What is the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking about lakes? More than likely, it is fish! These aquatic creatures are usually the first thing that comes to mind when around a lake or pond, so it is natural to think of how to create and sustain a fishery when living on a waterway. A diverse fish population not only indicates the overall health of a lake but provides many other benefits as well. These benefits include assisting the natural processes of an aquatic ecosystem, improving water quality, control of pest species, and enhancing aesthetics.
There is a variety of fish that can be stocked in Florida waterways, some have specific purposes such as biological control species grass carp and mosquitofish, which can help control invasive aquatic vegetation or mosquitos, and sportfish such as largemouth bass provide excellent fishing and recreational opportunities.
A lake is a living ecosystem in which all components are interrelated. Establishing and maintaining a sustainable fish population is a major goal in a lake management program. With supervision and maintenance, a viable fisheries management program can be developed for any waterway which establishes a necessary key to maintaining overall lake stability and health. There are several steps that can be taken to improve and maintain conditions in an aquatic ecosystem, and some of these things include fish stocking, littoral shelf plantings, and the installation of aeration systems. The steps directly involved with creating a fishery for your pond are discussed below.
How Fish Populations Become Self-Sustaining
First, adequate habitat and cover are necessary for fish populations to become self-sustaining. Without protective cover, fish become susceptible to predators such as birds, otters, raccoons, and of course other fish. Appropriate habitat includes areas that fish need to forage and spawn their offspring such as plant beds, rock structures, and tree limbs or roots to name a few. Without these areas, stocked populations will dwindle in a relatively short period of time. It is generally recognized by biologists and fishery experts that a lake or pond should have no less than 30% coverage with submersed aquatic vegetation.
This is why it is important to hire a knowledgeable lake manager in Florida, as too little vegetation does not provide adequate cover nor oxygen creation to ensure a proper habitat for a healthy fishery. On the other hand, excessive levels of vegetation could also create problems for fish in a lake. Since plants provide important habitat and cover for fish, many vegetation-associated species such as bluegill can be present in such high densities that limited food resources can limit their growth and ultimately their size. Excessive plant densities can also reduce the prey-capture efficiency of predators such as largemouth bass, which can lead to reduced body condition and growth rates. The end result can be fewer quality-sized sportfish in the lake. Obviously, excessive plants also inhibit recreational opportunities such as fishing, swimming, and boating (where allowed) so careful planning must be implemented when managing vegetation in a pond.
Parameters such as dissolved oxygen and pH need to be monitored for an aquatic ecosystem to remain healthy. As the fish populations evolve and grow, oxygen demand on the lake will likewise grow. Failure to maintain good oxygen levels can result in fish kills and stress which makes fish more susceptible to disease. The water’s pH plays a role in the sustainability of fish populations as adequate pH ranges are important for maintaining productive fish populations in a lake. Oxygen demand can be mitigated with properly designed aeration systems which should most certainly be considered if a serious fishery is being created.
What is Fish Stocking
Fish Stocking usually entails fish being brought to the lake, acclimated to the water, then released. Fish for stocking should be sourced from a state-licensed fish farm, lake management company, or approved fishery to ensure appropriate species and healthy breeding stock are obtained. Like any animal being purchased, the healthy stock is key to eliminating problems, especially in the beginning. In Florida, there are some species that are commonly stocked. Some are seasonally available while others can be obtained year-round.
- Grass carp are a herbivorous (plant-eating) fish species commonly used as biological control agents for submersed aquatic vegetation. The triploid variant is genetically altered so as not to have reproductive capabilities. The stocking of triploid grass carp is often recommended for assistance in aquatic vegetation control, especially with Hydrilla (this species preferred diet). The addition of these work fish can supplement lake management programs by adding a biological control portion to integrated pest management strategies. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regulates the stocking of these fish by issuing permits for qualified waterway systems as they can cause unintended harm by eating beneficial plants when improperly stocked. If you are not sure if grass carp are the appropriate solution, please call our office and we can help by assessing the pond and can help obtain the required permit.
- The largemouth bass is the most popular freshwater gamefish in Florida. Reaching up to 20 pounds, this species is world-renowned for its “fight’ on the fishing line and large size making for an exceptional experience. Usually, olive green in color with brown mottling, the distinctive largemouth it is named after is apparent with the mouth open in pursuit of prey. Capable of eating, fish, insects, reptiles, and even birds, this fish excels as a predator in many conditions. The largemouth bass is found all over Florida and throughout the southern part of the United States.
- The bluegill, also known as bream, is one of the most common fish found in Florida’s waters. Reaching up to 10 inches in size, the bluegill has an oval-like appearance (also called pan-fish) and a blue spot just behind the gills, and a striped pattern that runs vertically beneath its dorsal fin. The bluegill is an important sportfish, enjoyed by many anglers (especially kids) for its fun capture and common availability. Another bream species, the redear sunfish, is not as commonly available but provides similar opportunities as its cousin the bluegill and adds to the diversity of the pond when stocked.
- Channel catfish help to balance a lake’s ecosystem by spending a majority of their time scavenging lake bottoms. Catfish are easily recognizable by their “whiskers” and elongated, scaleless bodies. Also known for its fun in angling and food value, catfish can reach weights over 25 pounds.
- Our diminutive native Gambusia, also know as mosquitofish, is a member of the minnow family and a very beneficial species to have in any waterway. The fact that mosquitofish eat their own body weight in mosquito and aquatic midge larvae every day paired with their prolific nature (they give birth to live young throughout the year) make them an excellent candidate for any pond. Gambusia also serves as forage fish for species such as bass or bream.
How to Properly Create a Pond Fishery
Creating a fishery in your pond is an exciting program that everyone can get involved in and as long as there are suitable habitat and water conditions you can expect your fish to thrive and provide enjoyment for many generations to come. If you have questions about your pond or lakes and are interested in creating a fishery please contact your local Lake & Wetland Management office for a free, no-obligation consultation.
Stocking Fish in Your Pond or Lake in Florida
If you are in need of stocking your lake or pond with the perfect combination of fish species with our local fish stocking services in Florida. Contact our fish stocking experts at 855-888-5253 to get a free quote from Lake & Wetland Management today.