Ponds need year-round management

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bobber in pond

Spring is here! The trees are budding and most of us are getting ready to plow and plant our fields and gardens. It is an amazing time of year.

It is also time to start thinking about stocking our ponds. Many Soil and Water Conservation Districts will be holding their annual spring fish sales so that their residents can stock their ponds. Even in Ohio, as long as a pond is properly stocked and maintained, you can find some pretty decent fishing spots.

When is the best time to stock your pond? Some will say in the fall as the fish can acclimate to the climate better. However, you can stock your ponds in the spring or in the fall.

Quite honestly for recreational purposes, spring is a pretty good time of the year. And whether your pond is new or old, populations need to be replenished to optimize your fishing experience.

We encourage stocking your new or reconditioned ponds with the SWCDs fingerling fish, such as largemouth bass, channel catfish and bluegills.

Not only are fingerlings less expensive, but they are also recommended, as they do not lead to an unbalanced fish population.

For older ponds, we strongly encourage you to take stock of the fish species in your pond along with the size and age of your existing fish, as that will determine what species, amounts and size you should restock in your pond.

In addition to the sport fish, you will want to stock or restock fish species that are “food sources” for your sport species.

When purchasing fish from your local SWCD, it is recommended that you bring water from your pond in a large plastic trash bag lining a tote. Once the fish are placed in the bags for transportation, the bags can then be filled with oxygen and sealed so that you can safely and carefully transport your new species back to your pond.

And I know once you get those fish home, you are going to be anxious to begin the sport of fishing. However, you must keep in mind good pond management practices.

Largemouth bass and bluegills should be allowed to remain in your pond for a period of at least three years so that they can grow and reproduce. If you do decide to begin fishing before then, practice the art of “catch and release.”

4.18.19 dirt column chart

Fish population

Also, pond owners do not want to overharvest their ponds because that can result in several problems — one being an unbalanced fish population.

There are a variety of ways a pond owner can track their fish population. You can keep a diary of what you catch and release and choose not to release. Angler diaries are a great way to assist with pond management, fish populations and the quality of fishing within their pond.

Seining is a low-cost way of determining a pond’s fish population. Using a seine along the shoreline to catch newly hatched fish in late June or early July will give the pond owner an indication of their ponds fish population and spawning status.

With this information, a pond owner will know what needs to be restocked to balance the species population. The absence of or low numbers of young largemouth bass or small bluegills in the seine will alert the pond owner that the fish population needs to be adjusted and restocking needs to take place.

While we hope and strive to have our ponds be self-sustaining, if we are harvesting fish, our ponds have to be able to reproduce them.

Some pond owners may resort to artificial feeding. If a pond owner decides to use artificial feeding, they have to be willing to make a full commitment to continue feeding from spring when temperatures reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit until fall when the temperatures fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilization can be performed as well. However, most ponds in Ohio have enough nutrients from their surrounding watersheds. And as we all know excess nutrients can cause the growth of unwanted vegetation and result in poor water quality.

If fertilization is chosen, close water quality monitoring is required and fertilization should be on a strict schedule.

Add habitat

Of course one of the best ways to promote the fish population is to provide habitat structures to your pond. Structures should be placed in relatively shallow areas where oxygen quality is best to provide cover, resting and feeding areas for younger hatchlings.

Structures can be placed in deeper areas provided there is good circulation (aeration) so that dissolved oxygen levels are optimal.

Recycled Christmas trees make great natural habitats for our fish as do man-made structures such as PVC pipe, concrete blocks and wooden pallets. Trees species that do not easily decay such as oak, hickory and cedar work well. Just remember to place them in an area where the anglers can easily cast their lines.

The SWCDs work with the best fish hatcheries in Ohio. In Mahoning County, we work with Fender’s Fish Hatchery, a family fish farm that owns and operates over 200 acres of ponds within three Ohio counties. They provide 44 of the Ohio’s 88 SWCDs with healthy fish and a plethora of experience and information when it comes to stocking and maintaining ponds. Steve Fender has written the definitive book on pond management.

The SWCDs also rely on the valuable information provided by our friends at Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. I can say personally that I have looked to ODNR’s Ohio Pond Management book for insight to help my local constituents with all of their pond needs.

Newly revised, you can find the Division’s book at: https://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/portals/wildlife/pdfs/publications/fish%20management/Pub432.pdf.

Well, I hope to see you all out fishing one day. Remember it is great way to spend time with family and friends. And if you have caught too much, there is nothing wrong with a good fish fry — don’t forget to invite your friends at your local SWCD.

In the meantime, we, your local SWCDs, are here for you and your pond needs.

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