PONDS FOR WONDERFUL THINGS: FISH
Right up there among the top reasons for owning a pond is raising fish. Some people simply like to stock a few fish so they can see them swimming and jumping for flies: aquatic entertainment. Then there's fishing, which can be for food, teaching outdoor skills to kids and a great way to spend time with children, fly fishing practice, and angling to outsmart some heavyweights you raised, usually bass. And for preppers, there's the opportunity to keep a pond full of emergency food. Fish generally make a pond feel complete. And fall can be a good time for stocking.
Most times to put in the fish, you need stock from a hatchery. Although some folks bring home fish from nearby rivers, lakes and ponds (and pet stores), that may be illegal, depending on your state and the fish species. And you might wind up with a species that causes havoc in the pond, which might happen with goldfish and bullhead catfish and other potentially nuisance species. I suggest checking with your state fish and game department and/or local hatchery for suggestions about the best species for your particular pond.
Spring and fall are the most popular times for stocking because of cool water temperatures, which are less likely to stress the fish than warm summer water which can be fatally low in oxygen, and just plain too hot for comfort. Spring is the most popular time for stocking, but fall is a good time too.
Fall is a slack time at many ponds, following the summer swim season and before skating, when a lot of owners ignore their ponds. Too bad, because fall fish stocking can keep pond action alive.
One of the things I like about fall stocking is the chance it gives me to choose a hatchery in a scenic region, and take a fish pickup drive through the fall colors. A good place for me to buy trout is Peak Pond Farm in Randolph, Vermont, where Louis Warlick has raised rainbows, brookies, and browns for three decades. Another fine hatchery in this region is Hy-on-a-Hill Hatchery in Plainfield, N.H.
Here are a few more practical reasons to consider fall stocking. (Because Vermont fish and game laws limit species choice to several varieties of trout, I'll confine my comments to trout, which I'm most familiar with. For other species in other states and provinces, check with your local hatcheries and game departments.)
As the climate warms up, so do ponds. It may be that young fish stocked in spring will encounter unfavorably warm temperatures sooner than they used to. The stress of a new habitat and summer low oxygen may be tougher on small fish than if they were stocked in fall. Stocking in the fall can give small fry a chance to acclimate to a new environment and gain some size so they will be rarin' to grow the following summer.
It wasn't long ago that brook trout were the a favorite species to stock in the north. Brookies do better in colder water than rainbows and browns, and so they were often stocked in the fall to take advantage of the cold water. For pond owners with water that stays cool, brookies are often still favored for stocking. So the tradition of fall stocking still makes sense. Since every pond varies in size and water climate, I recommend discussing your stocking potential with a local private hatchery.
There's nothing wrong with spring stocking, of course, but due to the warming temperatures it may be wise to spring stock only rainbows and browns.
As the pond ices over in winter, fish can face some challenges. Oxygen levels can drop, due to reduced photosynthesis of plants and plankton. Some pond owners use aeration to boost oxygen levels, and/or keep part of the pond plowed or shoveled to allow sunlight through the ice. These measures may only be needed for ponds heavily stocked. Winter feeding is generally cautioned against, since fish feed less in cold temperatures, and feed not consumed could rot and add to an unwanted nutrient load.
Fish predators can vary with the seasons. In warmer months your fish may be the target of birds, especially herons and kingfishers.
In winter, under the ice, otter and mink are fish adversaries. Short of raising fish in cages or covered pools, or adding some scare-away devices, accept fish predation as part of the game.
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.