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Pond management can be a bit tricky

Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012 4:07 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 3, 2012 9:28 p.m. CDT

As I drive to and from work there is a pond that I pass. It is about ten acres in size and every once in a while I will see a fisherman trying his hand at catching something. As I drive past this pond I often think to myself that would be a nice little pond to own. However, as with owning any type of recreational property, there can be a lot of work involved.

I have been very fortunate over the years to fish all types of small ponds. Some of them have been just phenomenal and provide huge catches of quality fish. Others are nearly void of life, while still others are completely out-of-balance. The latter issue I ran across quite regularly.

Pond owners face a daunting challenge if they want to make their little watery paradise the fish-producing machine it can be. The size of the pond determines how much management it will take to keep it in balance. If the water that you own is over twenty acres in size the management issue is much easier. The pond is more apt to self-regulate fish populations. Small ponds are quite the opposite though.

For a pond that is just a few acres in size or smaller, the possibility of having the food chain get out-of-balance is quite real. What are some signs that this is happening in your private fishery?

There are a couple of different things that you might notice. First, if you see that you have an over abundance of small bluegills in that 2-4 inch range, with few large fish and hardly any small fish, you can be rest assured you have an over abundance of bluegills in your pond. Another sign that you have too many bluegills is you catch just a few very big largemouth bass but never any in the other size ranges.

The other most prevalent scenario is where the pond is overpopulated with largemouth bass. In this scenario you will catch lots of 12-inch fish that are skinny and look malnourished. You will catch nary a big fish and will not see many small fish. The only bluegills that you will catch will be quite big with near zero bluegills in other sizes.

Both of these conditions are rampant in small waters, but you will notice one or the other, not both in the same water. So, how do you fix these issues and get your pond back in great shape to maximize fishing success for the future.

Let’s take a look at the overpopulated bluegill scenario first. You will need to try to remove as many bluegills from the pond as possible. You can try to catch and remove the fish, but this is a daunting task even for the most dedicated angler. Many sources cite that with an overpopulated bluegill pond you should take out around thirty-five pounds of bluegills per acre. That is a lot of 2-4 inch fish!

A more realistic scenario is to purchase some bass that are 14 inches or larger. Drop them into the water and they will quickly start to reduce the number of gills because they are big enough to eat them immediately. You can also draw down the size of the pond to congregate the gills so they are easier for the bass to locate and eat.

If you have too many bass in your pond you will also need to remove some fish, once again this can take a lot of time. But more importantly, you need to supplement the forage. Adding some bluegills or fathead minnows can work well, but if you don’t start keeping some of the bass that you catch the pond will stagnate once again.

Providing quality forage is key to keep the entire food chain healthy. Bluegills and fathead minnows are safe and economical ways to create healthy forage. Some owners like to also add thread-fin shad, but these do not tolerate cold water well. I have seen other pond owners stock gizzard shad. This is a huge mistake. Gizzard shad will quickly take over and grow to a size that prevents them from being eaten. The only effective way that I have seen to fix a gizzard shad infestation is to kill the entire pond and start over.

One of the more information websites that I have seen for managing small waters is operated by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The site, www.uaex.edu/wneal/pond_management/ is very informative with answers to just about any question you could have about pond management.

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