundance of fish lurking beneath the surface because of minimal usage. However, the total population of fish is often not as great as it first appears.

Because the ponds hold such aggressive fish the body of water is sometimes over-harvested. A pond of ½ acre of surface water that contains Large Mouth Bass generally only accommodates a small number of harvest-sized bass. An angler who keeps bass on a regular basis can quickly deplete the population and by doing so will allow species such as bluegill to over populate the pond. Without the bass’ presence to control the population of bluegill the pond becomes home to many small, non-harvest sized bluegill. The small bass left behind have to compete with the bluegill for the limited food supply and a popular food source of bluegill is bass eggs. Once this cycle is put into motion it is hard to reverse.

Another detrimental occurrence in small ponds is for the owner to make them easier to fish by removing weed growth along the shoreline. While doing so makes the access to the water much easier, it also eliminates the major source of cover for the fish. Vegetation along the water’s edge produces oxygen for the fish during sunlight hours and allows cover for small fish to hide until they can reach adult size. If chemicals are used to kill off the vegetation, the dying growth consumes oxygen that the fish population need for survival. Removal of vegetation can be just as harmful as over-harvesting for the fish population.

Pond owner should consider keeping records of catch and harvest data to better understand what is happening below the surface in their ponds. Good record keeping is key to knowing the growth and harvest situation in any given small body of water. Owners should record the specie and length of each catch and note if it was consumed or returned to the water. Because pond owners do not generally have access to electro-shocking equipment like state agencies use, this is the next best way of knowing what is happening in their pond. Good record keeping means the fish must be measured exactly. Guessing at the length is not good enough to be successful in this approach.

Ponds generally cannot be managed to produce great size and numbers of several species of fish. The owners should make a decision about what specie they want to produce.Good bass fishing ponds will not have great numbers of big bluegill available as the bass eat most of them prior to reaching a few inches long. The ones that do survive to grow large can quickly be removed with one outing if an angler keeps them for the table.

On the other hand, if big bluegills are abundant bass generally will not reach large sizes because the bigger bluegill will compete with them for the limited food source. Both of these scenarios become clear with good record keeping of the catch from ponds.

Fish can grow bigger and more abundant if supplemental feeding is done in a pond. The drawback is if and when the feeding is discontinued. The extra feeding will produce more fish than the carrying capacity of the water and when the feeding is stopped all of the fish will suffer from malnourishment. When considering supplemental feeding a pond owner must remember the feeding will have to continue indefinitely for this approach to have a lasting effect.

Harvesting fish is a good way to keep a pond healthy and productive. The Missouri Department of Conservation has a great resource for pond management available on their website called the Missouri Pond Handbook by Ken Perry. This publication covers everything from the design and building of ponds to maintaining them as a fishing resource.

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