Friday, August 22, 2014

Trying to Improve the Fishing in Stock Ponds

Over the years I've often thought about improving the fishing in the ponds around the farm.  Right now there are three ponds that have fish in them (there's one more pond that dried up completely in 2012, so I doubt if there are very many fish in that pond anymore).  There are decent numbers of bass, a lot of bluegill, and a few catfish in all three ponds, and a handful of crappie in one pond. 

From what I understand, for decent fishing a pond needs a few trees on the banks for shading, the banks should have good grass cover to catch any sediment that might flow into the pond, fertilizing and liming can be useful to improve the fishing, and there should be some structures or habitat in the water for the fish to do all their fish hanging-out activities and such. 

In the past, there used to be scattered trees around the banks of all three ponds, but a combination of ravenous, vandalous beavers (nature's engineer my foot!?!) and tornadoes left two of the ponds without any trees big enough to shade the edges of the pond.

The trees (small pecan, honey locust, and willow trees) around one of the ponds are slowly starting to regrow which is encouraging, but the other pond hasn't seen that much regrowth of trees yet (mainly because that's the pasture where I usually winter the cows and cattle seem to be really hard on trees over the winter and into spring).  I've been thinking about fencing off part of that pond and possibly planting some trees along the bank to recreate the way it used to look, but I've also been thinking about that for years, so who knows if that will ever get done. 

Since switching to no-till and ending all the typical tillage operations we used to do on the cropland, it seems like the ponds have really cleared up and instead of having "moss" growing along the banks like there used to be, there are different kinds of "water plants" growing now (I'm not a marine plant guy, so that's as good of a description as I can give).  I'm not sure how the fish feel about the whole moss vs. water plant situation, but my gut tells me "water plants" are preferable to fish, people, and cattle. Besides that gut feeling I don't really know.

Building some sort of fish habitat has always been hard to accomplish. About eight years ago, I was clearing some cedars near one of the ponds and since the water level was lower due to a drought (does it ever rain around here!?) I drug cedar trees down to the edge of the water to build a huge brush pile for the fish.  But building that brush pile was such gut-busting work that I thought I was going to collapse at any moment and my bleached bones would also become fish habitat.   Unless I could find a barge to float in the pond, using a small boat to haul cedar trees out into a pond and then sinking them to build some sort of fish structure that was big enough to do any good seemed almost impossible.

I also tried building a smaller "artificial cedar tree" out of a bucket and a bunch of flexible 1" tubing and PVC I had laying around.  I carefully arranged the tubing in the bucket, poured a little concrete in the bottom to keep my careful arrangement of tubing still carefully arranged, found out the tubing wasn't secure enough so I needed to add a little more concrete. Then, the tubing still wasn't anchored, so I kept pouring even more concrete in the bucket until I had a 80 lb. chunk of concrete in a hard to handle bucket with a bunch of stuff sticking out every which way.  

After almost flipping the boat upside down trying to throw it overboard, I scrapped that idea until I could figure out something better.  I was also kinda bummed for a few days after that because if I couldn't even throw 80 lb. of concrete-filled bucket overboard without almost sinking the boat, how the heck was I gonna haul an alligator into my boat if I ever decided to take up alligator fishing for a living?  

I never would have thought that simply trying to build an artificial cedar tree would also lead to a shorter list of future career options.  After I finally figured out that I simply needed to get a bigger boat if I ever decided to switch to catching alligators as a career, all was right with the world once again, but I still didn't have a good way to create more fish habitat in the ponds. 

A few weeks ago, I was looking online for fish structure/habitat ideas and came across the Anglers United website which had a few ideas for building some fish habitats out of snow fence

Since I usually find that I'm allergic to spending money if I don't absolutely, positively need to spend money, and I didn't have any snow fence laying around, I looked around and found some 30 gal. barrels.  I had originally planned to build an experimental compost tea brewer out these barrels, but after I came to my senses and started to question some of the outlandish claims made about the magical powers of compost tea, that project got put on the back burner. 

Those 30 gal. barrels were about 16" in dia. and about 36" tall, so they looked like they would make good substitutes for some rolled up snow fence if I drilled a few holes in them with a hole saw.  So I started out by making my version of the Crappie Condo (hopefully it'll also work as a Crappie/lBluegill/Perch Condo) talked about on the Angler's United website.
30 gallon barrel with a bunch of randomly placed potential holes drawn all over it
Using a 3" hole saw and my carefully calibrated eyeballs to eyeball the spacing, I drilled a series of holes up, down, and around the barrel, and soon had my fish habitat ready to drop off the boat (after wiring a couple of bricks or something on it to sink it).
Finished fish habitat with a bunch of carefully placed drilled holes
Of course, I picked a day when it was over 100 degrees outside to drill all these holes, was amazed at how bright a white barrel can get when you are looking right at it and the sun is overhead (I need to wear sunglasses next time), and was quickly reminded a number of times about how much torque an electric drill has when a hole saw binds up in a chunk of thick plastic (make sure there aren't any little kids or old ladies around if you are prone to descriptive, detailed cussing).   Other than that, it was much easier and cheaper to build this structure than dragging a bunch of cedar trees into a pile or filling a bucket up with concrete and PVC.

Now the question is, should I add some pieces of tubing crosswise to simulate the branches of a tree? I have some 2" black tubing that would be almost perfect to build fake cedar tree limbs out of.

Next I need to build a few more of these and some Bass Bungalows, sink them in the pond without sinking the boat, and then start reeling in the fish.


  1. Neat!

    And what's your goal with your fishing ponds? Place for you and friends/family to fish?

    1. These ponds have always had fish in them, they were originally stocked before I was born, I helped Grandpa restock them when I was about 13, and it can't hurt to improve them a little bit if I can. After all, I wouldn't have been able to fish in those ponds as a kid if someone hadn't made the effort to stock them years before.

      A good pond filled with fish should be like a garden or an orchard, a little bit of work once in awhile and it should be good for both fishing just for the heck of it and the makings of a fish fry for year after year.

      It's also the ultimate sustainable food supply; fun to catch, good to eat, and almost no inputs or work required.

  2. My parents probably have a good dozen and a half ponds that I've been fishing on and off for over four decades. The one solid idea I have over that time is that life in a farm pond is cyclic. Ponds that were great fishing will gradually fade away into pour fishing. Ponds that I never had any luck at a decade ago will suddenly have really good fishing.

    I suspect that due to the small nature of ponds as an ecosystem, they have trouble finding a balance. There will be an overcrowding of large fish after a period of time which will make it good fishing but unsustainable. Eventually the large fish eat out all the offspring and there is a large die back that takes many years to come back from.

    We used to try stocking ponds and doing more to induce good sustainable fishing like introducing grass carp and creating fish habitat. Everything seemed pretty useless compared to just letting nature take its course and balance things out with time. I for the most part try to hit the ponds more often even if the last time I swore there wasn't a fish in the thing just in case the fishing has returned to hot status.

    1. I've read some stuff about managing farm ponds and a lot of them seem to go way overboard with some of what they suggest is absolutely needed to have fish in a pond.

      I've read that you have to balance the pH, lime the ponds, fertilize the ponds, build elaborate underwater structures, micro-manage how big the fish taken out of the pond are (only under 13". only between 13" and 16", only over 16"), don't let cattle get anywhere close to the pond, etc. All of that sounds like too much work and worry to me.

      Since I can get my hands on a bunch of these barrels, so I'm planning on building a bunch of simple barrel structures, putting them in the pond to take some of the bust out of the boom and bust fish cycle, and I'm going to take credit for each and every big fish caught for the next thirty years.

      As in, "You know, if it wasn't for all the sweat and swearing I put into building those fish habitat barrels back in 2014, you wouldn't have even had the chance to catch that big fish you just caught".

      The beauty of the whole thing is that even if they don't work at all, I can still take credit for all the fish caught.