By Kevin Tate
When it comes to restoring an old pond to productivity, sometimes it’s time to just start over.
Through simple disuse or by not removing enough fish, bass can soon overpopulate a pond, overwhelming the food supply and stunting the growth of all involved. Additionally, undesirable wild species like bullhead catfish, commonly called “mudcats,” or a simple overpopulation of others like gizzard shad can take up too much of a pond’s resources for desirable species to flourish.
Tweaking an existing pond into optimum productivity or clearing the deck and starting one’s stock over from scratch is a science, and professionals like Don Keller, of American Sportfish Hatchery in Montgomery, Ala., say the key to everything is knowing what a pond contains.
What’s in there
“You’ve got to know what’s in there, and starting over lets you do that in the most reliable way,” Keller said. “It’s like growing a garden in a lot of ways. If you get a clean start and plant it the right way, it’ll offer maximum productivity and the easiest possible maintenance. From that point forward you can make adjustments as you go to get the results you want.”
Next come balanced ratios.
“You’ve got to make sure you’ve got food available for the fish that are in there,” Keller said.
To that end, he and his associates recommend stocking new or renovated ponds intended to grow big bass with 50 largemouth bass per acre, 500 bluegill and shellcrackers per acre and 1,000 fathead minnows per acre.
If the pond owner plans to fertilize the pond regularly, they recommend up to double those rates of stocking. The inclusion of the minnows gives the bass an extra boost.
“The minnows are mature when they’re put into the pond, and they’ll spawn at a cooler water temperature than the bass will,” Keller said. “They’re as big as they’ll get when they’re put in, so they won’t grow bigger and bigger and take over the pond. In the first year they’ll feed the bass and give the bass an extra growth boost, then they’ll disappear and the bass will be feeding on the bluegill and shellcrackers after that.”
Once it’s time for fishing to begin, Keller says the key to long term success is making sure enough bass are removed every year.
Catch and keep
“Catch-and-release works great on public waters, but private ponds can quickly become overwhelmed if you’re not taking enough bass out,” Keller said.
He recommends 20 to 30 pounds of bass per acre per year be removed from balanced, mature ponds.
To learn more about pond stocking and maintenance, visit americansportfish.com.