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I am frequently asked what can be done to improve fishery conditions in a pond. Often people assume that planting more fish is the answer to improving fishing. While we are in the fish stocking business and sometimes more fish is a good idea, I frequently tell people that their primary issue is one of habitat, or more often than not: the lack of suitable habitat for the game fish that people want.
Fish can live in just about any pond, but to have a thriving fishery, the fish need adequate habitat, structure and cover. What does that mean?
Habitat is a broad term referring to the overall environment that the fish are living in, including biological aspects as well as physical features. Habitat includes areas where food, shelter, and spawning conditions exist.
Structure is also a broad term that can refer to just about anything that makes a “feature” on the bottom of a pond or lake that can enhance the habitat for fish. Structure can be an edge or shelf on the bottom, a rock or pile of rocks, a fallen tree, a man-made brush pile, manufactured “fish habitats”, or a sunken pirate ship for that matter. Just about anything on the bottom that breaks up the smooth bottom surface creates “structure”.
Cover refers to areas where fish can hide from predators. Many types of structure provide cover, some types better than others. Plants and weed-beds can also provide cover and are therefore also an important part of managing a healthy fishery. While many bodies of water, especially small ponds, suffer from a lack of cover, many other water bodies, especially small ponds, suffer from too much cover (note that small ponds are prone to both extremes depending on how they are managed). Not enough cover can result in an under-developed food chain and therefore low carrying capacity and scrawny fish. Too much cover can result in an inability for predators to find small forage fish, which can result in an overpopulation of species like Bluegill, which can result in stunted bluegill and predators alike. There is a balance that needs to be achieved between too much and too little plant growth and other structure for the cover to contribute to a healthy habitat.
If your pond is as smooth and clean as a cereal bowl on the bottom, you probably need to consider some enhancements if you want to have the proper habitat for a thriving fishery. Adding some structure can be an easy improvement by using manufactured Habitat Structures and sinking them in strategic locations. With a little more elbow grease, you can cut and place trees and brush piles under the waves or add some rock piles if you have the materials and the energy handy.
Managing your plant cover is also a good idea, a healthy northern pond or lake typically has 15-25% of the bottom area covered with plant growth. Not all plants are created equal however, and attention should be given to eradicating invasive plants such as Eurasian Watermilfoil since they don’t typically benefit the fishery and if allowed to proliferate, they can easily create cover that is too dense and can contribute to stunted populations. However, every healthy fishery needs some plant cover.
Adding more fish to you pond may be what you need, and we are happy to help, but don’t neglect managing your fish habitat if you want a thriving fishery.