Fish Management for Farm Ponds

May 19, 2021 9:03 AM

Pond complexity depends on the food webs involving many types of organisms. The simplicity of such sys­tems is based on the limited number of fish spe­cies in them.

Fish for Stocking. — The few Iowa ponds that have cool springs (55°F and less) may be adapted for cold-water species such as trout and salmon. Most Iowa ponds are more suited for warm water species such as Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, and Channel Catfish.

Stocking Rates and Times. —In ponds free of all fish, Bluegills are stocked at 300, 3- to 5-inch fingerlings per surface acre of water, and Largemouth Bass are stocked at 100 3- to 6-inch fin­gerlings per surface acre. Channel Catfish fingerlings are stocked at 100 4- to 6-inch fingerlings per surface acre. Because Channel Catfish generally do not reproduce well in small ponds, they need to be restocked every two to three years.

Harvest Rates. — Mature Iowa ponds contain about 250 pounds of bluegills per surface acre. Bluegill harvest may start the second year after stocking. Limits on bluegill harvest will generally not be needed in most ponds because bluegill are usually plentiful. An excessive bluegill population will exhibit stunted sizes. Bluegill management requires regulation of bass harvest, such as minimum size limits.

Largemouth Bass populations in a balanced pond may approach 50 to 75 pounds per surface acre. Harvest of bass should not begin until three or four years after stocking. A 15-inch size limit is recommended, which means that only fish greater than 15 inches may be removed from the pond. If too many bass are removed and not enough bluegills, a pond with imbalanced populations of both species may result (few large bass and many small bluegills). A pond is “balanced” if the populations of individual fish species are adequate in number and size for suitable fishing. If the landowner is interested primarily in a large-sized bluegill fishery, no harvest may begin three years after initial stocking. Once half of the Channel Catfish are harvested, the pond should be restocked with 8-inch fingerlings.

Other Species. — Beyond the previously described species, pond own­ers may want to stock other species in their ponds. Walleye, Northern Pike, and Hybrid Striped Bass are highly sought after by anglers but care must be taken in mixing these fish with others. Large predators such as Northern Pike and Hybrid Striped Bass may actually prey upon Largemouth Bass. Crappie stocked into small ponds often result in a large population of small stunted and compete directly with Largemouth Bass.  Hybrid sunfish should not be stocked in place of Bluegills as they will not provide the necessary forage for Largemouth Bass (majority being males due to hybridization).