There are thousands of natural and artificial ponds in Florida ranging in size from less than 1/10 acre to over ten acres. Artificial ponds include dug and dammed water, limestone pits, and sand or gravel pits, commonly referred to as rental pits. Fishing pressure in public waters is increasing due to Florida's rapidly expanding population and growing interest in fishing as a recreational and food source. Competition for public fisheries resources combined with the high cost of transportation to fish has led to increased interest in fishing in private waters close to home. These private ponds therefore need to be managed more intensively to keep quality fish for the pond owner's personal recreation or as a source of income.
Ponds that consistently produce good catches require an adequate stock of fish of the right species and numbers, a balanced harvest of mature fish, good water quality, and proper management of aquatic vegetation. Many unmanaged ponds can produce more pounds of fish if good management practices are followed. The annual fishing harvest can provide hours of recreation, an excellent source of food, and even additional income.
what to save
Bass, bluegill (commonly called sunfish or bream), and channel catfish are the most commonly found species in Florida ponds. When managed professionally, these species can provide excellent fishing opportunities.
Largemouth Bass and Bluegill
Largemouth bass (Figure 1) is a predatory species and requires large numbers of small prey fish to maintain good growth. Many aquarium owners are reluctant to breed bluefish (Figure 2) in their aquariums due to their tendency to become overpopulated and stunted, but when stocked with bass and fished properly, this species provides excellent bass food and fish. Without bluegill or other suitable prey species, a quality bass fishery will not thrive.
Sea bass is one of the most popular game fish, but for good growth it needs a large number of prey items.
Channel Catfish (Figure 3) is a popular Florida food and sport fish. This species should be kept alone year-round in ponds less than half an acre or in muddy ponds. Catfish do well in larger ponds when stocked alone or with perch and sunfish. If catfish are kept alone, overpopulation can occur when spawning sites are available. Therefore, adding milk cans and sewer tiles to provide spawning spots is not recommended. In the presence of sea bass, small catfish survival is reduced due to predation. An additional population of catfish in the 8 to 10 inch size range is required to maintain their population in trout ponds.
Channel catfish are a popular food and game fish and can be stocked individually or with other species.
The red-eared sunfish (Figure 4), commonly referred to as a shellfish, can also be used as a prey species for largemouth bass and as a game fish for the angler. This species should not live alone or constitute more than 30% of the initial sunfish population (sunfish and red sunfish) as it will not produce enough juveniles to sustain the largemouth bass population. When seeded with Bluegill, these two species often produce hybrids that grow faster and reach a larger size than either parent.
White amur, commonly referred to as grass carp (Figure 5), can be stocked in a pond to control aquatic vegetation. Before this species can be introduced into a Florida lake, a permit must first be obtained from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Only triploid grass carp that are sterile may be used in Florida ponds.
what not to store
Many other species have been stocked in ponds, but none have been as successful as the combination of largemouth bass, sunfish and channel catfish. While other species do well in streams, lakes or reservoirs, they often cause problems in ponds or do not adapt well to the pond environment.
kind of fish
Black crappie (Figure 6) and white crappie, also known as spotted, speckled perch, or white perch, are some of the worst fish to tank. They compete with sea bass for food, eating small sea bass and tending to overcrowd and become stunted in a pond. They breed in spring before the perch. The young crappies quickly grow large to serve as prey for the young perch.
Black crappie or speckled perch compete with sea bass for food, eating small perch and tending to overpopulate and stunt in a pond.
Common carp and bullhead
Common carp and catfish (Figure 7) should be avoided as they will churn up the pond bottom and cloud the water during feeding. Bullheads also often overpopulate in a pond.
New or reclaimed ponds are usually stocked with small fish (1 to 4 inches) called fry. These little fish will produce populations that can be harvested in a year or two. It must be ensured that there are no wild fish in the tank or that newly settled small fish could be eaten.
Larger fish can be used to reduce the time before a pond can be fished. These are more expensive to store but can reduce the time it takes for the fish to be collected from the tank.
how many to save
It is important that the correct number of each species of fish is stocked. Inadequate stocking rates can prevent a tank from producing quality fish. In Florida, 100 largemouth bass and 500 bluegill fry are typically stocked per acre. Catfish can be stocked in Catfish Ponds at a rate of 100 per acre along with Snook and Bluegill or alone. When feeding catfish, higher catfish population rates can be used. When larger fish are used, fewer fish are needed. Population rates of fifty 8" to 12" sea bass, two hundred 4" to 5" bluegill, and fifty to one hundred 8" to 12" catfish should be used.
When and how to store
To prevent wild fish from settling and competing with stock fish, a tank should be filled as soon as possible after filling or retrieval. Bluegill and catfish are usually stocked in the fall and perch the following spring. Storing bluegill in the fall allows them to spawn and provide a forage base for the small perch. Catfish are stored in the fall to allow them to grow large enough for sea bass to be unable to eat. Sea bass are stored in the spring because they are very cannibalistic and if left in large numbers in hatcheries during the summer they will eat each other, reducing the number of juveniles that would be available for storage. Contact your Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regional office or County Extension Service Office for a list of local fish suppliers.
Occupying a pond in midsummer should be avoided. High water temperatures and low levels of dissolved oxygen can weaken the transported fish. Sudden changes in temperature can cause fish to go into shock and die. When storing fish, the temperatures of transport water and aquarium water should be equalized by slowly adding aquarium water into the transport container. The fish can then be added to the tank when the water temperature in the tank is approximately the same as that of the tank.
Fishing in the pond
When managing a fishing lake, a distinction must be made between fishing and harvesting. Fishing is simply trying to catch or catch fish while harvesting is taking fish from a lake. In general, it is not necessary to limit the catch in a pond, but fishing should be closely monitored. Occasionally a fish returned to the tank may die from hook injuries or mishandling. These fish must be considered part of the harvest. When handled properly, few fish die when caught and released.
Overfishing of largemouth bass probably ruins fisheries in more Florida ponds than any other cause. Fishermen can easily overfish the bass population during the first fishing season. This allows bream (Bluegill and Redear Sunfish) to overpopulate the pond. The chance of perch over-catching can be reduced if the lake owner restricts perch catching by anglers. However, it is not recommended to build a tank out of everyone's reach, as insufficient harvesting can also cause problems.
The most sensible way to avoid over-harvesting largemouth bass is to limit the length of largemouth bass to 15 inches for a period of two to three years after storage. If during this time all bass under 15 inches in length are released, the tank should begin producing commercial size fish of all species. During this time, originally introduced fish must support the weight of the catch, so care must be taken not to overfish these fish.
Two to three years after storage, the desired fish size must be determined. The perch will have spawned two to three times during this time producing large numbers of small, young perch. When not harvested, these young perch grow slowly due to competition with one another, resulting in a population of perch made up mostly of fish less than 12 inches long. These basses feed heavily on sunfish and control their numbers. There will be fewer sunfish available to harvest, but they will be larger (7 to 8 inches). Therefore, the catch consists of small perch and large sunfish.
If the pond owner is interested in catching bass over 15 inches in length and sunfish of various sizes, the 12 to 15 inch bass should be released after the first two to three years of storage. Groupers of this size grow quickly, produce many young and feed heavily on medium-sized sunfish. About twenty-five 8- to 12-inch bass should be harvested per acre per year, along with any bass larger than 15 inches. Total bass harvest should not exceed 20 to 25 pounds per acre per year. A good rule of thumb is to harvest 4-6 pounds of sunfish for every pound of sea bass harvested.
Catfish can be caught in any way desired by the pond owner. A good catfish catch record should be maintained so that the catfish population can be maintained at a predetermined level with additional stocking of 8- to 12-inch fry if necessary. Catfish fry of this size must be stored to prevent sea bass from eating them.
Inventory valuation and correction
If fish have not been harvested properly, adjustment of fish stocks may be necessary. If you catch mostly 3- to 5-inch bluegills and little or no bass, then you have overfishing, high natural mortality or low survival of young bass. This problem can be solved by storing fifty 8" to 12" basses per acre. Basses less than 15 inches in length should be released when detected until small basses abound. Then one of the harvesting strategies mentioned above can be followed.
If only small sea bass and no sunfish are caught, the sea bass catch was insufficient or no sunfish are present. In this situation, 200 4- to 5-inch bluegills should be stocked per acre. About twenty 8- to 12-inch bass should be harvested per acre per year over the next two years. After this period, you must decide which of the management strategies outlined above you wish to pursue.
Elimination of unwanted fish
Ponds containing large numbers of raw fish such as gar, bowfin (mudfish), catfish, carp, sucker or tarpon are best managed by completely removing all fish from such ponds and then restocking with desired species. This process is called pond renewal.
The least expensive way to remove unwanted fish from a tank is to drain the tank and allow the bottom to dry out. Unwanted fish usually leave the tank through the riser. Those who remain will die when the water in the lake evaporates. This effectively removes all fish from the tank and allows the bottom sediment to rust. Many reservoirs on the Florida Strip can be drained. If a pond cannot be drained, as is the case with many Florida dug ponds, the water remaining in the pond can be treated with chemicals to kill the fish. Rotenone is the most commonly used chemical. When used at recommended doses, rotenone is not harmful to cattle or other warm-blooded animals, even if they drink tank water immediately after treatment. During the fall when the water temperature is above 70 F is the best time to refresh a pond to ensure it is completely killed before refilling.
feed your fish
The fish can be artificially fed occasionally to attract them to selected areas so anglers can more easily catch them, or fed more intensively to encourage rapid growth and higher yields (lbs per acre). Species such as channel catfish and bluegill respond well to artificial food. Commercially manufactured, pelleted catfish food is an excellent choice (see Florida Cooperative Extension Service FA1 fact sheet, “Catfish Feeds and Feeds” for more information). Floating pellets are preferred over sinking feed because species like Bluegill make better use of the floating form and the tank owner can tell if all the feed is being eaten. In addition, the aquarium owner can determine if the fish are losing food, which could be an indication that the fish are sick or the water quality is poor.
If a pond has a lot of fish, an intensive feeding program can be set up. Begin feeding at a rate of two pounds per acre of area per day. Feed at different spots around the pond. Feeding should be done daily, at the same time and in the same places. Feeding rates can be increased as the fish learn to consume the pellets, but do not exceed ten pounds of food per acre per day and do not feed the fish more than they can eat in 10 to 15 minutes. Also, do not feed them if the water temperature is below 60°F or above 95°F. Fish are not actively feeding at these times. Overfeeding can increase the likelihood of fish dying from a lack of oxygen and can be costly.
Feeding small amounts of food or feeding occasionally will likely have limited benefits in increasing fish and plant growth. Feeding the fish can be an enjoyable experience, however, and should help attract the fish to the established feeding grounds so they can be more easily caught. Feeding can indirectly increase a pond's natural productivity by introducing small amounts of nutrients into the pond each time the fish are fed.
Fish diseases, parasites and deaths
Fish are just as susceptible to disease and parasites as any other animal (see Florida Cooperative Extension Service Circular 716, “Introduction to Freshwater Fish Parasites”). Their diseases are caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses. Fish are most susceptible to disease outbreaks in spring, when water temperatures are rising and their resilience is lower after winter, and in summer, when water temperatures are high and water quality is generally poor. 715, “Water Quality Management for Fish”). Mortality is high in natural populations such as in sport fish ponds, is generally low, but can pose a significant problem when overcrowded, as in aquaculture ponds. The cost of treating the disease is often prohibitive in most privately owned recreational lakes. The best rule of thumb is to let these outbreaks take their natural course.
Most fish have parasites such as crustaceans, worms, leeches, protozoa, roundworms and tapeworms. In general, these have little effect on a fish's health. Little can be done to rid a pond of all parasites. Maintaining good water quality and preventing fish overpopulation is the best way to maintain a healthy fish population. When fish meat is properly cooked, the parasites in the meat pose no health risk to people who eat them.
Fish kills in sport fishing ponds are usually due to low oxygen concentrations. Several conditions can lead to oxygen starvation. Excess aquatic vegetation may or may occasionally die off, consuming large amounts of oxygen in decomposition. The best prevention is to keep aquatic vegetation to a minimum. Floating plants such as duckweed can quickly cover the surface of a pond, preventing photosynthesis and the free exchange of oxygen from the atmosphere to the water. Microscopic plants called phytoplankton produce much of the oxygen in ponds. On cloudy, windless days, animals and plants in a pond can use oxygen faster than the plants can produce it, resulting in oxygen starvation in the evening or early morning. Large mortality can often be avoided by pumping fresh aerated water into the pond or by aerating the pond water. FloridAquatic Lake Management can install a fountain or aeration system to improve and prevent oxygen levels in the pond.
Effluent from animal feeds must not enter a pond in excessive quantities. Nutrients in the drain encourage the growth of rooted aquatic plants and dense algal blooms. In addition, decomposing organic matter consumes large amounts of oxygen. Fish kills can also occur in ponds where high density of fish accumulate in small, shallow areas due to low water levels. Accidental introduction of pesticides into tanks must be avoided. Many agricultural herbicides and insecticides are toxic to fish. It's important to know that the chemicals FloridAquatic uses are labeled as aquatic and non-toxic to fish when used in the amounts recommended on the label.
Cloudy water is undesirable not only from an aesthetic point of view, but also from a fisheries management perspective. Muddy or murky water reduces a pond's ability to produce food for fish (microscopic animals and plants) and the ability of sight feeders such as largemouth bass, crappie and smallmouth bass (cross-striped bass). with white bass hybrids) to catch their prey effectively. This can result in reduced growth rates for these predatory species and overpopulation of prey species such as bluegill and bluegill.
The water in newly created ponds is often cloudy. This should become clearer as the banks of the pond fill up with vegetation. Several factors can cause ponds to remain muddy after construction. These include the erosion of soils in watersheds or lake shores by wave action, the presence of finely suspended clay, crustaceans, or some fish and livestock activity wading along the shoreline.
The cause of cloudy water must first be identified and then addressed. This allows the pond to clean itself over time. Planting windbreaks and deepening the shallow coastal areas of the lagoon will reduce turbidity due to erosion. Cattle can be isolated from a pond and fed to an alternative source of fresh water. Crayfish are not usually a problem in ponds with established perch populations, as perch predation on crayfish usually results in reduced numbers of crayfish. Annoying fish such as carp or catfish can be removed. Shallow ponds with lots of catfish are often muddy. This type of pond is best left alone. Any attempt to clean this type of pond usually fails as the catfish are constantly churning up the pond bottom.
Aquatic plants fulfill many functions in ponds. They produce oxygen used by the fish and remove excess nutrients. They provide shelter for small fish, spawning habitat for adult fish, and substrate for small aquatic animals eaten by fish (Figure 8). Aquatic plants reduce wind erosion on coasts by dampening wave action. However, sometimes plants can become too lush and interfere with a pond's recreational uses, including activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming. Overplanting can also affect the ability of predators like largemouth bass to capture prey species like bluegill. Under these conditions, the growth of both species is reduced. In addition, decaying plants consume large amounts of oxygen, which can lead to the death of the fish.
aquatic vegetationCredit:IFAS Communication Services, Stacey Jones
When ponds are designed with minimal amounts of shallow water and are relatively fertile, aquatic vegetation is generally not a serious problem. When aquatic vegetation becomes too lush, three control methods are available. These include mechanical, chemical and biological techniques.
Mechanical control can be as simple as cutting vegetation such as willow or cattails from a pond dam, or sweeping up submerged plants from a favorite fishing spot. Large mechanical harvesters such as those used by Truxor FloridAquatic are also available. We charge by the hour for small lakes or by the day for large lakes.
Chemical control can be an effective means of controlling nuisance aquatic vegetation in a pond. Before using chemical control agents, the aquatic plant to be treated must be properly identified in order to select the most effective and cost-effective herbicide (see Florida Cooperative Extension Service Publication SS-AGR-44, “Efficacy of Herbicide Active Ingredients Against Aquatic Weeds”). Assistance in identifying aquatic plants is available from the Florida Cooperative Extension Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Certain areas within a pond can be kept clear of aquatic vegetation, or the entire pond can be cleaned. If a pond owner wishes to remove all vegetation from a pond, only a portion of the vegetation should be treated to minimize the chance of killing a fish when the dying vegetation decays. After the treated vegetation has rotted, additional vegetation may be treated.
Biological control of aquatic vegetation can be carried out with herbivorous fish such as the white amur, commonly referred to as "grass carp". Grass carp are almost completely vegetarian once they reach about ten inches in length. It prefers to eat low-fiber algae, but will eat reeds, reeds and emerging sedges. In the absence of aquatic vegetation, grass carp feed on terrestrial plants that rise or fall into the water. A free license is required to own grass carp in Florida. Permission must be obtained from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Only sterile triploid fish may be kept in Florida waters. Recommended population rates range from 5 to 25 fish per hectare of water. These rates vary depending on the type and amount of vegetation present. In ponds with existing perch populations, only grass carp 20 cm or larger should be kept to minimize perch predation. Grass carp can live for over ten years, making their use an economical means of controlling nuisance aquatic plants. For more information, see Florida Experimental Stations Bulletin 867, "Grass Carp, A Fish for Biological Management of Hydrilla and Other Aquatic Weeds in Florida."
Many ponds in Florida are built on acidic soil. This can cause the water to become acidic, reducing the efficient use of nutrients and therefore a pond's overall productivity. Fish are often stressed in low pH (acidic) water, causing them to grow slowly. A pH of 7.0 is neutral, while a pH of 6.0 to 8.0 is considered desirable for maximum fish production.
An acidic water situation (low pH) can easily be overcome by liming. Ponds, like agricultural fields, can be patched to increase soil pH. One tonne of limestone will raise the pH of a one hectare pond by about one pH unit.
Only finely ground agricultural limestone should be used. Lime can be applied to the surface of a pond from a boat or in shallow areas around the perimeter of the pond. It can take four to eight weeks for the pond water to react to the limescale. The frequency of scaling varies from pond to pond, depending on local soil acidity and water movement in and out of the pond. FloridAquatic Lake Management can test your water and make recommendations.
Liming also increases the total alkalinity and hardness of the water, which helps minimize pH fluctuations and fish growth.
Fertilization, the artificial addition of nutrients to a pond, is not a recommended or necessary management practice for most of central and southern Florida. Most soils in these areas are naturally rich in phosphate and any ponds established in these soils are naturally nutrient rich and highly productive.
Fertilization can be an effective means of controlling underwater vegetation. If started early enough in the year, adding nutrients to a pond will encourage microscopic plant growth (Figure 9). Their dense populations shade rooted plants and prevent them from growing. In ponds with high nutrient loads there is a greater risk of a fish being killed. Even if fertilization is interrupted, the rooted plants can regrow in even greater abundance than before fertilization.
Adding fertilizer to a pond increases its productivity.
A fertilization program can also significantly increase the productivity of a nursery. Fertilized ponds generally support two to three times the permanent harvest (pounds per acre) of fish than unfertilized ponds. Such a program is not warranted unless a lake is under severe fishing pressure. Contact your county extension office or the regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for more information about pond fertilization specific to your location (see Florida Cooperative Extension Service FA17, “Fertilizing Freshwater Fish Ponds”).
Income from your pond
The number of anglers in Florida is increasing rapidly due to the growing interest in fishing and the rapid growth of Florida's population. Fishing pressure is increasing in our public waters and many anglers are looking for alternative fishing spots. As transport costs increase, many anglers are looking for fishing opportunities closer to home. Paid fishing, paying for the right to fish and/or paying for fish caught, is becoming increasingly popular among fishermen.
There are three basic types of cargo fishing: long-term lease, day lease, and pay-per-pound operations (see UF/IFAS Extension Circular 809, "Florida Cargo Fishing"). Fishing rights in a private lake or pond may be leased long-term to an individual or group of people, as is the case with hunting or grazing leases. Pond care is basically the tenant's responsibility. A daily fisherman's use fee applies to rentals by the day. The management of the pond is the responsibility of the operator, who occasionally fills the pond with large fish such as e.g. B. channel catfish can occupy. Normally, however, only fish produced within the lagoon through natural reproduction are made available to the fishermen. Generally largemouth bass and bluegill ponds are used in daily charter operations. "Put and catch" or "pay by the pound" fishing involves putting fish into a pond and then charging the fisherman for each fish caught. Consequently, fish stocks in this type of operation must be maintained at artificially high levels by regular stocks of catch-size fish, typically channel catfish.
Florida fee-based fisheries are growing rapidly in number, but vary widely in their success. Little is known about why this variation occurs and what attracts fishermen to these facilities.