Updated: Aug 18
Author: Emily Courtney
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” – Henry David Thoreau
Most of my childhood fishing experiences took place in a 10 foot aluminum boat with my grandpa at the stern, myself at the bow, both with a fishing rig of some kind in hand, the details of which I can’t recall or maybe never knew. Most of these voyages took place on the mighty Pearl River, a fairly significant waterway that winds through the southern half of Mississippi and into the gulf. I was too young to pay any attention to the fishing itself, and probably couldn’t even tell you what we were fishing for, much less the strategy behind it. These trips consisted of more idle sitting and playing in the sand than actual fish catching, at least on my part; and most successes I did have were achieved by means of the old man catching a fish himself, removing his hook from it’s mouth, and replacing it with the one on the end of my line. He’d then yell over to me on the sandbar, “You got one!” and I’d come running to reel in it, none the wiser. Grandpa’s rule was, if you land it, you caught it. I’ll never know when I actually caught my first fish, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I had a few experiences fishing ponds and lakes here and there, but always preferred the flow of a river to the stillness of a pond. Now as a biologist and habitat manager, my interest in ponds and lakes has deepened. It seems that more properties have non-flowing bodies of water than rivers or streams, and from a biologist’s perspective, these are the types we can most effectively manage. There are many different ways to manage a pond, depending on your goals. Even if you know you want to manage for fishing, methods can vary based on the type of fish and how you want to fish them. However, there are some basics that can apply to a wide variety of ponds and management strategies.
Electrofishing Surveys – This is the best method available to sample fish populations. We can assess population dynamics and species richness, as well as overall health of the fish. These surveys are typically done with a specialized boat where the electrofishing equipment is mounted. An electric charge is emitted through the water to stun the fish, and they are then caught by net and brought aboard to be identified and measured. The stunned effect causes no permanent harm to the fish and wears off within a few minutes. The data we gather from these surveys help us make decisions about all phases of pond management.
Stocking – Based on the species richness, composition, and abundance determined from a survey, stocking might be beneficial. Stocking forage fish, such as fathead minnows, provides a food source for game fish and helps maintain balance within the food chain. You can also stock game fish in succession, depending on your goals.
Fertilizing – Fertilizing to help boost the vegetative growth in a pond will increase production of food for herbivorous fish. Applying lime increases the water’s phosphorous levels, which is a key ingredient in the production of phytoplankton, the base of the food chain. Fertilized ponds must be monitored to ensure that the algae bloom does not become too abundant. Aeration is often required to maintain proper oxygen levels in a fertilized pond. Fertilization can dramatically increase fish production, so it should only be done in ponds that will be fished heavily. You should also never fertilize a pond that contains invasive plants or aquatic weeds.
Supplemental Feeding – Providing a pelletized fish feed is another way to boost fish production. Fish benefit the most from supplemental food sources during periods of greatest growth, which in most areas of the southeast is typically spring, early summer, and fall. Feeding programs should be planned to coincide with water temperatures that encourage feeding behavior. Managers must be careful not to over feed, and to only feed during appropriate seasons. Feeding during non-active times can result in large concentrations of uneaten feed, the digestion of which by bacteria can lead to reduced oxygen levels. Using an aeration system can help avoid this potential problem.
Supplemental feeding and fertilizing are two different methods used to achieve the common goal of increasing fish production. Only one or the other should be implemented on a pond, never both.
Establishing a sustainable aquatic ecosystem through proper pond management benefits the surrounding ecosystem as a whole. It also ensures that your pond will provide recreational opportunities for years to come. Whether it’s a fishing spot, a favorite swimming hole, or the site of a summer picnic, a well-managed pond can be the source of life-long memories for you and your family. The recollections I have of my fishing excursions with my grandpa have very little to do with the fishing or the fish. I remember the peace and quiet, the sound of a bucket of crickets or the feel of my mischievous hand in a pail of worms. I remember the stories and the jokes, the feel of my feet in the sand or hanging over the boat into the water. Whatever goals you’re managing for or fish you hope to catch, the memories are the real measure of success.
Watch our Nature Based Life episode on Fisheries Management and subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up with upcoming episodes throughout the year!