Pond Primer: Stock fish in proven combinations


Last of a three-part series

SALEM, Ohio – Aside from more practical purposes like irrigation or fire protection, ponds can provide hours of enjoyment through recreation like swimming, boating and fishing.

But before pond owners can brag to their friends about hooking the biggest one they’ve ever seen, hopeful anglers have got to stock and maintain healthy fish.

Going about it. Approximately 90 percent of ponds in Ohio are 5 acres or less, according to Paul Moser, aquatic biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Ponds that size are relatively easy to stock and maintain after the owner decides what type of fish to buy, where to get them, and what to do with the fish after they’re in the pond, he said.

“Keep things simple. You can throw anything in there, but it will make things harder to control effectively,” Moser said.

Each species of fish has a job in the overall pond ecosystem, including popular varieties like bluegills, which provide food to bass and humans and offer recreation; and bass, which aid in population control of smaller fish and offer good fishing.

Moser recommended stocking fish found together in nature, with “proven combinations that work.”

Among those recommendations are bluegill up to 400 fingerlings per acre; largemouth bass up to 100 fingerlings per acre; and channel catfish up to 100 fingerlings per acre.

Giant minnows. Another popular fish variety stocked in Ohio and Pennsylvania ponds are triploid white amur, also known as grass carp.

The fish is not really a carp, according to Moser, but a giant minnow that sometimes grows longer than 5 feet. The fish, which may grow up to 60 pounds and live up to 15 years, eat vegetation and serve as a biological control against aquatic plant growth.

“Remember, they’re animals and will take a while, weeks or months, to get the job done,” Moser said. Amur stocking estimates should be available when the fish are purchased.

What you’ve got. When stocking fish, one of the biggest concerns for pond owners should be fish identification, Moser said. Several sources have books and picture guides to help pond owners learn what they’re looking at.

Out of 12 species of sunfish in Ohio, “there are only two kinds you’d even want to think about having and stocking in your pond,” he said, including the ever-popular bluegill.

Hopeful anglers are also encouraged not to stock hybridized sunfish, described by Moser as “a really bad thing.” The state record for hybrid sunfish is just over 5 inches in length, so “stay away from them unless you want little fish for kids,” he recommended.

Special consideration. Moser also urged pond owners to consider environmental factors before stocking varieties like rainbow trout.

“You have to realize that trout die when the water gets to 72 degrees,” he said, noting ponds in the region have surface temperatures of 85 degrees by late July.

“Stock them when the water temperature is 65 degrees in the fall, but catch and have fun with them before the water gets warm,” he said.

Pond owners in the region should not stock crappie or yellow perch since they will compete with bass for food and space. The varieties also require brushy areas and cooler water to spawn. Insufficient habitat will produce stunted growth and poor fishing, he said.

However, perch can survive and work well when stocked with minnows. Bass or bluegills should not be stocked with minnows.

Moser also discourages stocking walleye.

“You have to understand fish. Walleye aren’t suited to small bodies of water,” he said. “Catch them in a big lake somewhere else.”

Fishing for fish. “Fishing is a really cheap hobby, until you decide you have to have a Tahoe and a Ranger fishing boat,” Moser said.

Since Ohio fishing licenses cost $15, a number of pond owners attempt to fill their personal ponds with fish taken from other sources.

“Just keep in mind that if you fish for them and take them home, you’ve got a pond full of males,” since males live in shallower water where fishing takes place, Moser said. “Don’t be surprised when you aren’t seeing any spawning or little fish.”

Moser also advises fishermen to be aware of daily bag limits when fishing in public waters.

Buying stock. The simplest and easiest way to provide fishing in a pond is to purchase the fish from a reputable dealer. Though there is cost involved when compared to fishing for stock, buying start-up fish for a pond allows a balanced habitat for “a couple hundred dollars.”

Moser warns consumers to beware of fish dealers with packaged deals that include unnecessary elements such as frogs and turtles.

“Know what you want before you go shopping. They’ll show you really impressive lists of what’s available, but things like frogs and turtles will get there on their own,” he said.

Stocking a pond with identified fish also helps maintain high quality fishing.

“Three hundred dollars to buy fish, compared with a $10,000 bill for pond construction, is little to pay for what you’ll get out of it. If you buy the good stuff and don’t throw anything else in, you won’t have to worry about hybrids or having too many little fish,” he said.

Keep the balance. Controlled harvests are important to maintaining balance between species and sizes of fish.

“Keep your bass in the pond for awhile. They can’t eat the bluegills if you’ve eaten the bass,” Moser warned.

As a general rule of thumb, fish should be harvested at a weight ratio of 4-to-1. For each pound of bass or predator fish taken from the pond, 4 pounds of bluegill or other prey fish should also be removed.

“To do this, you’ve got to weigh and record what’s going on. And if you take fish out, use them,” Moser urged.

As an example, Moser said that bass will eat bluegills one-third of the bass’ length, so it is advantageous to eat the biggest fish possible to keep balance among species.

Because bigger bass lay more eggs, and have more viable eggs when they’re at least 16 inches in length, Moser recommends letting bass grow to 18 inches before harvesting them from the pond.

That’s the fun. “Fish aren’t like other pets or hobbies you might have. You can’t get enjoyment by watching them because they’re camouflaged, so the fun is in catching them,” Moser said.

“You don’t need to have fish in a pond, but if you’re going to have a pond, you might as well use it,” he said.

For more information on fish management or stocking, contact your county SWCD or extension office or the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

Largemouth bass affected by newly reported virus

NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio – Ohio State University Extension specialists have received an unusually high number of calls about largemouth bass dying in farm ponds this spring. This new virus, simply called largemouth bass virus, has been reported in 14 locations across Ohio.

Several factors are common in each of these cases, including the following:

* Only bass generally larger than 12 inches die;

* The deaths occur during sudden weather changes; and

* In all cases, the ponds were stocked with bluegill or minnows in the last year.

If you suspect your pond has been affected by largemouth bass virus, contact the Tuscarawas County Extension office at 330-339-2337.

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