From where I perch, I see pond trend lines pointing to increasing interest in growing fish.
Like a lot of pond activities over the past year, it's got a lot to do with folks going rural due to the pandemic. That means growing interest in growing food for your own table and perhaps for the market, maybe direct sales, farmers markets, wholesale to stores, etc. Perhaps the product is truck crops, or maybe eggs, meat, maple syrup, honey, and more. As more people go country, they'll be looking to be creative and productive and maybe make a buck along the way, perhaps teach their kids some practical skills that look like a better bet for the future than making potato batteries in school.
For pond owners, growing fish looks like a natural. Having a pond is like having an instant barn, and all you need to do is inhabit it with stock, decide on a growing method, and call yourself a farmer... a fish farmer.
As Matt Danaher told me the other evening after a 12-hour road trip delivering fish up and down the springtime Vermont hills, "The trend is a lot of people looking to stock ponds so they can have a source of protein in the backyard."
Danaher and family run Danaher Fisheries in Shrewsbury, Vermont, one of the biggest farms in Vermont. He grows three species of trout (the only species allowed for pond stocking in Vermont): Rainbows, Brookies, and Browns. Each has its pros and cons regarding pond suitability and can be purchased 6"-8" to harvest end of the season, or kept for more growth. Rainbows are probably most popular because they handle stress well and look colorful.
Let's say you've got a pond and you're considering it for raising fish. How do you judge its suitability?
Here in Vermont, the fish are going to be trout, so best practice will tend toward cooler deeper waters than you might use for more temperate ponds with fish like bass, bluegills, carp, etc.
Louis Warlick operates Peak Pond Farm in East Randolph, Vermont. A long-time trout grower, Warlick suggests ponds should be at 6 to 8 feet deep minimum, with maximum temperatures 4 feet down at most 60 degrees. That's ballpark, and suitable conditions will vary depending on weather, saturated oxygen content, trout species, and amount/size of fish stocked, feed used if any, etc. To help monitor fish health, get a pond thermometer and check temperatures, especially during hot spells. Another way to improve water quality is to install diffusion aeration, which boosts healthful oxygen levels and circulates otherwise stagnant water.
Every pond is unique, and results will vary with weather conditions, water quality, and predator problems.
For maximum control, some growers drop fish cages in the pond, where they raise the trout. Species can then be segregated by species and size, and fed accordingly, protected from predators, and easily harvested.
Another way to harvest is to use a net, throw in some fish feed, and pull them in.
Large harvests from cages or nets are convenient for market fish, or dressing
big batches for your freezer or smoker. When all you need is a pan full for the family supper, you may like to use a rod and reel.
Most trout growers depend on hatcheries for their stock (unlike bass/bluegill/carp, etc which are pretty good at reproducing on their own). Sometimes I like to visit a hatchery and bring home my fish in oxygenated bags. It's a good occasion for a chat with the grower, a scenic drive over the mountains, and perhaps transport savings. But growers like Danaher crisscross the state throughout spring stocking season, so it's likely you'll be on one of their routes, and can arrange for delivery.
If you're new to fish culture, I suggest doing some basic reading and/or internet research, and give your supplier a call for suggestions regarding the best species, fish size, and amount, for your purposes and your pond.
The safest route for neophytes is to start with a small number of fingerlings (3"-5") and build up from there. "So, if you have problems you can adjust," Warlick says. "Start small, fingerlings, you get the most for your money." (If they survive, small fish are not as savvy at eluding predators as their bigger kin.)
Your pond should offer the fish some shade, perhaps under a pier or a swim float.
Another feature that offers shade and predator protection is a submerged rock pile or heap of sunken brush.
In addition to the pleasure of watching your trout jump and splash as they leap for flies, you can take satisfaction in knowing that the trout are benefitting your pond's ecology: they eat mosquito eggs and help control the leech population.
Fish culture is nothing new, it's been a staple of food production for thousands of years. With increased prices for beef and poultry due to higher feed costs and reduced processing outfits, aquaculture looks primed for new growth.
Danaher reports that government agencies like NOAA are encouraging aquaculture. "They are consulting us," he says. "They want to know what they can do to encourage land-based aquaculture." In response to that and the new crop of back-to-the-landers, he is expanding production.
Gone fishin' looks like the wave of the future.
Links to Trout Suppliers
1548 Eastham Road
Shrewsbury, VT 05738
Peak Pond Farm
RR 1 Box 563
East Randolph, VT 05061
Hy-On-A Hill Trout Farm
31 Reed's Mill Road
PO Box 308
Plainfield, NH 03781
Licensed to sell in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Click here for an excellent discussion of our troubled beef and ranching industry, and
some regenerative alternatives. It occurs to me as I listen that this is a strong argument for commercial and backyard fish culture if done sustainably, although it is not mentioned. It is an alert to beware rising beef prices.
Topics vary from month to month and provide great information when researching where you want to build a pond, or how to keep it clean. Other areas of interest are pond use for more than swimming, and how to keep fish happy in your pond.