Developing a Fish Stocking Plan for your Pond or Lake
Many people want to have a quality fishery in their pond or small lake, but often don’t know where to start. This article will help you get started in the process of understanding how to plan for the success of your fishery. There are many aspects of fishery management that relate to habitat management, but in many cases the most important step is to evaluate the water body and develop a Fish Stocking Plan.
The process of stocking fish is rarely a “once and done” project if the goal is to maintain a quality fishery. It is also not something that should be approached without some serious consideration going into the process.
Here are the steps that I recommend:
Fish Stocking Plan will vary dramatically based on climate, attributes of your pond, and why you want fish.
Let’s take a quick look at common pond-stocking fish and where they fit in a Plan.
The three most commonly stocked trout are Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout and Brown Trout. Rainbows and Browns tend to be the hardiest and have a greater tolerance to temperature fluctuation. Rainbows are the most available and are therefore popular for that reason. Trout are a lot of fun to fish for and have excellent characteristics as table fare, making them a favorite for many.
Trout thrive in cooler water. If you are thinking about stocking your pond with trout, it is important to make sure that the temperature your pond rarely gets above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal temperature for trout is between 45- and 60-degrees Fahrenheit. We frequently see these conditions if you have a spring or stream-fed pond, ensuring a constant inflow of cool water.
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 compared to regular Bluegill or other species of Sunfish. 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.
Regular Sunfish of any species (bluegill, pumpkinseed, green sunfish, etc.) can be an important forage source for many larger predatory fish in a pond or lake. These fish have a very high reproductive rate and fill a niche similar to mice in the terrestrial food chain. Without a strong predator base, or in cases with too much cover for small fish, the population can soar out of control and the pond will end up dominated by huge numbers of small, stunted sunfish that will not grow. For that reason, we generally don’t recommend stocking these fish in smaller bodies of water.
Largemouth Bass are one of the most sought after of 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 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 Largemouth 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 as they hunt for invertebrates like crayfish, 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.
Yellow Perch are a popular choice for lakes and ponds because of their outstanding performance at a fish fry. Care must be taken when stocking perch as they tend to over-populate and stunt easily; therefore, a strong predator base is a necessity. 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 any type of woody structure in warm, 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 an established predator population. Stocking Fatheads annually is used in some cases to overcome low productivity in many lakes.
Black Crappie are a large 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.
Walleye are a popular large game fish that is native in 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.
Smallmouth Bass require cool water and prefer rocky substrates to thrive, therefore they are not well suited for many small ponds. Large, deep bodies of water are the best for Smallmouth. Smallmouth do not usually compete well with Largemouth Bass. If no Largemouth Bass are present in the pond, we recommend stocking 100 Smallmouth Bass per surface acre. Smallmouth are frequently not available, please call about availability before including them in a stocking plan.
Proper evaluation and planning can be a big help in developing the fishery that you are hoping for. We can help you with these steps and are happy to set up a site visit or just chat about your water over the phone. We also have the fish you need for stocking as well as a number of options to get the fish to your pond including delivery by one of our specialized trucks, Fish Day events, or pick-ups at our farm. Whatever you choose, we are here to help you achieve the fishery of your dreams!