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Bill Dance Fishing Article by Terry Goldsby
Get a game plan and stick to it!
Managing lakes and ponds for game fish is a lot like agriculture. You apply tried and proven principles for “raising your crop” with dedication and consistency. With time, you will produce a great harvest

Pond fish management Bill Dance

Not long ago, on a cattle ranch in north Mississippi, I met with a client who was disappointed with the overall health and size of the bass he had been catching from his 10 acre farm pond. While discussing the problem with him, I questioned him closely about his management practices. Was he fertilizing according to the schedule we had given him earlier? Had he limed the lake in February as we had discussed? Did he invite a bunch of friends over and fry-up about a hundred bass that were fourteen inches or smaller ? After he sheepishly answered, “well, uh, uh, kinda”, I pointedly asked a few more questions. He beamed with pride and responded quickly when I quizzed him about the management of his cattle herd.. “Sure, I always take care of my pastures just like the extension guy recommends. I rotate my herd from field to field so I don’t over-graze, I sell-off cows when I have too many, and I always put up plenty of good hay for the winter.”

Managing ponds and lakes is really very similar to cattle farming and many other disciplines of agriculture. True enough, the exact principles are somewhat different. But still, there are things you do and things you don’t. A management plan or strategy usually incorporates both essential and non-essential elements. Of course, the essential elements are those that are absolutely required in a particular ecosystem for successful fisheries management. Non-essential items are based on the personal end-results that the pond owner wishes to achieve. In short, a plan must be formulated based on the characteristics of the individual pond or lake and the goals of the pond owner. Then, the plan must be followed. Certainly, as management progresses, adjustments are required from time to time. However, by far and away, most management strategies fail because of lack of commitment and consistency. To quote a Southeastern Conference football coach I heard one, crisp, Saturday in November; “we had a great game plan and we stuck to it”.

Whether your building a new lake or rehabilitating an old one, management really begins during the design and construction phases. For a new lake, the most important thing might be spending a little time picking just the right spot to put the lake. Topographic features, soil type, and total area of the watershed are a few of the critical parameters to be considered when selecting a site that will enhance your opportunities for successful lake management in the future. During the actual dirt-moving process of lake construction or rehabilitation, it is necessary to insure that sides are properly sloped, adequate depth is provided, and clay is properly placed to prevent undue seepage. On several occasions, I’ve been requested to assist with formulating management plans for lakes that were poorly located or improperly designed and built. I can tell you from this personal experience that it is a difficult and expensive task to develop a great sport-fishery when you are continually battling low water, aquatic weed growth, and poor water quality. Problems, such as these, are often created when folks try to “force” lakes into unfit locations or “get by” with substandard construction. On the other hand, when attention has been paid to important, preliminary details, lake management can be every bit as uncomplicated as “growing your vegetable garden out behind the house”.

Once the lake is finished and filled, then establishing viable populations can begin in earnest. Early on, it might be necessary to eradicate strains of wild fish to reduce competition. After this is accomplished, stocking desirable game and forage fish which you select can proceed. Generally speaking, a 10 to 1 ratio of bluegill to bass is recommended for new impoundments. Fish suitable for stocking are often available free from state game and fish agencies if certain criteria have been met when preparing the water body. However, there are also several good companies that specialize in providing bass and bluegill for a fee. In addition, these firms will often be able to provide and deliver other game and forage fish species (i.e., red-eared sunfish, hybrid bass, white amur, thread-fin shad) which might compliment your personal management goals.

After the fish are stocked and established, other important aspects of maintaining a healthy, well-balanced ecosystem should be tended and adjusted from time to time in order to preserve the populations. A good fertilization schedule that encourages phytoplankton ( those little microscopic plants that impart good color to the water and are the basis of the food chain ), is of utmost importance. Periodically, it is also advisable to monitor the fish populations, water quality, dissolved oxygen, and aquatic weed growth. Occasionally, maintenance will be needed to insure a continuing, self-sustaining resource for years to come.

Sound complicated and time consuming? Well, take heart ! It really ain’t that bad and it ain’t rocket science. Apply logic, consistency, and dedication to your management plan and your aquatic resource will develop and flourish under your watchful eye. And if you hit a snag, don’t worry! There’s a lot of help available out there from both the governmental and private sector. As usual, a good place to start with your questions is your local, extension agent.

Nothing is more rewarding than watching a new fishery develop under your own supervision and care. Certainly, some early planning and attention to detail can make the management process run a lot smoother later on. Just like that garden in your back yard . . . . you need to till, water, plant, and fertilize (not necessarily in that order) and then, . . . . . reap what you sow. In other words, get ready for some great fishing!

This article was published in the June 2001 issue of Bill Dance’s Fishing and reprinted with permission