One of the greatest joys a landowner can have is to build and manage his own farm pond. As a young lad I caught my first fish, a nice bream, with the help of my dad, in a farm pond, and countless other young anglers have started their fishing career the same way with many happy memories. It all starts with a good plan and this article will discuss proper management of the farm pond for long term enjoyment. According to Steve Schleiger, Senior Fisheries Biologist at the Georgia DNR’s Ft Valley office, once the pond is properly constructed and filled with water, the next consideration is stocking the pond with fish. Schielger says that typically, the choice of fish to stock depends on the pond owner’s goals. It is very difficult to manage a pond of less than 1/2 acre for bass and bluegill. If your pond is less than 1/2 acre, catfish is probably your best choice as this is generally a put in, take out, type of fishery. Other combinations like hybrid bluegill and bass, or hybrid bluegill and bass and catfish are possible stocking options in ponds one acre, or bigger.
The largemouth bass and bluegill sunfish (or largemouth bass, bluegill, and shell cracker) combination is the most common stocking strategy used in the Southeast, says Schielger. The combination generally works well in ponds larger than l/2 acre and provides excellent fishing for both species indefinitely when properly monitored. Schleiger says that the Georgia DNR local fisheries office is willing and able to advise pond owners about proper pond management, although field visits to ponds have been eliminated by severe staff shortages
The beauty of the bass and bluegill system is its simplicity. In a well-fertilized pond, zooplankton and insect larvae will be plentiful enough to supply food for bass fry and all sizes of bluegill. The bluegill will reproduce and grow rapidly with the abundant food and provide excellent forage (food) for the bass. If bass are not over-harvested, they will keep the bluegill from overpopulating. Some large bluegill will survive bass predation to provide good bluegill angling. Channel catfish may also be added to a bass and bluegill pond, but the catfish will consume a portion of the food supply, slightly reducing the total pounds of bass and bluegill the pond can maintain. Schleiger says that typically a one acre pond is stocked with 50 bass, and 500 bream that are 80% bluegill and 20% shell crackers. If desired 50 catfish can be added also. Schleiger advises that crappie, although a desirable species should be kept out of farm ponds as they can quickly over populate and hurt other species in the pond. The Georgia DNR can supply fish to meet your stocking needs and generally the prices ranges around 65.00 per acre, but there are numerous sources of fish from private hatcheries around the state.
Once the fish are stocked, an owner must carefully monitor the water for optimum growing conditions. Adding agricultural lime to ponds with low alkalinity can greatly increase productivity. Lime affects the system in several ways. Lime acts as a buffer maintaining the pH between 7 and 8.5. Broader swings in pH can be very stressful to the organisms in the pond. Lime also changes the chemistry of the water and pond soils making nutrients more available to aquatic organisms, especially algae. Calcium from the lime is a valuable nutrient for many organisms in the pond including snails and other animals that are important food for fishes. Lime can also enhance the supply of carbon to highly productive algae. Many ponds in Georgia collect water from watersheds with soils of very low alkalinity, the ability to neutralize acid. Ponds with low alkalinity typically respond poorly to the addition of fertilizer. Either the algae bloom never becomes dense leaving the water clear even after the addition of fertilizer or the bloom is short lived. Typically, low alkalinity ponds have very clear water. A disk lowered into the water that is visible to depths greater than 24 indicates low ph and low fertility. Sometimes, the water is brown stained as well. Without productive algae, there simply is not enough food in these low alkalinity ponds for the small animals that are food for fish. Water from ponds in areas of Georgia without alkaline soils, the majority of the state, should be routinely tested for alkalinity. A small sample of water, a pint or so, taken from the surface is adequate for the test. The sample should not contain mud from the pond bottom or large amounts of plant material; a few plant fragments will not affect the test. County Extension agents can either test the sample or provide an appropriate contact for the test. Another source for testing the ph of water is your local pool supply store.
Proper fertilization will significantly increase fish production in ponds, says Schleiger. Research has proven that the use of liquid fertilizer will effectively and efficiently increase the abundance of plankton (green color), aquatic insects and other aquatic life available as feed for fish. Also, plankton (green color) shades the pond bottom and prevents the growth of rooted weeds. Fish do not eat fertilizer, therefore, it does not prevent fish from biting, contrary to some anglers opinions. So if you need an excuse as to why the fish are not biting, pick another excuse!
Phosphate in liquid fertilizer is more soluble in water than that in granular fertilizer. Less phosphate, therefore, is required to achieve the same results. Schleiger recommends a makeup of 10-38-0 as a good basic liquid fertile to meet most needs and it can be applied at a rate of two gallons per acre.
Liquid fertilizer can be purchased in three forms: One is clear green and is made from new acids. The second form is gray because clay has been added to suspend phosphate in the liquid. Either of these forms is suitable for use in ponds; however, the clear green form is preferable. The third form is brown-black, is formulated from used industrial acids and may contain undesirable metals and chemicals. Its use in ponds is not recommended, according to Auburn University.
Begin to fertilize the pond around February 15th of each year,or when the water temperature reaches 60 degrees. Make the first three applications at 2-week intervals. Make additional applications whenever a white object can be seen 16 to 18 inches below the surface of the water, or at monthly intervals. Discontinue fertilization when fall arrives, around November I.
Another major consideration is managing farm ponds is the elimination of weeds, says Schleiger. He says that prevention of weeds is the best strategy, and this is accomplished by building your pond with step banks and few shallow areas less than three feet deep. Deep water, teamed with a good green color from plankton, will hamper light penetration and prevent many weed problems. He suggests that pond owners wait until they have a weed problem before they invest money in weed control. But if a weed problem is starting, consideration can be given to adding grass carp, which eat up to three times their body weight in weeds each week. There are many pond herbicides available, such as Diquat, endothall, 2,4D, copper sulfate or fluridone, but their use should be carefully chosen based on the type of weed to be controlled and after consulting with a pond management specialist or a Georgia DNR Fisheries Biologist. A properly managed farm pond can be a source for great outdoor fun and you can get a deep sense of personal satisfaction when you pull out a nice fish, knowing that you “grew your own” in your personal pond!