Individuals fortunate enough to have a recreational pond on their property often choose to stock the pond with fish. However, they cannot simply purchase some fish and drop them in the water. They need to avoid overstocking the pond, and the owner must create a feeding and management program before they take advantage of the maximum per acre stocking. A failure to do so could lead to the fish not thriving. In fact, many fish may die if the pond cannot support the quantity introduced into the water.
Stocking a Pond
People often want to know how many fish they can have in a five-acre pond. Unfortunately, this question remains difficult to answer. Many factors play a role in developing and maintaining a healthy pond ecosystem. A balanced pond ensures worms, weeds, algae, and insects don’t get out of control and destroy the owner’s enjoyment of the water feature.
For instance, the owner might choose to introduce catfish and bluegills into the pond to increase the bass population and size. Nevertheless, they must consider which species they will introduce and in which amounts. A DNR or pond management consultant becomes of great help when stocking a pond. They consider the water temperature, management techniques, and more when creating the plan.
A general rule many people use is 50-100 bass, 50-200 catfish, and 1,000 to 1,500 bluegills for each acre of pond water. However, the owner must consider the type of fish they desire in the pond before purchasing and introducing these fish.
Once the owner selects the species, their focus needs to turn to balance. In a balanced pond, the ratio of prey fish to predator fish is three to one. Prey fish include bluegill and perch, while bass serves as a good example of predator fish. This ratio ensures predator fish have ample prey while allowing the prey fish the opportunity to grow and reproduce.
The correct ratio helps keep the fish population in check. Experts recommend adding fathead minnows to the pond initially, as they serve as food for the predator fish until the prey fish get established. With the right conditions, the fish snack on the minnows and have a never-ending supply as the minnows replenish themselves.
One thing owners must remember is catfish have little effect on the ratio. They sit at the bottom of the pond and won’t function in either role.
Owners must know when to stock the pond. Most times of the year remain suitable options for introducing forage fish, except during extreme temperatures. Nevertheless, most people choose to stock their pond in the spring or fall. Mild temperatures and high oxygen levels minimize the stress factors that harm fish. The key to success in this area lies in introducing forage fish before bringing predatory fish in.
By staggering the introduction of the fish, owners provide the forage fish time to reproduce, increase the population, and build a strong forage foundation for the pond. Wait until the forage fish complete their spring spawn before introducing predator species, such as catfish and bass. When an owner adds fish during the summer months, they need to prepare for a longer acclimation time.
Fish need to be acclimated upon being introduced into the pond. Keep the fish in their transportation bag in a shaded area within the pool. Let the bag float for about 15 or 20 minutes to allow the fish to adjust to the pond’s water temperatures. When this time passes, open the bag. The fish will gradually make their way out of the bag.
In ponds that already have fish, release minnows at one end of the pond and the small fish at the other end. Large fish already present in the pond will gravitate toward the minnows, allowing the small fish to find shelter.
Provide smaller prey fish and minnows plenty of places to hide and reproduce. Many ponds have weeds and other structures to provide this cover. However, consider adding additional items, ones that won’t decompose. Many pond stores sell items suitable for this purpose.
The United States Department of Agriculture offers recommendations regarding the number of fish to introduce in a five-acre pond. The agency states owners should allow for ten square feet of surface area for each 12” fish in an unaerated pond.
Aerated ponds can hold more fish, with the agency recommending two to three square feet of surface area for each 12” finish. Nevertheless, it does state conservative hobbyists should err on the side of caution and stay well below these recommendations.
A question then arises regarding stocking recommendations for smaller fish. Hobbyists must note that the weight of a fish goes up with length cubed. However, metabolic rate decreases with length.
When stocking a pond, use the general rule of stocking rate, feeding rate, and oxygen demand along with length squared. In layman’s terms, an owner can replace one 12” fish with four 6” fish in the pond, taking into consideration whether the water is aerated or unaerated.
Never overlook wild fish already present in the pond. These fish often enter the pool with the help of waterfowl carrying in eggs or fry. They might also cling to plants the owner introduces into the water. Flooding from nearby waters could wash fish into the pond also, and owners must recognize outside fish can and will make their way into the pond.
Dangers of Overstocking
Individuals who overstock a pond find their fish don’t grow and thrive. They need good aeration, the proper temperature, the right amount of food, and bio-filtration to provide what the owner desires. Pond owners must consider the growth of the fish when they select equipment or they will need to make adjustments regularly to ensure the fish survive and thrive.
Well-oxygenated water remains essential when stocking a pond. If the pond doesn’t come equipped with an aeration system, consider adding one. New fish bring waste with them, and this can lead to a pH shift, algae bloom, or the death of fish.
Many owners also add beneficial bacteria to the water, as doing so reduces toxic gases while boosting the amount of dissolved oxygen present in the water. The bacteria also prevent harmful stratification. Consider fish feeders and other accessories that may be of benefit to the fish population when maintaining the pond.
Catch a few fish each season and document the amount of each type along with their weight, color, and size. This process helps to catch any problems early, so you can make adjustments before major issues arise. Owners who do so find they have a water feature they love that will provide hours of entertainment for all family members.