Management of Farm Fish Ponds in Tennessee
Condensed from UT Agricultural Extension Service PB-#1231
Thomas K. Hill Professor Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries

   Farm fish ponds are a valuable resource. There are presently more than 190,000 farm ponds in Tennessee, with an average size of about one-half acre.  Most of them have the potential for fish production, but good fishing in farm ponds does not just happen. It results from careful planning and management right from the start. This information is provided to help pond owners produce the best fishing possible through good management.


The Pond
The Fish

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The Pond
Choosing the right location for the pond is a major consideration.  Select a pond site with great care because economy of construction, overall usefulness and future productivity of the pond depend on its location.  A suitable fish pond site needs:

1. a topography that may be converted into a pond economically:
2. a subsoil that contains enough clay to hold water; and
3. a water supply that will furnish an adequate but not excessive amount of water.

   If the pond is to be used for other purposes, such as irrigation or for stock-water, the location needs special consideration.  Most ponds are built with a number of water uses in mind.
  Ponds that furnish water for livestock should be fenced to limit access only to certain areas.  Some ponds are designed to allow gravity flow of water through a pipe to a watering trough below the dam.  Most farm ponds are dependent on surface water runoff for a water supply.  The type of subsoil and the steepness of the slope around the pond will affect the amount of surface runoff, and the type of vegetation on the watershed will affect the rate of water runoff.  Where grassland watersheds are used, 10 to 15 acres of land surface will furnish enough runoff water for one surface acre of pond; however 20 to 30 acres are necessary if the watershed is wooded.  If large amounts of runoff water are expected, a diversion ditch constructed around the pond will avoid the loss of valuable pond nutrients and help prevent the escape of fish.

A well designed farm pond will have two water outlets.  For normal water flow, a trickle tube connected to the drainpipe will handle the surplus water.  A sleeve over the tube, which reaches to about a foot above the pond bottom, will allow stagnant water to leave and help prevent oxygen depletion.  When floods produce more runoff water than is required to fill and maintain the pond, an emergency spillway is required.  The spillway must be large enough to adequately handle the flood water, not only to prevent overtopping the dam, but also to prevent large numbers of fish from leaving the pond.  To prevent serious losses of fish, spillways should be wide enough so that water from the heaviest floods will not flow more than 3 to 4 inches deep.
  It is unnecessary to build fish ponds in the South to an average depth of more than 4 to 6  feet.  In fact, very deep ponds are more likely to experience water quality problems.  Since aquatic weed control is difficult and fishing is poor in shallow water, the shore of the pond should slope as abruptly as possible to a depth of 3 feet.  A deepened edge coupled with a consistent fertilization program usually prevents weed problems. Assistance with fish pond planning and management is available from the Agricultural Extension Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.  BACK

The Fish
Pond management principles are based on the presence of only desirable species of fish.  Many ponds are unsuited for management because the source of water is contaminated with undesirable fish.  Upstream migration of such species can be checked by a 4-foot vertical fall in the emergency spillway.  A concrete apron below the barrier will prevent erosion of the dam.
  If wild fish such as Green Sunfish, Golden Shiners, Crappie or Bullheads, are found in the pond immediately after impoundment, fish eradication must be accomplished before desirable species are stocked.  A fish toxicant, Rotenone, dispersed throughout the pond at the rate of 1 gallon of 5% liquid per 3 acre-feet of water or 5 pounds of 5% emulsifiable powder per acre-foot will kill these intruders.  An acre-foot is one surface acre of water one foot deep.  Rotenone treated water is naturally detoxified after 3 to 5 days at water temperatures above 70 deg. F, but takes longer at cooler temperatures.  A sure way to determine if the water is still toxic is to place a small cage of Bluegill or similar sunfish in the treated water for about 24 hours.  Detailed information about use of Rotenone can be found in Publication 1103, Farm Pond Renovation, Agricultural Extension Service, The University of Tennessee.  Desirable species are Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Channel Catfish and Redear Sunfish.
  In Tennessee and other southeastern states with similar climates, Largemouth Bass as the predator in combination with Bluegill and Redear sunfish as forage species have been used successfully to establish balanced fish populations in farm ponds. Limited numbers of Channel Catfish (up to 100 per acre) may be stocked without fear of upsetting the population balance.  See Table 1
   The number of fish stocked in a pond is based on the anticipated supply of fish, and is a function of the pond's fertility.  The decision to fertilize or not must be made before the fish are ordered.  Ponds to be fertilized receive 750-1000 sunfish (70% Bluegill and 30% Redear), 50-100 Channel Catfish (optional) per surface acre in the Fall.  A 100 Largemouth Bass are added in June of the following year.  Unfertilized ponds are stocked with about half the numbers.  An accurate measurement of the pond acreage is needed when ordering the fish.  If the pond area is overestimated, too many fish will be stocked for the available food supply.  Poor growth of the fish will result and the proper fish population balance will not be established.  BACK

Fish recommended for farm ponds feed mainly on microscopic water animals (zooplankton), aquatic insects, and small fish.  Most of the small animals use microscopic plants (phytoplankton) either directly or indirectly for food.  These plants are so small that they cannot be seen unless highly magnified and usually go unnoticed in the water.  In a properly fertilized pond, plankton grows and multiplies so rapidly the water appears green or sometimes brown.  The dominant type of plankton determines the color.  The capacity of a pond to produce fish is increased from about 100 lbs. per acre per year when unfertilized to about 400 pounds when properly fertilized.  About one-half in either case, will reach harvestable size.
  Along with increased fish production, there are several other advantages for fertilizing ponds.  Weed control is improved with a dense growth of microscopic algae in the upper water shading the pond bottom where rooted vegetation growth begins.  Where pond weeds are absent, Largemouth Bass can seek out and devour the smaller Bluegill, helping maintain proper fish population balance.  If Bluegill numbers are not continuously reduced, they are unable to grow to a desirable size.  Subsequent overcrowding and poor fishing results.  Additionally, fertilization greatly reduces mosquito populations because the weeds that harbor mosquito larvae from the fish are eliminated.  See Table 2
Triploid Chinese Grass Carp are legal by permit in Tennessee and are useful for biological control of aquatic weeds and algae.  Stocking 10 to 15 Grass Carp per surface acre will control weed problems in most ponds.  Even so, there may be times when specific herbicides for specific weeds will be required.
  A pond fertilization program is started in early spring after the water temperature reaches 60 deg. F.  Research has shown that fertilizers high in phosphate with some nitrogen get best results.  Ponds in some areas require potash so it is included in the mixtures.  Such fertilizers as 8-8-2 or 20-20-5 can usually be found at farm supply stores.  Apply 100 lbs. of 8-8-2 or 40 lbs. of 20-20-5 per acre per application until proper color develops.  Liquid fertilizers like 10-34-0 and 13-38-0 have been shown to give good results.  Usually, two consecutive applications of fertilizer at two-week intervals to start and one per month thereafter through October will establish and maintain a good plankton bloom.
  Water color can be used as an indicator to determine the need for fertilization.  A good test for proper water color is to submerge a bright object fastened to the end of a stick.  Visibility of the object 18 inches below the surface indicates the need for fertilizer.  If the object disappears at 16-18 inches, no fertilizer is needed.
  The most efficient method of granular fertilizer application is to place it on a submerged platform 12 to 18 inches under water.  Wind and wave action distributes the nutrients into the water.  The fertilizer required annually is reduced by 20-40% because a lesser amount becomes tied up in the soil than occurs when it is distributed on the bottom of the pond from the bank or a boat.  A single platform can supply fertilizer to a pond up to 15 acres in size.  Liquid fertilizer, since it is heavier than water, should be diluted at a 1:10 ratio and scattered on the pond surface.  About 7 quarts of 10-34-0 per application will be required.
  To grow plankton efficiently in a pond, adequate lime must be maintained.  If a satisfactory plankton bloom has not developed after three fertilizer applications, the pond water hardness should be checked.  Analysis of a pond bottom soil sample will determine the need for lime.  If needed, agricultural lime should be broadcast over the pond during the winter.  BACK

The goal of pond management is good fishing.  Fish removal is necessary if fish population balance is to be maintained, but sensible controlled harvest is very important.  Each species serves a special purpose in a farm pond.  Bass 8 to 10 inches are the key to maintaining the correct fish population balance and should not be removed.  A maximum harvest of 30 to 55 lbs. of Bass per fertilized acre each year coupled with proper removal of Sunfish is recommended.
  Bluegill and Redear provide most of the harvestable fish from a farm pond.  When fishing is begun in a new pond, the stocked Sunfish will average about 1/4 lb.  Unless they are harvested, a static population will result.  Ponds with the best fishing need 4 to 5 lbs. of Bluegill removed for each pound of Bass.  In fact, a good procedure is to remove every Bluegill that is caught, since they reproduce quite rapidly.
  It is very difficult to have outstanding fishing of both Bluegill and Bass in the same pond.  Slightly crowded Bass reduce the Bluegill population and more food is available for each survivor so the Bluegill grow to a larger size.  When Bluegill are crowded, larger Bass may result, but the Bluegill will be smaller because less food is available per fish.  See Table 3   The harvest of fish needs to be extended throughout the year.  A large harvest, particularly of Bass, during a short period of time in early summer, can result in population imbalance.  Delay of fish harvest until early June after Bass have spawned is a very good management practice.  The most favorable situation for maintaining fish population balance results when fish are harvested regularly and moderately at about the same rate that they are being produced.  Sunfish and Bass in good condition and variety of sizes taken in the catch are indicators that the fish population is balanced.
  Fish population balance can be determined for certain from seine samples taken with a 10ft.X4ft. minnow seine during the summer.  An average of two fingerling Bass and recent Bluegill reproduction indicates the fish population is balanced.  No recent reproduction and many stunted Bluegill indicate an unbalanced population.  Stunted Bluegill typically have thin bodies and eyes that appear too large for their body size.  Pond renovation is the recommended practice in such instances.  See Table 4
   Farm pond management takes both time and money, but the benefits are rewarding.  Nothing is more aesthetically pleasing than a well managed pond on the landscape.  Nothing provides more excitement and thrill than the pull of a fish on a line.  And just think, Bass and Bluegill are excellent food fish.  How many other enterprises do you have on the farm which provide as much food and fun?  See Table 5


 Greenwater Fish Farm Stocking Recommendations:


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Analyze Pond Bottom Mud for Lime Requirements

  If you experienced difficulty establishing and maintaining a good plankton bloom in your fertilized Bass-Bluegill pond this summer, your pond may need to be limed.  There are several benefits from this practice, but a greater fish crop following increased microscopic algae production is the most noticeable one.  After the pH of the bottom mud and the total hardness of the water are raised by liming, availability of phosphorus added as fish pond fertilizer to phytoplankton increases.
  Several studies have demonstrated a positive response of lime application to ponds with total hardness of 10 to 29 ppm.  Those pond waters with total hardness greater than 20 ppm seldom responded to liming.  It has also been learned that total hardness and mud pH are related; when mud-water pH exceeds 5.9, total hardness for the same pond usually exceeds 20 ppm and no additional lime is needed.
  To determine the need for lime, dip mud samples from the pond bottom in about 10 locations for each acre.  Mix the samples together, dry in the sun or an oven, and fill a soil sample box obtained from your county Extension office.  Write "fish pond" on the box and send it to the Soil Testing Laboratory in Nashville.  The lime requirements will be determined and the results with a recommendation returned to you.
  Agricultural limestone is the most satisfactory liming material for ponds, and winter is the best time to apply it.  New ponds should have the required amount of lime spread evenly over the bottom before filling with water.  For filled ponds, spread the lime over the entire pond surface.  Unless an excessive amount of water flows through the pond, a single application of lime may last several years.  Liming a pond will not result in increased productivity unless a proper fertilization program is practiced.


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