A diverse and healthy fish population plays an essential role in creating and maintaining an environmentally balanced pond. When properly stocked and maintained, a pond offers countless hours of enjoyment, whether you enjoy fishing, boating, wildlife watching, or just enjoying the aesthetics of the waterbody. A well-managed pond also helps the ecology and environment of the surrounding area.
Whether you are stocking your pond to keep it in balance or to improve recreational activities, knowing the right fish to choose is critical to your success. A deep understanding of the maintenance and environmental factors that keep it healthy is essential to stock a pond correctly.
Knowing the right fish to stock your pond with and the ones to avoid will ultimately impact the enjoyment you get from a beautiful, healthy, sparkling pond. But before you begin choosing fish species and stocking your pond, it’s important to understand some specific environmental factors that can have a positive or negative impact on your pond’s habitat. Factors such as pond size, maintenance habits, and the aquatic environment can make a difference to the success of your fish stocking efforts.
Fish Habitat and Fish Cover
When thinking about fish cover and fish habitat, keep in mind that a habitat is more than a place for fish to live, it’s a community. All fish, no matter what species you’re stocking, need the right habitats. Most fish thrive in specific habitats, and their needs can change as they grow and mature. For instance, fry, fingerlings, and adults may thrive in different habitats. Make sure your pond has different habitat zones and enough hiding places (i.e. fish cover) for prey species to keep the pond food chain viable.
Check Your Current Fish Population
Before choosing fish to add to a pond, check the current fish population already in the pond. Fish can be accidentally introduced to a pond in a number of ways. Eggs or fry can hitchhike on waterfowl. Sometimes flooding can bring fish from nearby ponds, lakes, or waterways into your pond. You will also want to trap fish currently in your pond to see whether or not larger prey fish are already in the pond. Or if you need to remove any unwanted species. As part of a fisheries survey, some fisheries biologists use a sampling technique called electrofishing (known to some as electroshocking) to collect fish population data.
When to Stock a Pond
We recommend stocking ponds in spring or fall since the temperatures are milder and the oxygen levels are high. This keeps the stress factors at their lowest, and the fish will more quickly become acclimated to the pond and thrive.
The Different Types of Fish to Stock a Pond With
Once you’ve covered all the issues above, it’s time to consider what type of fish to stock your pond with. Below are several species that make good additions to ponds.
Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)
Florida’s most popular freshwater gamefish, the largemouth bass, can grow up to 20 pounds. It is also the official freshwater fish of Florida. The fish is usually olive green with brown mottling, and it gets its name from its hunting method of pursuing prey with its mouth open. And it will eat any prey that it can fit in its largemouth, including smaller fish, insects, frogs, reptiles, and even small mammals or birds. Found throughout Florida and the southern US, the largemouth bass is valued as a gamefish.
Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Also called bream, brim, sunny, or copper nose, the bluegill is one of the most populous freshwater fish in Florida. A member of the sunfish family, it can grow up to 10 inches long and is easily identifiable by its dark navy gill covers. It has an oval-like shape, a blue dot slightly behind the gills, and vertical stripes beneath the dorsal fin. The males are more colorful during the spawning season. This fish is often stocked as prey for largemouth bass and together with red-ear sunfish to add diversity to the pond. It is a crucial sport fish due to its availability. It lives in shallow waters and prefers water with plenty of aquatic plants. They feed mainly on mosquitoes and smaller fish.
Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
North America’s most numerous catfish species, the channel catfish can help balance a pond’s ecosystem by scavenging the pond’s bottom. It is a popular food and sport fish. When stocked with largemouth bass and bluegill, this species usually does well but can compete with largemouth bass for prey. Catfish are easy to identify due to the “whiskers” around their heads and long, scaleless bodies. They can reach up to 25 pounds.
What Fish Will Help “Clean Up” a Pond?
Some fish species have management benefits, such as consuming nuisance or invasive aquatic weeds. Others keep the mosquito and midge population under control by feasting on the larvae of these pesky insects. The right combination of pond weed-eating fish and mosquitofish will help keep the pond balanced and enjoyable.
Grass Carp (Ctenyopharyngodon Idella)
The herbivorous grass carp is often used to control submersed aquatic plants from overgrowing in a pond. Most people are surprised to find out that grass carp are members of the minnow family. They generally grow to about 15-20 pounds. The triploid grass carp are genetically altered to be sterile so they won’t crowd out native species. They are mainly used for vegetation control, especially for clearing out hydrilla. The stocking of these fish is regulated by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation committee (FWC) as they can eat beneficial plants if improperly stocked. The FWC issues permits for qualified waterway systems. Check with our Florida pond fish stocking service to find out if grass carp are a good solution for your pond. We can assess your pond and help you get the required permit.
Eastern Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)
Another member of the minnow family, the mosquitofish is named after its preferred meal. It can consume its own body weight in mosquito and aquatic midge larvae each day, making it a good species to have in a pond. And since they give birth to live young at all times of the year, they are plentiful prey fish for largemouth bass and bluegill.
Creating a Balance for Your Pond
To keep your pond balanced, its important to determine the correct prey-predator ratio which a professional fisheries biologist can assist with.
What Not to Stock in Your Pond
Just as important as knowing what to stock is knowing what not to stock in your pond. Getting the types of fish and prey-predator ratio right is key to maintaining the pond’s health.
Any aquarium, and non-native species should not be stocked. It is illegal to stock exotic species, or native species from hatcheries outside of Florida without the permission of the FWC.
Aquarium fish such as koi, goldfish, pacus, Oscars, topical fish of all species, and non-native fish should not be stocked in ponds. Not only are they likely to upset the balance of the pond, but there is also the possibility that they may make their way into rivers and lakes where they can decimate the native fish population.
When stocking a pond, choosing correctly paired sizes of prey and predator fish species will help ensure that your predators don’t instantly decimate the prey species. Vegetation can provide cover and habitat for prey fish but should be carefully managed. If the pond has too many plants, they can reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen that the fish need to breathe. You can also add minnows as feeder fish for your predators while giving your prey fish a chance to grow and multiply, thus setting up a healthy balance for the pond.
If you need lake and pond restoration in Florida or are looking for the right fish species to stock your pond and keep it balanced, contact Lake and Wetland Management today.