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Ponds Benefit From TLC Sound Management Can Aid Any Body of Water

July 13, 2008

By Michael Pearce, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.

Jul. 13–Ranging from desolate stock ponds to sculpted sand pits winding between seven-figure homes, Kansas’ 100,000-plus private waters offer some good fishing.

But they could be giving us much more.

“I doubt we get 25 percent of the potential out of our ponds,” said Leonard Jirak, a Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist. “They can be managed and improved like anything else.”

Though he manages some huge reservoirs, Jirak is best known for turning small public lakes into fisheries so good they draw anglers from surrounding states.

The same tactics work on ponds and pits.

Clean water

The first requirement for getting a pond or lake to its top potential is clean water.

“Turbidity is an absolute killer,” Jirak said. “Murky water can drop production two-thirds. It blocks sunlight from the food chain. That’s like trying to grow a garden under a big shade tree. It doesn’t work very well.”

Keeping livestock from walking into large areas of a pond or lake will go a long ways toward ensuring clarity.

Conservation grass buffer strips are good ways to filter silt before it reaches the water.

A healthy crop of aquatic vegetation around the shoreline does the same.

Establish your goals

Jirak said anglers need to decide if they’re after quality or quantity with the fish species in a pond, or a slight combination of both.

That’s especially true with largemouth bass.

Wanting a spot where you can catch two dozen 10-pound bass an evening isn’t realistic.

Most ponds don’t have the food base to support those bass.

“You’ve got to remember that bass have to consume about 10 pounds of fish to gain one pound,” Jirak said. “That means if you have a lot of small bass they’re probably not going to grow much.”

It also means you’ll probably have to cull quite a few of a certain-sized fish so others can grow.

To improve bass fishing, Jirak suggests catching and measuring 20 bass from the pond or lake.

Once you come up with an average, you’ll want to remove all you can below that length.

Jirak knows that’ll strike a nerve with catch-and-release anglers.

“People are too protective of bass and they shouldn’t be,” he said. “There’s probably more meat on (culled) bass than on an eight-inch crappie.”

Taking out small bass also removes fish that aren’t growing as fast as others in their yearly class.

Jirak said anglers interested mostly in action can let the bass population build to high densities of fish that’ll seldom exceed a pound or two.

A byproduct could be bluegill that get to grow huge since most of their kind are eaten by bass.

Baitfish

Jirak is a big fan of using bluegill for a pond’s main forage fish.

They have the ability to individually lay more eggs as bass and other predators thin their numbers. They’ll also produce spawns throughout the summer.

Jirak said you may be able to start a population of gizzard shad in some ponds. Most get hit heavily by game fish.

“Nothing will grow crappie better than an annual population of small shad,” he said. “But (the crappie) will get stunted if you don’t pound the heck out of them.”

He said fathead minnows can be great in a new pond, where they’ll reproduce and make plenty of tiny fry for game fish when they’re stocked.

“But fatheads are one-time only. After that you’re wasting your money. Stock them later and they’re usually all (eaten) before you get back to the house.”

He also said they’re not a wise investment since they often cost $6 per pound and it takes 10 pounds of bait to put one pound on a bass.

“Do the math,” Jirak said.

Supporting a huge catfish population, even in a small pond, can be much more economical.

Jirak is a fan of feeders tossing commercial fish food to channel cats. They’ll quickly start taking the food and free up other foods for other species.

They’ll also increase a pond’s fertility and help build bigger bluegill.

Channel catfish on food can grow big in a hurry.

“Normally for every two pounds of food you give them, you’re getting one pound of growth on channel cats,” Jirak said. “That’s a pretty good return.”

The need for vegetation

A healthy growth of aquatic vegetation provides a ready amount of foods for young fish, and helps keep plankton populations intact.

Jirak said a weed-free pond will never reach its potential.

He’s not a fan of grass carp that eat such vegetation.

“In my lake, I’d rather take a beating than stock grass carp,” he said. “You destroy the shoreline vegetation, then you’ve got to wait for those grass carp to die off in 15 to 20 years.”

Once those vegetations lines are gone, waves hit the shoreline and the water gets muddy.

Once that happens, pond management is back to square one.

“It can ruin a good lake,” Jirak said.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.

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