What Fish Species are Best for Stocking?
Spring is upon us and that means we are frequently asked for recommendations on what fish species are best for stocking in ponds, lakes and streams. The right answer depends on the characteristics of the water body and the objective of the person doing the stocking.
The single most important factor is always the water body. How large (or small)? How deep? Inflow or outflow? Habitat characteristics? Summer temperatures? What kind of fish are there now? All of these are important questions that we will ask in trying to determine what a water body might support.
Objectives of stocking the water body are also very important but expectations need to be in line with what a water body can support if success is expected. Balancing species between predators and prey is also 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.
The following is a listing of the species of fish that we stock with some information about each and suitability in certain environments.
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 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 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.
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 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 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 any type of woody 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
Walleye are a popular 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. We generally do not recommend walleye for ponds under 20 acres in size.
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 for food with Largemouth Bass. If no Largemouth Bass are present in the pond, we recommend stocking 100 Smallmouth Bass per surface acre
Truthfully, 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 fee free to give us a call or email to discuss your stocking ideas and ask for advice. That’s what we are here for. We look forward to talking to you soon!