It may be snowing outside today, but we know that spring fish stocking season is arriving soon. We expect to begin spring fish stocking by late April, depending on weather. We are frequently asked for recommendations on what fish species are best for pond and lake stocking in the spring. The right answer depends on the characteristics of the water body and the objectives of the person doing the stocking.
The single most important factor is always the water body itself. How large (or small) and how deep? Is there an inflow or outflow? What are the characteristics of the habitat, structure and cover? How warm is the water in the summer? What species of fish are already established? All of these are important questions that need to be asked to determine what fish will thrive in a given water body.
Desired goals of stocking the water body are also important but expectations need to be in line with what a water body can support and the interrelationship of the fish in the water if success is expected. Balancing species between predators and prey is important. You cannot have a successful Largemouth Bass fishery if you don’t have a solid population of prey species in the pond as well. Likewise, you cannot have a successful Bluegill pond if you don’t have some predators in the pond to keep the Bluegill from over-populating and stunting.
Understanding the characteristics of the fish that are available for stocking is important before placing a fish stocking order. The following is a brief overview of the species that are commonly stocked.
The three most commonly stocked trout are Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout and Brown Trout. Rainbow trout tend to be the hardiest, and have a greater tolerance to temperature fluctuation, so they are extremely popular for that reason. Trout are also a lot of fun to fish for and have a mild flavor that makes them a favorite for inviting to dinner.
Trout thrive in cooler water. If you are thinking about stocking your pond with trout, it is important to make sure that the temperature of the pond never gets above 70 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few hours at a time, and the ideal temperature for trout is between 45-60 degrees Fahrenheit. This is often best accomplished if you have a spring or stream-fed pond, ensuring a constant influx of water with a regulated temperature.
Stocking densities for trout can vary based on feeding strategy and oxygen availability, but generally around 100 per acre is reasonable. We have good availability on all sizes of Rainbows for Spring 2022; Brooks and Browns may be available this spring.
Bluegill (Regular or Standard)
Bluegills are a member of the Sunfish family and are an important forage species as well as being a sought-after sport fish in their own right. Bluegill feed voraciously on nuisance species such as leeches and mosquito larvae, so they can be a welcome addition to a pond or lake. Bluegills are generally stocked at a rate of 500 per surface acre, sometimes more if there is a very strong predator base. We strongly recommend stocking some Largemouth Bass and/or Channel Catfish along with your Bluegills to control reproduction and avoid over-population and stunting.
Hybrid Sunfish (Bluegill)
Hybrid Sunfish, often called Hybrid Bluegill, are a cross between a female Green Sunfish and a male Bluegill. This cross results in a very high percentage of male fish, reducing the reproductive potential of the population. This results in greater growth rates and reduces the opportunity for over-population. These fish are strong feeders, so a robust forage base is necessary. Hybrid Sunfish are generally stocked at a rate of 500 per surface acre. We recommend stocking some Largemouth Bass along with your Hybrid Sunfish to control any future reproduction and avoid over-population and stunting.
Largemouth Bass are a very popular gamefish. Largemouth are also well suited to most ponds and lakes in the Great Lakes region. Largemouth are tremendous predators and require large amounts of forage to thrive, therefore they are often used to control bluegill populations. We generally recommend 100 Largemouth Bass per surface acre in ponds with regular bluegill and 75 per acre in Hybrid Sunfish ponds. Largemouth will reproduce in most ponds but require other predators (like bluegill) to regulate the bass population properly and avoid overpopulation and stunting. Stocking fathead minnows also provides an excellent forage base for bass.
Channel Catfish are predators that can add some variety to your pond. Prized as a sport fish and table fare in many areas of the country, the channel cat can be a welcome addition to your pond. Because they tend to stir up the bottom of the pond, we recommend stocking 50-100 per surface acre to maintain water clarity. If your goal is a catfish pond, stock fertile water with up to 200 per surface acre. Please note that channel catfish DO NOT “clean up” pond bottoms. Their feeding habits lead them to stir around in bottom sediments, but they do not clean the bottom or eat pond muck.
Yellow Perch are a popular choice for lakes and ponds because of their outstanding table performance. Care must be taken when stocking perch as they tend to over-populate and stunt easily. They are best suited to large lakes with predators like walleye or to “perch ponds” that are managed fairly intensively to maintain a healthy population level. Generally stocking 100-200 per surface acre is acceptable. Yellow perch are active predators, so stocking fathead minnows with perch is recommended.
Fathead Minnows are an economical forage species to add to almost any pond or lake. These small forage fish spawn prolifically, usually reproducing several times during the summer if conditions are right. Placing structure in shallow water will improve their spawning success. Generally stocking 24-40 pounds per surface acre will establish a population, stock up to 100 pounds per acre if you have a large number of bass, perch, crappie, or another established predator population.
Black Crappie are a larger member of the sunfish family. Like others in this family, they are prolific spawners if they have the correct conditions. They must be balanced with a robust population of larger predators such as bass and catfish. Generally recommended for stocking in larger ponds and lakes at about 100-200 per surface acre. Black Crappie are most often stocked in the fall.
Walleye are a popular game fish that is native to Michigan. Walleye are best suited to large, deep bodies of water that remain fairly cool. They are voracious predators and require a very robust forage base of fathead minnows, bass, perch, and bluegills to thrive. Walleye stocking densities must be quite light, not more than 25 per surface acre. Well-aerated ponds may be able to hold walleye, but forage may be difficult to maintain in small waters. We generally do not recommend walleye for ponds under 20 acres in size. Walleye are most often stocked in the fall.
The truth is that fish stocking is often an experiment in determining what will do best in any given pond or lake. Getting the right mix and the right balance may take some trial and error on a new pond. For established ponds and lakes, knowing what fish are in the water and what has been tried in the past can also be a potential indicator of a best plan for stocking.
You can always give us a call or email to discuss your stocking ideas and ask for advice. The more information about your pond that you communicate, the better the stocking recommendation can be. That’s what we are here for. We look forward to talking to you soon!