The Latest from Hilliard Management

Summer is rolling and people are getting their fishing rods out. If you enjoy fishing, chances are you’ve fished a farm pond at some point, and that leads us to today’s blog topic – stocking farm ponds with the right fish. Since the late 1930’s the Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) has suggested that farm ponds be stocked with largemouth bass, which serve as the predator fish, and bluegill, which serve as forage fish. While those are two great fish to catch, don’t overlook alternate options, and consider adding smaller forage fish to help your predator fish grow.

The smallmouth bass is a close relative of the largemouth, and a great alternative predator fish. Typically, you see the same growth rate in both up to about 5 pounds; after that the largemouth will grow faster. An upside to selecting smallmouth, however, is they are a better eating fish. On the other hand, a downside is smallies need colder water to thrive and regenerate on their own. If your pond temperature reaches the 80’s, you may want to consider another option such as catfish. The channel cat is the most popular and readily available catfish, but mature fatheads can get massive and that makes for great sporting.

Panfish, in addition to being fun to catch, also play an important role in a farm pond; they are the principal food source to the predator fish. Selecting a panfish, or an assortment of panfish, is key to the overall success of your pond. Stocking pumpkinseed sunfish can be a great choice. Though they are smaller than bluegill, they can handle colder water during the winter months much better, making it an ideal choice if your pond is in the mountains. Another option to consider is stocking redear sunfish. They are the largest acceptable sunfish to put into a farm pond, and have a lower reproduction rate than the rest, which is good in terms of population control. One con with the redear though is they don’t feed on topwater, which can turn some anglers off. The last option we’ll discuss in this section is the crappie. They’re a common fish to see in ponds, but to be successful and regenerate on their own in a smaller pond the water level needs to be high in the winter, and low in the summer. It’s also important to keep an eye on population numbers, and harvest fish if they start to overpopulate and upset your species balance.

Finally, you want to make sure you’re stocking smaller forage fish so your pond’s ecosystem is well-rounded. The main benefit to stocking forage fish is more food for the predators, which ultimately leads to bigger predator fish faster. Remember though, too much of a good thing can lead to problems. If you add too many smaller fish, they become the go-to food source for the predator, leaving too many panfish, which again, can upset your overall species balance. Like most things in life it’s all about moderation. Two great forage fish include the fathead minnow and the mosquito fish. The fathead is the most common small forage fish in ponds, but don’t overlook mosquito fish if you have channel cats, because hide in the weeds and grass where the catfish don’t usually venture.

In our next post we will get into some of the most common mistakes in stocking and taking care of your pond, along with learning how to achieve the right balances. See below for examples of the fish mentioned in this post.