I screamed as the 8-inch bluegill pulled line from my Zebco 33 reel. The fight was on. I looked over to see if my dad was watching my magnificent catch, but he was grabbing a 4-pound largemouth bass by the lower lip. That day of fishing at the pond when I was just 7 years old is the first fishing trip I remember. I’m sure it helped turn me into an outdoor fanatic.
No doubt, many Missouri anglers started out pond fishing. Missouri ranks at the top nationally in the number of small impoundments on private lands.
The more than 300,000 privately owned ponds and lakes in Missouri offer impressive fishing potential. A quick peek at our state records shows that seven record fish came from farm ponds, including the state record white crappie, bluegill and black crappie.
Quality pond fishing starts with introducing fish to the pond. Stocking is used when a new pond fishery is being created, to supplement ponds that have poor fish production, or to restore fish populations in ponds that have fallen victim to fish kills.
Years of research with fish stockings have demonstrated that largemouth bass and bluegill are the two species best suited for stocking in most ponds. Channel catfish are often stocked along with bass and bluegill to provide additional fishing and harvest opportunities.
Hard-fighting largemouth bass will be the top predators in your pond. Bass are voracious eaters that feed on small fish, frogs, crawfish and insects. In Missouri, largemouth bass live for six to 10 years unless they are harvested.
Bluegills provide food for largemouth bass as well as great sport and excellent table fare for anglers. Bluegills eat everything from microscopic plants and animals to insects, snails, crayfish and small fish. They can reach 6 inches long and start reproducing after just one year. Once introduced into a pond, they usually sustain their numbers through natural reproduction. Bluegills in Missouri may live five to 10 years.
Channel catfish are primarily bottom feeders, eating insects, crayfish and fish. They canbe trained to feed on commercial food pellets. Populations of channel catfish rarely increase in ponds as the bass eat all the young ones. A supplemental stocking of channel catfish longer than 8 inches every two to three years is needed to sustain a fishery.
The number of bluegill, bass and channel catfish that a pond can support depends on the amount of available living space and resources, referred to as carrying capacity. Condition of habitat, the amount of available food and space, and even the soil type in the watershed affect a pond’s carrying capacity. The typical stocking combination for most farm ponds in fertile soil is 100 bass, 500 bluegill and 100 catfish per surface acre of water. Most of the time, stocking more fish than recommended is detrimental to the fishery.
Stocking rates are for 1- to 2-inch bluegill and 2- to 4-inch catfish in September. The following June, 1- to 2-inch bass are stocked. Stocking fingerlings is not only more economical (smaller fish are cheaper to produce than larger ones), but it ensures uniform growth and produces better sport fishing in less time than stocking a smaller number of adult fish.
The Missouri Department of Conservation provides fish for stocking private ponds that meet certain guidelines. A landowner who wants fish must fill out a pond stocking application and agree to have the pond inspected by the Department. (See “Want Fish?” on page 16 for more information.)
“What about crappie?” many pond owners ask after I advise them to stock the usual combination of bass-bluegill-channel catfish.
It’s true that the state records for both Missouri crappie species came from private ponds. However, not all ponds produce quality crappie fisheries.
Successful crappie ponds typically have somewhat clear water and a lot of aquatic vegetation.
More important, pond owners must manage the pond intensively. You can’t just stock the pond and walk away. Landowners have to be willing to manage the pond for numbers of largemouth bass and make sure that the pond is fished often enough to remove adult crappie.
Crappie can be managed successfully in a pond, but owners must know beforehand that there is a risk that the crappie will spawn hordes of young and have very slow growth rates.
If, despite the risk, you decide to stock crappie in your pond, consider putting in black crappie, which don’t compete with bass for food as much as white crappie.
Many landowners who want to clear their ponds of weeds stock white amur or “grass carp.” These large Asian minnows can eat two to three times their weight in vegetation per day. When stocked at conservative rates, grass carp can offer pesticide- free vegetation control.
Grass carp, however, do not control filamentous algae, cattails or water lilies. Although they don’t reproduce in ponds, they are hard to remove and may live for up to 30 years.
Over-stocking grass carp results in a plantfree and muddy looking pond as the carp stir up bottom sediments searching for scarce plant life. A weed-free pond might sound nice when casting from shore, but aquatic plants are necessary to start the food chain, contribute dissolved oxygen to the water, provide cover for juvenile as well as adult fish, and protect shorelines from erosion.
Contact your local fisheries biologist for specific stocking information for your pond before trying this weed-control method.
Another popular pond fish is the redear sunfish or “shell cracker.” These cousins of bluegills produce fewer offspring than bluegills and rarely provide enough food for largemouth bass by themselves. Rather than letting them replace bluegills, they are best added to a pond along with bluegills.
Redear sunfish are sometimes stocked to help reduce numbers of snails, which are part of the life cycle of the white grub parasite anglers sometimes see in the fins and meat of fish. Redear can grow larger than bluegill, reaching 2 pounds or more, and taste just as good as any other fish in the skillet.
What is the best way to manage your pond? Fish it! Fish it with your family, fish it with your friends, and above all, introduce a youngster to the virtues of fishing.
Most of the time, the status of the pond’s fishery can be determined by fishing success. With proper management, a correctly stocked pond generally results in a balanced fish population that provides good fishing for years to come.
It was a good 30 years ago when my father took me to that half-acre pond, but the memories are still vivid, and I’ll bet the fishing there is still great.
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