Sportfish Management in Alabama Ponds
Small ponds and lakes represent a significant portion of Alabama’s freshwater resources. Our state has an estimated 50,000 ponds that cover approximately 150,000 acres. Most ponds that have been stocked with largemouth bass and bream (bluegill and redear sunfish) can provide excellent recreational opportunities when properly managed.
Ponds are also important for wildlife, livestock watering, irrigation, swimming, fire protection, and erosion control. Man-made ponds also alleviate the fishing pressure on our public streams and lakes. In many areas of the state, ponds are the only local source of fishing; therefore, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries is vitally interested in this resource.
The primary purpose of this booklet is to serve as a management guide for pond and small lake owners who desire a high quality largemouth bass and bream fishery. Many of the terms used in pond management are defined in the glossary.
The authors have borrowed freely from the publications of other resource agencies and individuals both within and outside the State of Alabama. We would like to express our thanks to these sources for the use of their text, thoughts, and ideas.
Thanks is also extended to the members of the Fisheries Section, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, who provided photos, review, or comments. Special thanks to Johnie Crance who authored the original manuscript, which served as our pattern.
Chairman, Revision Committee
PRINCIPLES OF POND MANAGEMENT
Some basic biological principles must be understood before a pond can be properly managed. The pounds of fish that can be produced are limited and are affected by several factors: proper construction, nutrients, the quantity and quality of fish food, proper brood stock, elimination of unwanted competition, and efficient harvest of surplus fish.
A question often asked is “how many bream and bass should I harvest from my pond?” Carrying capacity and yield limit are terms often used by biologists to answer this question. Biologists define the carrying capacity of a pond as the maximum pounds of fish that can be maintained in the pond without depleting the food supply of the fish. Yield limit is defined, as the maximum pounds of harvestable-sized fish a pond will yield from year to year without detrimental effects to the balance of the fish population. Yield limit is dependent on the species of fish present, amount of food available to the fish, rate of harvest and other factors. Yield limit as used in this booklet refers to the harvest of bream and largemouth bass, since this stocking combination is normally used in Alabama.
Nutrients are very important in the production of fish food organisms and therefore in the production of fish. Simply stated, nutrients increase the amount of food available to the fish, which results in greater fish production. Nutrients are needed to promote plankton, which are microscopic plants and animals that cause pond water to appear green, brown, blue, yellow or red. Plankton form the base of the food chain in bass and bream ponds. Plankton are consumed by small microscopic animals such as water fleas, insects, worms, and others which are eaten by fish.
Plankton cannot grow without sunlight and adequate amounts of nutrients. Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are the primary nutrients. However, they are not usually available in ponds in sufficient quantities to produce adequate plankton populations needed in the food chain of fishes. Therefore, nutrients must be added to ponds for maximum fish production. Nutrients are usually applied in the form of inorganic, commercially produced fertilizers. Ponds that are fertilized and managed properly can yield about 175 pounds of bream and largemouth bass per acre per year. In comparison, unfertilized ponds will yield only 25 to 50 pounds per acre annually.
The total weight of fish that a pond supports may be comprised of many fish too small to be desired by anglers or of a lesser number of large fish that are appealing to sportsmen. A desirable bass-bream population is one in which 60 to 85 percent of the total weight is composed of harvestable-sized fish. If a pond maintains such a population and provides satisfactory yields of fish from year to year, it is considered to have a balanced fish population.
The time of year the pond is stocked is critical in achieving a balanced fish population. Bream are stocked in the fall and winter months. Bass are stocked the following May or June. A bream-largemouth bass population normally attains a balanced condition 12 to 14 months after the bass fingerlings are stocked. During the first 20 months after bream are stocked, growth and reproduction rates are very high. The pond experiences a population explosion because large amounts of food are available. The fish reproduce and increase in weight until most of the food is utilized. At that time, their growth rates decrease or stop until some of the fish die, are caught, or otherwise are removed from the population. At this point (usually one year after the initial stocking of bass) the pond is ready for fishing. As fish are removed, competition for food decreases, growth rates increase, and the remaining fish reproduce to replace older, larger fish that have been harvested.
The rate at which fish are harvested must be controlled, especially during the first few weeks of fishing. When the fish population first attains a balanced condition, the total weight is comprised primarily of harvestable-sized adults (initial stock). Most of the remaining weight is composed of small (1- to 5-inch) fish that are offspring of the initial stock. Rapid harvest of adults can result in excessive numbers of small fish, which can lead to poor fishing.
A desirable yield from a properly managed pond is about 145 pounds of bream and 30 pounds of largemouth bass per acre per year. The catch should be distributed over the entire year rather than a few days or weeks. Therefore, an accurate record of the numbers and weights of bass and bream removed from the pond is very important. A set of weighing scales and a notebook should be readily available to anglers to log in their catch after each trip. Proper pond management requires an understanding of harvest, both above, and even below, recommended rates.
Each pair of adult bluegill may produce over 5,000 offspring each season. Bluegill grow faster and spawn more abundantly when their food supply is increased. Therefore, a sudden removal of too many pounds of adult fish will result in accelerated growth and reproduction by the bream that remain. The outcome may be a population of stunted bream that are too small to be desirable.
The diet of adult largemouth bass consists almost entirely of small bream; therefore, the removal of bass must be controlled. If bass are caught faster than they are replaced by natural reproduction, the result can also be an overpopulation of small, stunted bream.
Ponds are much easier to manage when properly constructed. A prospective pond owner should contact a representative of the U.S.D.A., Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which is located in each county. The NRCS can make recommendations regarding location, design, and proper construction. The owner should also utilize a reputable contractor, (with references) that is familiar with design and construction of ponds which meet NRCS engineering specifications.
Selection of Site
A poorly planned pond will result in failure. Careful consideration should be given to the selection of a desirable site before the “ground breaking” or construction begins. A desirable site needs an adequate but not excessive water supply. The subsoil should contain sufficient clay to prevent excessive seepage. The topography (lay of the land) should lend itself to the economical construction of a pond which will contain and maintain a minimum of 1/4 surface acre of water. In addition, access roads and location of the pond in relation to the owner’s residence should be considered. A pond located near the home and with an all-weather access road is more likely to be cared for properly. Before construction begins, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management should be contacted to determine if environmental permits are needed.
Source of Water
A flowing stream is not essential when evaluating water sources. Rain and run-off from the watershed are usually adequate. The amount of watershed needed may vary from a ratio of 3 to 20 acres for each acre of pond (3:1 to 20:1), dependent upon the subsoil; the amount and type of vegetation; and the slope of the land. Cultivated or barren watersheds are undesirable because of rapid run-off and the accompanying silt load. The watershed should provide enough water to fill the pond and to maintain a water level that will not fluctuate more than 6 inches below or above the spillway. An excessive amount of water results in erosion, possible loss of the dam, loss of fish, and loss of nutrients needed for fish production. Ponds built on streams usually have excessive overflows and cannot be fertilized economically, nor can the streams be effectively poisoned to eliminate wild fish, which is essential before stocking hatchery fish.
Time to Build
The pond should be completed during the fall or early winter. At that time bream and largemouth bass are available from Alabama’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries to stock fertilized ponds that are 1/4-acre or larger and that contain no fish. Bream are normally delivered from December through March. Largemouth bass are delivered in May and June. If ponds are completed during the spring and summer, they are likely to fill with water and become contaminated with wild fish before hatchery fish are available. If contamination occurs, the added expense of renovation is necessary before hatchery fish can be stocked. In addition, ponds that are completed in the spring and remain full of water during the summer are likely to become infested with aquatic plants. If ponds are completed during January or February, they may not fill in time to meet stocking deadlines. For these reasons, timing is important when planning a pond.
Clearing Site and Digging Core Trench
While the site is being cleared, a fishery biologist should be consulted regarding recommendations that would enhance the fishing. For example, brush piles or standing trees can be left in specified areas to serve as fish attractors. Advice can also be given regarding underwater contours (mounds or ditches), suitable sites for spawning substrate (gravel), or placement of docks and piers.
Coring the dam is vital to the success and safety of the pond. The core trench of a dam may be compared to the foundation of a building. An earthen dam must have a clay core to bond the above-ground portion of the dam to the subsoil. The clay core should extend to the top of the dam. Coring prevents excessive seepage and loss of water. The core trench should extend a minimum of 3 feet into desirable subsoil, have a width of about twice its estimated depth, and should be filled with the best clay available. The NRCS should be contacted to determine if adequate clay is nearby and to periodically inspect the dam as it is being cored.
Drainpipes should be utilized in all ponds. At some point, the pond will need to be lowered or drained for reasons of management or repair. The drainpipe, with the use of a sleeve or trash rack, can also enhance fertilization by drawing water from the bottom of the pond and not from the productive upper layer. Several types of drainpipes and valves are available, and the NRCS should be consulted regarding the type, size, and placement of the pipe.
Professional assistance should be obtained when constructing dams. The above-ground portion of a dam, which impounds water less than 15 feet deep, should be constructed with good quality, well-compacted clay. Dams that impound water more than 15 feet deep must have porous material in the downstream slope to provide drainage; otherwise, water pressure could build-up and cause sloughing. Adequate freeboard (distance between water level and the top of the dam) should be incorporated during construction to ensure that water does not flow over the dam during periods of heavy rainfall. Freeboard should be at least three feet or higher if the drainage area is large.
In large ponds or lakes, wind may create waves that could severely erode the face of a dam. Under such circumstances, the dam should be armored by laying filter fabric and covering with riprap (rock or concrete rubble) about 2 feet above and below water level on the pond side, particularly if the dam is over 300 feet long. On most small ponds a good sod on the face of the dam will be sufficient to prevent erosion by wave action.
The width, length, and type of spillway best suited for a pond is determined by watershed area, average annual rainfall, topography, vegetative cover, and soil type. Consult a NRCS representative to determine the proper spillway for your pond. The spillway should be wide enough so that the overflow will not exceed a depth of 6 inches, which will prevent excessive numbers of fish from being lost during excessive rainfall. The spillway should be constructed about 6 inches above the level of the overflow pipe. A barrier, as well as a 3-foot vertical drop, should be placed in the spillway to prevent the escape of harvestable fish from the pond and the entrance of wild fish from downstream. The barrier should not be constructed of hardware cloth or screen, which could become clogged and endanger the dam during floods. In general, the barrier should be 16 to 20 inches high, but never more than half the depth of the spillway. A horizontal pipe through the dam is not a sufficient spillway for watershed ponds!
Pond edges should be deepened before the valve is closed to collect water. When the pond is full, all edges should be two to three feet deep. Serious aquatic plant problems will likely develop in areas less than two feet. The soil that is removed can be used to create pond structure or earthen fishing piers.
Pond construction is not complete until grass is established on the dam, spillway, pond’s edge, and watershed. Centipede, Bermuda, Zoysia, Bahia, Kentucky bluegrass, rye grass or a combination of these grasses will prevent erosion and siltation. Mulch or silt screens should also be utilized to hold the soil until the grass can become established. Pond owners should consult with the NRCS for the grass variety that is best suited for the pond’s location and soil type.
A reasonable estimate of the pond’s surface area is needed if the pond is to be managed for optimum fish production. Stocking rates, application rates of fertilizer and lime, and harvest rates of fish are all based on the pond’s size (surface acres). The following formulas can be used to estimate size based on the shape of the pond: a rectangle or square: surface acres = length (ft.) x width (ft.) ÷ 43,560 (sq. ft. in an acre); if the pond is in the shape of a circle: determine diameter (distance across the middle of the pond in ft.) and divide by 2. Multiply that number by itself, multiply by 3.14, then divide by 43,560. A triangle: surface acres = ½ length of dam (ft.) x the length of the pond (ft.) ÷ 43,560. Distances can be determined by a measuring tape, range finder, or by pacing. Some contractors or technical personnel may have GPS capability to calculate pond size. If the pond is to be stocked by the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, fishery biologists will estimate the acreage upon inspection. Acreage of old ponds can be determined by aerial photos from the local NRCS office.
Without proper management, many ponds will not sustain adequate fishing. Fishery biologists of Alabama’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries have determined that most pond failures are due to the following reasons:
1. Competition from wild fish that are not eliminated from the pond before it is stocked with hatchery fish or that enter the pond after it is stocked.
2. Improper harvest practices such as removing too many fish, too few fish, or fishing prior to the spawn of the originally stocked bass.
3. Improper lime and fertilization program.
4. Fish kills as a result of pesticides, low oxygen, or other causes.
5. Improper stocking.
These five reasons account for the majority of pond failures in Alabama. Other reasons, but of lesser importance, are excessive amounts of aquatic plants, significant loss of fish over the spillway, and severe loss of water. Most pond failures can be avoided by utilizing the proven management practices that follow:
Eliminating fish prior to stocking
When construction is completed, but before the pond is full, all wild fish should be eliminated from any water existing in the pond or watershed. Assume that fish are present even if none are seen. The elimination of all fish from the pond and watershed is one of the most important steps toward successful fishing.
Suckers, shad, bullheads, green sunfish, shiners, and other fish will spawn in a pond and compete with stocked fish for food and space, much like weeds in a vegetable garden. The production of desirable fish will be greatly reduced, and pond failure is likely if wild fish are not eliminated.
The time of year that wild fish are eliminated is important. The work should be done after October 1, but before January 10, if fish are to be obtained from Alabama’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. If it is necessary to complete construction during the period of March to September, allow the valve to remain open until October or drain the pond at this time and treat all potholes and other water with rotenone to eliminate all fish. Before treatment, the pond valve must be closed so that fish will not be killed downstream.
Powdered or liquid formulations that contain 5% rotenone or its equivalent should be used to eliminate fish in the pond and watershed area. Rotenone is not dangerous to livestock when used as directed. Before application, mix the powdered material thoroughly with water until a “soupy” mixture is obtained. Liquid formulation of rotenone should be diluted with sufficient water to adequately treat all of the pond basin and watershed.
The amount of rotenone to apply will vary widely depending upon the site. Therefore, label instructions should be followed closely regarding application rates. Basically, all standing water should be treated with 10 pounds of powder or 10 pints of liquid rotenone per acre-foot of water (acre feet = surface acres X average depth). Ten pounds or 10 pints of material containing 5 percent rotenone should be applied for each ¼ mile of stream that averages up to 1 foot in depth and 10 feet in width. A second treatment is often necessary to eliminate all fish.
Rotenone is a restricted use pesticide and cannot be purchased without a valid permit. The local county extension agent should be contacted to obtain current label information regarding the purchase and application of rotenone. Label instructions should always be followed when making a treatment.
The Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries operates three fish hatcheries, which are located at Marion, Eastaboga and Carbon Hill. Bluegill, redear sunfish and largemouth bass are provided to stock ponds that contain no fish and are at least ¼ surface acre in size (1/2 acre if pond is not to be fertilized). An application for fish must be obtained from the local district fisheries office. The address of district offices and district boundaries may be obtained from the back of this booklet or go to www.OutdoorAlabama.com/fishing/freshwater/staff/.
Applications may be submitted at any time, but the deadline for receiving applications for each stocking year is February 1st. After receiving the application, fisheries biologists of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries will visit the pond to advise the owner of proper management practices to follow and determine if the pond meets requirements for stocking. Pre-stocking inspections are conducted from September through the first week of February.
Bream are delivered during the period of December through March and bass during May and June. No fish should be placed in the pond except those delivered from the hatchery unless recommended by a fishery biologist. The number of fish provided by the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries depends on the size of the pond and if fertilization will be conducted; therefore, it is important that a reasonable estimate be made of the pond’s surface area. Ponds that are to be properly fertilized will be stocked with 1,000 bream (bluegill and redear sunfish) and 100 largemouth bass per surface acre. Ponds that are not to be fertilized will receive one-half these amounts. A nominal fee will be charged for pond stocking services. Do not haphazardly stock fish from a neighbor’s pond or nearby stream, as poor fishing will likely result. Money spent on proper stocking will be cheaper than trying to correct a pond with an unbalanced fish population.
Liming is essential before most ponds can be effectively fertilized. Many times, ponds will not respond to fertilization if bottom muds are acidic. Under these conditions, agricultural limestone must be applied to correct the acidity. If the pond fails to develop a plankton bloom after repeated applications of fertilizer, mud samples should be taken from the pond’s bottom. Samples should be taken from several different areas of the pond, then mixed together while wet to form a representative sample. The sample should then be spread on a piece of plastic on wood to dry. After drying, a soil test box (from the county extension office) should be filled with the dried mud and sent for analysis to: Soil Testing Laboratory, 961 S. Donahue Drive, Auburn University, AL 36849-5411; their telephone number is (334) 844-3958. The sample box should be labeled “fish pond.” A nominal fee will be charged for each analysis. (Note: Many ponds in Alabama’s Black Belt or those with limestone springs will not need lime. If in doubt, have a sample checked.)
****If a representative mud sample cannot be taken, then a jar of pond water should be delivered to the local district fishery biologist for a check of the alkalinity. Alkalinity is a measure of the bases in water. Bases neutralize acidity. In general, if alkalinity is less then 20 ppm, lime is needed.
When lime is required, agricultural limestone (calcitic lime) should be applied. Do not use slaked lime or builders’ lime, which can be toxic to fish and dangerous to handle. Lime will have to be applied periodically (3-5 years) during the life of most ponds if effective fertilization is to be practiced. Lime must be applied evenly over the whole pond to make certain all of the bottom mud is covered. If the pond is new, it should be limed heavily by spreader truck or tractor before filling, since liming is much more difficult after the pond collects water. Liming is labor intensive so many pond owners prefer to apply two to three times the recommended rate to increase the interval between applications. Some pond owners are physically unable to apply the weight of lime needed (tons); therefore, consultants are available that will apply the lime for a fee. A list of consultants is available from the district fisheries office.
If pond owners wish to maximize fish production, fertilizer must be properly applied to increase natural fish food. Properly fertilized ponds normally produce three to seven times more pounds of bream and largemouth bass than unfertilized ponds. Fertilized ponds also have less weed problems due to the shading effect of darker water. The application of fertilizer does not prevent fish from biting and the water is safe for livestock and for swimming. Before stocking fish, pond owners should decide if a fertilization program will be part of their long-term management plan. Ponds cannot be fertilized economically if the water stays muddy, or if excessive amounts of water are flowing through the spillway during the spring and summer. In addition, if fish are not to be routinely harvested, the owner may elect not to fertilize.
Kind and amount of fertilizer: Fertilizers are typically labeled with percents of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). For example, fertilizer labeled 20-20-5 is comprised of 20% N, 20% P, and 5% K. Phosphorus is normally the limiting nutrient in most ponds. Owners should purchase and apply formulations that will give approximately 8 pounds of phosphorus per acre per application. For example, 40 pounds of 20-20-5 contains 8 pounds of phosphorus (40 x 0.20). One of the following formulations of fertilizer may be used per acre per application:
A. 50 pounds of 16-16-4 or 18-18-5.
B. 40 pounds of 20-20-5.
C. 3 to 4 quarts of liquid fertilizer: 10-34-0 or 13-38-0.
D. 4 to 6 pounds of powdered fertilizer: 12-49-6 or 10-52-0.
E. 25 to 40 pounds of annual time-release fertilizer: 10-5-0.
When to fertilize: Fertilization should be initiated when water temperatures stabilize above 60° F, usually late February to early April, depending on the region of the state where the pond is located. Fertilization should begin each year at this time in ponds with established populations as well as in new ponds that have been stocked with bream but have not yet received largemouth bass fingerlings. Applications of fertilizer should continue throughout each spring and summer as follows:
1. Make the first application when water temperature stabilizes above 60o F (usually February to April).
2. Make the next two applications at two-week intervals.
3. Make the fourth and subsequent applications when the water visibility exceeds 18 inches (usually every 3 to 5 weeks).
4. Discontinue fertilization when the water becomes cold (below 60o F) in October or November.
5. Repeat the above steps each year. (Note: Some ponds cannot be effectively or economically fertilized because of excessive flow. Contact the local fisheries biologist, if in doubt.)
Most ponds in Alabama require about 10 to 12 applications of fertilizer each year; however, the time between applications may vary. Ponds with high lime content or those that receive run-off from a heavily fertilized watershed may require less fertilizer. Ponds that receive heavy rains or those on moderate streams may require more frequent applications to maintain a desirable plankton bloom. Therefore, ponds should be fertilized based on water visibility rather than a regimented time interval. Visibility refers to a green color from plankton growth, not a muddy color from run-off. If the green water visibility is over 18 inches, then additional fertilizer should be added. A 12 to 18 inch green visibility is ideal. If visibility is less than 12 inches, the pond is too dark and fertilizer should not be added until the water clears to 18 inches or better. A simple method for checking visibility is with a Secchi disk. Attach a round white object (6 inches in diameter) to a yardstick. Submerse the object in the pond, then read the inches on the yardstick when the object disappears to determine the visibility.
Many ponds can be fertilized properly with phosphate fertilizers only. Ponds that have been properly fertilized two or more years with a complete fertilizer, may be fertilized adequately at about one-third the normal cost by using 40 pounds of superphosphate (18-20% phosphate) or 18 pounds of triple superphosphate (46-52% phosphate) per acre per application. A complete fertilizer should be used for the first two applications each year. After that only phosphate should be used for the remainder of the year. If phosphate fertilizer does not maintain a desirable growth of plankton, then revert to the use of one of the complete fertilizers previously described.
Fertilizer types and application methods: Granular fertilizer: The use of a platform for granular fertilizer and is usually less time consuming and more economical. Platforms are especially useful in ponds 10 acres or larger, but may also be used in smaller ponds. The fertilizer should be poured directly onto a submersed platform, which allows nutrients to dissolve slowly in the surface water. The amount of fertilizer required to maintain a desirable growth of plankton may be reduced 15 to 25 percent when platforms are utilized. One platform is adequate to fertilize 25 surface acres of water. A platform 3 x 3 feet or 9 square feet will hold the fertilizer needed for a 3-acre pond. In larger ponds, provide 3 1/2 square feet of platform for each surface acre of water in ponds larger than 3 acres. For example, a 10-acre pond needs 35 square feet of platform area or one platform measuring 5 x 7 feet. Two platforms with a total surface area of 140 square feet are needed in a 40-acre pond.
The platform should be placed in the upper end of the pond, about 10-15 feet from the bank, where wave action will provide good distribution of the dissolved nutrients. A walkway should lead from the bank to the platform or the platform may be installed beneath a fishing pier. The floor of the platform should be 12 to 18 inches under the water and should be adjustable to allow for water level fluctuation. Platforms may be constructed of wood or concrete. If wood is used, it should be treated with preservative to improve longevity.
Granular fertilizer may also be applied by placing bags in water 2 to 3 feet deep along the shore in the upper end of the pond. The bags should be placed on the pond bottom and the topside of the bag removed. A layer of the bag should remain between the fertilizer and the pond bottom. The fertilizer should not be allowed to come in contact with the mud. Plywood or plastic sheets may also be used between the fertilizer and pond bottom. The shoreline method is similar to the platform in principle, but may not be as efficient.
Liquid fertilizer: 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 (Poly N) is preferable. The third form is brown-black, formulated from used industrial acids, and may contain undesirable metals or chemicals. The brown-black type of liquid fertilizer is not recommended. If the fertilizer has less than 30 percent phosphorus (the second number on the label), apply one gallon per surface acre per application. If it has 30 percent or more phosphate apply 3 quarts per surface acre per application.
If the pond is less than two acres, the fertilizer may be applied with a garden sprayer or diluted 10 to 1 with water and broadcast from the bank. It should be sprayed or broadcast along at least 1/4 of the shoreline. If the pond is larger, the fertilizer may be applied with a power or tractor sprayer if 1/4 of the surface area can be covered. If necessary, the fertilizer can be applied by boat by siphoning from a container into the propwash of a small outboard or electric motor. Liquid fertilizer should not be poured directly into the pond. It is heavier than water and will sink to the bottom before it can go into solution.
Liquid fertilizer can be obtained more economically by supplying your own containers and by purchasing a year’s supply. Poly N should be stored in plastic drums since it can be corrosive to certain metals. The drum should be mounted horizontally and a plastic valve inserted so that each application can be easily withdrawn. A hole should be cut in the upper side of the drum so that the fertilizer can be stirred before each application.
In the summer, if the pond clears within two weeks following fertilization, apply more frequently (at two-week intervals) with one-half the recommended rate. Liquid fertilizer is so soluble that the planktonic algae can quickly consume it. Smaller, more frequent applications should solve the problem.
Powdered fertilizer: Powdered fertilizer is highly concentrated and very soluble in water; therefore, smaller quantities are needed. Application is accomplished by simply broadcasting from shore or trickling the recommended rate from a boat. Because the material is so soluble and quickly consumed by the plankton, more frequent applications may have to be made to maintain a desired color.
Annual time-release fertilizer: For pond owners who are too busy or do not live close to their pond, time-release fertilizer may be an option. An application is made once a year, and even though it is expensive, one bag will treat several acres. Plankton blooms may not be as consistent with this type fertilizer. Owners should visit their ponds occasionally to check on the water visibility. If the pond is excessively green (visibility below 12 inches), then the fertilizer bags should be temporarily removed.
Bluegill respond favorably to a supplemental feeding program. Commercial fish rations (manufactured for catfish) are available from most feed and seed stores. Bream can be trained to take the pellets, which increases their growth and size considerably. Although bass do not actually consume the pellets, they do benefit from improved bluegill reproduction. Bluegill should be fed about twice a day by hand or by automatic feeders. A small, floating, BB-sized pellet that the bream can easily consume should be used. They should be given all they can eat in a 10-15 minute interval. Feeding should be done in the warmer months (March – November), but can also be done on a smaller scale in the winter during mild weather. Usually, sinking feed is better in the winter. (Note: Supplemental feeding of bream is not absolutely necessary to maintain a quality pond.)
Many pond owners like to add structure to attract fish and improve angling success. Trees, brush, limbs, or other woody material make excellent attractors and are readily available. Trees may be anchored in the pond bottom prior to impoundment or added later by attaching concrete blocks and sinking them. Three to five trees should be used per site, and a Styrofoam float should be attached to the top of the tree so that they will stand upright. Brush piles or limbs should also be anchored with blocks. If the pond has not filled, brush can be anchored by cables or dirt piles.
Attractors can also be constructed of concrete rubble, PVC pipe, wooden stake beds, or most any material that is environmentally safe. No more than three attractor sites per acre are needed, or their effectiveness will decline. The fish reefs should not be placed in water that exceeds 8-10 feet as low oxygen may deter fish from using them during the summer months.
Pea gravel is effective in attracting bream. The gravel beds should be 2-3 inches thick and should cover an area of around 100 square feet. The gravel should not be placed in water over 3 feet in depth, and the site should be easily accessible by bank anglers. Usually no more then one gravel bed per acre is needed.
Aquatic Plant Control
Aquatic plants are not desirable in ponds for a variety of reasons, which include reduced fish production by removal of nutrients, interference with population balance, breeding habitat for mosquitoes, and interference with angling.
Aquatic plants can be classified into five basic categories: algae, floating, submergent, emergent, and marginal. Control measures differ for each group, and proper identification of the plant is necessary before the correct control measure can be selected.
Most aquatic plant problems can be prevented in a properly constructed pond by a good fertilization program. Plants need sunlight in order to thrive. If the water depth is a minimum of 2 feet and a satisfactory plankton bloom is maintained by fertilization, sunlight cannot penetrate to the bottom and rooted plants will not grow. For fertilization to be effective, a bloom must be established early before nuisance plants begin to grow. Attempting to fertilize after the plants have become established will only worsen the problem.
In established ponds where the water is less than 2 feet deep, the most practical method of control may be to lower the water during the winter and deepen the shallow areas to a minimum of 2 feet in depth. Deepening the edges should be completed prior to February to allow sufficient time for the pond to refill before the bass begin to spawn. Soil removed from the shallow areas may be used to make earthen piers for better bank access or to form underwater structure in the pond.
Many plants in the marginal or emergent groups may be removed by hand. It is a simple task to pull a few water lilies or cattails from the pond before they have time to grow, reproduce, and cause major problems.
Chemical control with registered herbicides is effective on most aquatic plants. The correct herbicide depends upon proper plant identification. To achieve the desired results, it is important that all label instructions be followed when an aquatic herbicide is used.
Some plants can be controlled by natural or biological methods. One such control agent is the white amur (grass carp). When stocked at the proper rates (see table), these fish can provide long-term control on aquatic plants and do not interfere with the sportfish population. In ponds with established bass populations, the amur should be at least 10-12 inches in length so that they will not be consumed by the bass. A spillway barrier should also be utilized to prevent the amur from escaping during periods of heavy rainfall. White amur will usually control aquatic plants for about 5 years. Older, larger amur become ineffective; therefore, they may have to be restocked periodically.
Stocking Rates for Grass Carp
Control of aquatic plants depends on correct identification followed by the proper control. A fishery biologist will be contacted for plant identification and control measures that are best suited for your pond. Aquatic plants from water gardens or ornamental ponds should never be placed in a fish pond. Many of these plants are not native to Alabama and can have serious environmental impacts on ponds or adjacent natural waters. Most are illegal to place in the public waters of Alabama.
The watershed is an integral part of a pond. Practically all water passes over or through the soil in the watershed before entering the pond. Proper watershed management will help regulate the rate and quantity of run-off, reduce siltation, and prevent pesticides or toxic chemicals from entering the pond.
The entire watershed should have a permanent cover crop. If it is necessary to plant row crops in the watershed, terraces should be constructed to drain fields away from the pond so that siltation will be held to a minimum. Row crops should not be planted in the watershed that will require the use of pesticides that are toxic to fish. Application of pesticides to nearby fields should only be done on calm days when rain is not in the forecast. Likewise, pesticide containers or equipment should not be cleaned or dumped into the pond or watershed.
Some water loss can be expected in new ponds until soils become saturated. Water loss through evaporation (6-12 inches) is also normal, particularly during dry months. If an excessive decline in water level is noticed and the area below the dam stay saturated, then a leak is probable. Leaks may be very difficult to locate since they can occur in the pond bottom through sand or rock seams. Usually the pond will have to be lowered and a layer of clay incorporated into the bottom. Other leaks occur through the dam because it was not properly cored. When building the pond, pond owners should employ a reputable contractor and check their references. Normally, leaks through the dam can only be repaired by lowering the pond and re-coring the dam. Ponds leak can also develop through the drainpipe. A slight leak in the valve may be repaired by pouring wet sawdust along the outside of the standpipe. As the sawdust sinks, it is sucked into the leak, resulting in a seal. At times, new pipe can be inserted into the old pipe for repair or divers can be employed to repair a faulty valve; however, in most cases the pond will have to be lowered and the valve replaced. If a leak is suspected, the contractor and the NRCS should be consulted regarding the best method of repair.
Undesirable fish species
Pond owners should never stock any species of fish without first consulting a fishery biologist. Species such as shad, crappie, shiners, bullhead catfish, or hybrid bream can cause problems to pond balance and are only advisable under specific circumstances. Wild fish may also enter the pond from the watershed through no fault of the owner. Once undesirable species have become established, the only remedies are to drain the pond or attempt to control their numbers by increasing the bass population if the wild fish can be eaten by the bass.
Muddy water is the result of suspended soil particles. Ponds occasionally become muddy because of wave action or erosion of exposed soil in the watershed. Muddy water can limit plankton growth, which results in lower pond productivity. Several treatments are available but are only temporary unless the source of the silt is eliminated. All bare areas around the pond or in the watershed should be seeded and mulched or sodded. Additional remedies include a mixture of cottonseed meal and superphosphate, lime, gypsum, alum, or routine fertilization under minor circumstances. Contact a fishery biologist to determine which treatment is best for your particular problem.
In addition to fishing, many ponds provide a source of water for livestock. Cattle may muddy the water, cause erosion of the dam and the shoreline, or their wastes may result in excessive nutrients, which may cause fish kills. Alternate sources of water should be used or the overflow pipe should empty into a trough below the dam. If the pond must be used, fences should be constructed, which allow cattle access to only a small portion. Ponds that are heavily utilized by livestock should not be fertilized.
Muskrats, Beavers, and Otters
Although muskrats and beavers pose no problems to fish, they can be nuisances. Occasionally they will burrow or tunnel into the dam or shoreline just below water level. Many times these tunnels collapse and create shallow areas where aquatic plants may grow. Muskrats and beavers will usually not tunnel through a properly constructed dam, but excessive tunneling can weaken the dam and cause serious leaks. In addition, beavers can stop up overflow pipes and spillways, which can lead to breaching of dams during heavy rains. The destruction of timber is also a concern to most pond owners.
Muskrats and beavers can be controlled by trapping or shooting. Contact local conservation officers to determine legal means to capture or kill these animals. An electric fence is also an effective method to prevent muskrats and beavers from entering the pond.
Many pond owners are concerned about otters consuming their fish. Otters cause very little problems in bass-bream ponds due to the high reproductive rates of these fish species. Sufficient numbers of young fish are produced to more than replace those eaten by otters. However, if control is desired, the methods used on muskrats and beavers are equally effective. The northern river otter is protected so a conservation officer should be contacted before control measures are taken.
Snakes often cause concern for pond owners, but usually for unjustified reasons. Water attracts snakes, but most are harmless and they play important roles in nature. Snakes should just be left alone and viewed from a distance. If their presence is cause for concern, then simply clean up the shoreline and they will find other places to live.
Turtles are present in most ponds. They are primarily scavengers and are not harmful to fish populations. They may be a nuisance by stealing bait or fish from stringers, but under most circumstances, turtles should be left alone as some species are protected and should not be harmed or captured.