We look forward to reunions, especially when they include meeting old friends at old ponds that hold fond memories. It’s one thing to relive special stories when you land fish at a favorite spot week after week. It’s an entirely different feeling to hang one at that same spot—45 years later.
I enjoyed such an experience last month. My first trip to the lake was in 1967. The boathouse and I still share similar features. Then, it projected a new, youthful appearance. A few weeks ago, I commented how the sun bleached, gray color now resembled my hair. I shook my head when remembering how spryly I previously stepped into the boat. This trip I sat on the dock and scooted in slowly.
The goal for our excursion was to give the grand ol’ pond a wellness check and restore her youth. This lake was missing TLC. The evaluation revealed:
- Clear water with eight-foot visibility. Abundant vegetation. Bass couldn’t feed efficiently. Fishing opportunities were reduced.
- Insufficient harvest allowed bass to overpopulate and deplete forage fish. Bass were one-half pound below normal relative weights.
- Original cover had deteriorated. Bass needed new habitat to ambush forage and loaf between feeding periods.
At first glance, I recalled Bob’s reference to a pond resembling a garden. It requires cultivation and harvest for success. If you don’t monitor undesirable weeds, they eventually choke beneficial plants. Fail to harvest the crop and it wilts on the vine.
The diagnosis was grim. Owners were contemplating draining or rotenoning the lake. Thanks to advancements in pond management science, we can avoid such extreme measures. The prognosis is positive. Our treatment plan will include:
- Fertilize to establish a plankton bloom. As mentioned above, a bloom just under the surface blocks sunlight from stimulating vegetation growth. Stock grass carp. Predominant plants are pondweed and coontail, both favored by carp.
- Stock 250 adult coppernose bluegill per surface acre. They’ll be large enough to avoid predation by existing mature bass and immediately spawn needed baitfish.
- Next spring; stock 15 pounds of tilapia per acre. Tilapia are prolific spawners and will provide valuable supplemental forage while bluegill rebuild their base.
- Install four fish feeders. Larger, healthier bluegill produce more eggs for more bass food. In a few years, lake owners also will be bragging about one to two pound bluegill.
- Aggressively harvest all existing bass. Those fish are stunted and cannot recover from years without proper nutrition. They must be removed so younger generations feed at will and restore populations to healthy weights.
- Reconstruct degenerated cover with carefully placed brush piles and/or artificial structures. Fish will thrive with renovated habitat. Anglers will have attractors to congregate fish and improve catch rates.
Don’t let a lake’s age discourage your confidence for future productivity. Anticipate that most waters experience transitions after 10 years. Adopt aggressive “health care plans” from day one. CONSCIENTIOUSLY MAINTAIN HABITAT. RELENTLESSLY SUSTAIN FOOD CHAINS. EVERY FEW YEARS, STOCK NEW FISH FOR GENETIC DIVERSITY. DEVOUTLY ENFORCE HARVET POLICIES.
Practicing these proven management principles will grow strong fish. What better workout could you and your fishing buddies have than battling boisterous bass to keep you young until your next reunion?
No matter how small, how large, or how “old” your waters, let’s discuss management goals so your pond maintains a vibrant, healthy future.