It’s all about the fish: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension offers practical pond management workshop to local farmers and ranchers citing fishing as the best pond management
KOPPERL – If you think farm pond management is about supplying enough water for livestock, you would be wrong. In Texas, pond management means fish management, and everything you need to do to have a stock pond produce some Largemouth bass, Bluegill and Sunfish for an angler’s enjoyment and for the family fish fry after an afternoon fishing.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension departments from Bosque, McLennan, Johnson and Somervell counties recently offered a workshop to inform ranchers on how to increase the fishing usage of their “tanks” held at the beautiful Cross J Ranch north of Kopperl. Owner Tully Janszen is a big tournament fisherman and started managing the ranch’s lake to increase the amount of bass.
With fish feeders out nine months of the year, Janszen sees a change in the bass population – a better quality, healthier, heavier fish. He also built brush bass hotels, and planted millet along the banks. Developing a strong food chain adapted to which fish someone wants in their lakes is the goal, which starts with the phytoplankton and plants.
The main topics were Aquatic Vegetation Identification and Management – with “management” being weed control offered by TAMU’s Brittany Chesser; Fish management and Aquatic Food Webs – basically species stocking strategies – offered by Dr. Todd Sink and Pond Construction, Design and Proper Maintenance by Garrett Norman. In a pond ecosystem these three elements have to be in balance to provide the best possible environment for fish population increase and growth.
Besides knowing which plants offer bank stability, prevent erosion and supply habitat for invertebrates, learning to identify the plants and algae in a pond, is necessary to know how to kill it when a pond gets overgrown with algae, floating, submerged, emergent along the pond banks and rooted plants. The goal is to remove the problem plants, but not everything, because the plants are essential in providing the oxygen in the ponds, lakes and tanks for the fish.
Who doesn’t recognize the green, slimy islands of filamentous algae on a pond surface? Or the different water lilies – pretty as they are, the large leaves prevent sunlight from getting into the water and diminishes the oxygen levels.
Chesser went through the mechanical control, biological control through certain fish and the chemical control with herbicides. Not surprisingly, integrated pest management which is a combination of all three is the way to go.
Since decomposing vegetation diminishes the oxygen levels in ponds, Chesser recommended treating a pond an area at a time. And with each herbicide having its drawbacks, depending on the season, the flow into the pond and the amount of sediment in the water.
The fact sheet on Chesser’s presentation can be a very helpful diagnostic and management tool: AquaPlant - A Diagnostics Tool for Pond Plants and Algae:
There are many variables to successful fish management. The most important is developing a healthy food chain and taking care of all the rings in that chain, which are all interconnected.
The detritus – rotting organic matter though is food to the periphyton, with feeds the phytoplankton that bind the oxygen and are the basis of the food chain, they are eaten by the zooplankton like the water flea, the detritivores – worms insects and crustaceans, that in turn are eaten by the fish hatchlings which are eaten by bigger fish, and finally the predator of them all the largemouth bass. Roughly 1000 pounds of algae and phytoplankton will feed 100 pounds of zooplankton etc. which is needed for 10 pounds of fish that translates to one pound of largemouth bass.
“Clear water is not always good,” Skin said, comparing it to a bare field. “If I can see the fish, it’s not good, there is not enough phytoplankton in the water.”
Optimizing the environment with fertilization or adding automatic feeders for the fish cuts out certain food chain rungs, but can be very expensive. There are four to six times more fish in a fertilized pond, but be sure to cut rooted vegetation first – you do not want to be fertilizing nuisance vegetation.
Skin highly recommended stock pond owners to measure and record anything they catch out of their ponds. It provides valuable records on the pond health, but also offers information to Ag agents when there are problems like stunted growth in the predators – they have enlarged tails and eyes, only large Sunfish caught, unwanted species that are competing with the largemouth bass to name a few.
Fishing is key to pond management and Skin recommended to cull the stunted fish and have a fish fry, as they are eating all the food which is needed for the largemouth bass to grow to a better size.
He gave the example of a picnic with 50 sandwiches. If 100 people show up, everybody goes hungry; if 50 people show up, there is a status quo. But if only 25 people show up, they will get fat on the extra food. People need to realize that to grow one 24-inch trophy bass per acre, will only happen after eight years of careful management. On top of all the work, patience therefore is key.
“Pond management is a lot of work,” Skin said. “The fun thing is that fishing – harvesting – is the best management for the pond. You only grow bigger bass if you remove more.
“And if you want largemouth bass, remove the catfish,” Skin said. And because of the high reproduction rate, Crappie will take over the pond fast; and as their numbers increase, they will diminish in size. “You either have good bass or you have good Crappie, you can’t have both.”
The bottom line, as with everything associated with farming and ranching – you have to invest money, time and effort into a project’s multiple facets and variables to get the best results. A healthy pond is a pond with enough vegetation to shelter the invertebrates and smaller fish, sufficient phytoplankton for a healthy first rung of the food chain and for good oxygen levels. And a healthy pond does not require extra aeration.
“People think they fill their ponds with water, but they’re actually filling it with money,” Skin said.
Practical information on pond management can be found at:
After the presentations many of the attendees had practical questions answered by the experts. Skin for example recommended to break up and level the cracked clay beds in the ponds. This will eliminate cracks and fissures that cause leakage. Then pray for rain and add fertilization one month before restocking. Then start restocking with minnows, then Sunfish and Bluegill and finally largemouth bass, which will take a couple of years. And not to remove bass the first of second year after stocking, because they will not have reproduced yet.
With the very practical information supplied by the experts, the workshop guests would be able to implement water quality improvement, weed control, fertilization, fish stocking, supplemental feeding, the importance of keeping angler records and seining to check for bass and bluegill reproduction, using the wildlife.tamu.edu and aquaplant.tamu.edu websites to learn more about managing the farm and ranch ponds.
“Most farm ponds and small impoundments in Texas are not managed at their highest potential for fish production,” a 2005 Texas Parks and Wildlife publication on the matter says.
Besides the extensive TAMU websites, this publication – prepared by the Texas Chapter of the American Fisheries Society – also provides information to pond owners who have little or no knowledge of fishery management, and presents a concise set of guidelines for stocking and managing fish in new, renovated, or old ponds.
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & courtesy of TEXAS A&M AGRILIFE EXTENSION
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