Pond Fish Management

Coldwater Ponds | Warmwater Ponds| Determining Balance
Fish Kills| Fish Parasites|
Fish Suppliers

Different types of ponds support different types of fish, largely depending on the water temperature. Coldwater ponds have a summer maximum temperature of less than 74° F, while warmwater ponds reach temperatures above 74° F during the summer months. Due to cooler temperatures, coldwater ponds which can sustain various trout species. Warmwater ponds are suitable for bass, sunfish and catfish. Below are suggested management practices for both coldwater and warmwater ponds.

Coldwater Ponds

Various kinds of trout have been tested in New York farm ponds, including brook, brown and rainbow trout. Trout survival through the summer months is often the greatest challenge, due to their inability to tolerate warmer temperatures. Fish should be stocked during cool weather. Trout stocked as 2-inch spring fingerlings (2-3 months old) have a lower survival rate than fish stocked as 5½-inch fall fingerlings (7-8 months old). Larger fish have higher survival rates, but these fish are also more expensive to purchase. Trout reach catchable size in spring following stocking.

Trout should be stocked in ponds without other fish, where they will feed upon aquatic insects and other small pond crustaceans. In some cases, large trout can be stocked in ponds with minnows as these forage fish will provide an additional boost to trout growth rates. It is unusual to find trout surviving into their third year after being stocked into a farm pond, so it is reasonable to harvest these fish within a year or two after stocking. Stocking density is highly dependent on pond productivity- ponds with more nutrient inputs can support more fish.

General recommended stocking densities:

600 trout fingerlings per acre of pond surface area.

While brook and rainbow trout provide for good pond fishing, brown trout are less popular because they are difficult to catch and may feed on fingerlings.
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Warmwater Ponds

Adult largemouth bass are the most popular sport fish stocked in warmwater ponds. As predators upon smaller fish, they must be stocked in a pond that contains forage fish. Largemouth bass are popular for angling, because they put up a real battle when caught by hook and line.

Sunfish as Prey Fish:
Farm ponds in the southern U.S. are frequently stocked with combinations of largemouth bass and bluegill sunfish, since the bluegill reproduce easily and small bluegill provide food for the larger bass. Hybrid sunfish are now sometimes used in place of bluegill. These hybrid fish are a cross between two different sunfish species, usually a bluegill and a green sunfish. Hybrid sunfish spawn less prolifically than bluegill because most of these fish are males.

Minnows as Prey Fish:
Another alternative is to stock golden shiners or fathead minnows as forage for largemouth bass. In such ponds the shiners or minnows will likely disappear after several years due to predation by the bass and lack of reproduction. Though this can be an expensive alternative, good bass growth rates can be sustained by continuing to stock abundant forage fish in ponds where your goal is to produce largemouth bass for angling.

As in coldwater ponds, stocking density is based on pond productivity- ponds with more nutrient inputs can support more fish.

General Recommended Stocking Densities:

500 sunfish fingerlings per acre of pond surface area; 100 bass fingerlings/acre.

Channel catfish can also be stocked as a compliment to a largemouth bass-sunfish community. Catfish do very well in warm waters 70-85 ° F; however, because they generally don't reproduce well in small ponds, they need to be restocked every 2-3 years. If bass already inhabit the pond, stock catfish at least 8-10 inches in length to avoid immediate predation.

General Recommended Stocking Densities:

750 sunfish fingerlings per acre, 70 catfish fingerlings/acre, and 100 bass fingerlings/acre.

Adjust these initial recommendations up or down based on success and the productivity of your pond.
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Determining Balance

When is a fish population in balance? How can I determine if a balanced condition exists in my pond? These are two questions often asked by pond owners. Actually, a truly balanced condition never exists in a pond, or the balanced condition might be one that does not produce satisfactory fish for purposes of recreation. Fish populations continually change and never reach the state of equilibrium, or general stability, often referred to as balance. Fisheries biologists sometimes use the term to describe satisfactory relationships between the predator and prey populations in a pond, in which case they are usually identifying three factors as being present

(1) Fish of harvestable size;
(2) Annual reproduction;
(3) A combination of fishes, including at least one predator species.

However, achieving all three factors is not easy to attain in many farm ponds. Figuring out what’s possible in your pond will require a flair for experimentation, good observation, and some patience.
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Brook Trout

Stocking Fish

Brown Trout

Rainbow Trout

Largemouth Bass


Golden Shiner

Channel Catfish


Fish Kills

It is normal for fish in ponds to die due to predation and other natural causes, however large numbers of fish dying at once is cause for concern. Fish kills are most commonly linked to oxygen depletion within pond waters. A second, but far less frequent cause of fish kills is contamination from pesticides or other chemicals. If you suspect a fish kill due to chemical contamination, contact the your regional DEC office.

Fish kills due to oxygen depletion are most common in the summer and winter. One cause of summer fish kills is the decomposition of dead plant material which consumes a large amount of oxygen. Although algae produce oxygen through photosynthesis, a thick algae bloom at the surface of a pond can occlude sunlight passage to plants within the pond and present another cause for fish kills. Finally, fish kills can occur during the open water season, when high wind and rain events disturb thermally stratified water to the point where deoxygenated water from deep areas mixes throughout the water column. Winter fish kills most frequently result from heavy snowpack on top of the ice for a prolonged period of time which limits light penetration to photosynthesizing plants within the pond.

Fish stressed from low oxygen levels, can frequently be observed gulping for air at the pond surface just before sunrise, when oxygen levels are the lowest. To prevent loss of fish in extremely hot weather, monitor your pond in the early morning hours for signs of stressed fish. Depleted oxygen levels can be elevated using mechanical means such as gas powered engines and commercial aerators.
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Fish Parasites

We only tend to think about fish parasites when we see ones attached to the outside of fish, but in fact, they are a very common part of most fishes' lives. There are a wide range of parasites which infect fish including ones that are microscopic to those that are very obvious. The variety and complex lifecycles of some parasites make them a vary interesting group of organisms. Birds, snails, copepods and even mammals can host a fish parasite at different stages within its lifecycle. The two main types of parasites are external and internal. External parasites include many types of microscopic ones not visible to the human eye, as well as larger ones such as fish lice, gill lice, anchor worms and leeches. Flukes, tapeworms, spiny-headed worms and roundworms are the four main types of internal parasites.

It is important for anglers to know that most fish parasites and diseases cannot be transferred to humans. Most are extremely host specific, meaning that they can only survive when associated with a particular organism. However, there are a few tapeworms, flukes and roundworms which can infect humans; for this reason, all harvested fish should be properly cleaned and thoroughly cooked before eaten. In many cases, a truly "sick" fish will not take the hook however, if you catch a fish which is excessively infected or exhibits a puffy body with swollen eyes, the fish shouldn't be eaten.

More information on fish parasites and diseases is available from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
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