Our area has lots of farm ponds. Some of them are excellent in terms of all around recreation, particularly fishing for lunker bass and palm-sized bluegills. Some others rank as good, more fair, and a goodly percentage are definitely mediocre to poor.

We all love the excellent to goods, and many a reader either has a farm pond, plans to buy country land and build one, or hopes to purchase a little rural paradise that has a long standing pond. Whether that pond falls into the top categories or stays there won’t happen by chance. Instead, it’ll depend on various moves and maintenance made by the landowner.

Old ponds are my personal favorite. I love those with a little bay or two and a bit of swampy backwater instead of pure, near rectangular symmetry. I like to see a weed bed or two along its sides, a clump of cattails here and there, and deep water of at least 8 feet, hopefully more, that gradually shallows to dry land. Ponds like that are usually good for fishing, and nice places to swim, boat a little, catch bullfrogs, maybe trap a few muskrats, and do some duck hunting.

Everything seems to love a pond like that. But if you buy such a pond and fish it with poor success, other than a few midget panfish, then it’s important to do some seining in shallow areas, and check the ratio of young bass to bluegill. Some landowners fish bass hard because they’re “bragging” fish, and ignore the bluegills, so largemouth populations plummet, can’t control the panfish, and the result is thousands of stunted and always hungry little guys who harass bass nests and eat their eggs, leaving a few old mossbacks that can’t reproduce.

If this is the problem in that newly purchased pond, try seining as many bluegills as possible from shallow areas for use in flower beds or as woodland raccoon and opossum food, and purchase some bass at least six inches long so they won’t be eaten by the old timers. Then stop all bass fishing, or at least keeping of bass, and let the pond come back to normal. It’ll take a few years, but the end result should be good fishing for both species. And don’t worry about weeds, unless they cover a fair piece of the pond. Weeds are good in that they provide pastures for aquatic insects and snails which are eaten by bass and bluegills, and make good hiding places for fry of both species as well as ambush sites for larger relatives.

In small ponds particularly, where owners kept weeds totally absent, I’ve more than once seen a few large bass and a few large bluegills swimming around, but nothing more. The bass were all head, starving, ate bluegill fry as soon as they hatched since there was no place to hide, and bull bluegills did the same for bass fry. Not a good situation.

What about new ponds? Your first step should be to contact the county Soil and Water Conservation District people, have them check that new acreage for the right location, and offer advice on construction. Then let the Division of Wildlife make recommendations on stocking ratios of bass and bluegills, along with maybe a few redears and channel cats. Then after 3-4 years start fishing bluegills fairly hard, and return bass caught to grow and fight again, though it doesn’t hurt to remove just a few bass each year.

Don’t stock crappie or bullheads, which can overpopulate a pond, and don’t make the sides too steep against the shore. That’ll prevent most weeds, though again weeds are a good thing in moderation, and if you must make them steep, at least leave a few gradually shallowing spots for spawning. If weeds are simply out of the question, then sink some clusters of Christmas trees wired together with a cinderblock or make some brushpiles to give little fish cover. DON’T add white amur (grass carp) to a pond unless weeds are a definitely problem. I’ve heard of people stocking white amur in a brand new pond with no weeds whatever, and that’s silly. The fish simply starve.

It’s a simple formula, really. Get expert help, keep the pond in balance, and make changes as necessary. You too, can have good fishing, duck hunting, frogging, and more with just a little thought and effort.

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