With dramatic land use changes over the course of the last three decades, more and more landowners are dedicated to becoming better stewards of the land, especially when it comes to recreational purposes.
By Bob Lusk
I must admit. Looking at the pond management industry in 1980 was like looking at unfamiliar mountain paths in the dark. Exciting, treacherous, passionate…not knowing whether the next step was into a lush meadow teeming with life or the edge of a steep precipice where we might plunge headfirst into some unseen rocky canyon.
Back then, pond management in Texas consisted of nothing more than digging a hole, doing a rain dance and watching it fill. Then, as an afterthought, maybe a landowner could stock a few channel catfish and some bream…maybe a few bass, too, if the pond was large enough.
Fast forward three decades.
It’s not like that at all. Nowadays, ponds are built with different purposes in mind. In the 80’s and well into the 90’s “pond management” consisted of managing a few fish, maybe feeding them a little catfish chow, fertilizing the pond to create a plankton bloom or killing underwater vegetation with a generic unapproved herbicide which could be bought over every farm store counter.
There were several of us…professional pond managers…around the country, but none of us truly knew what the others were doing. We were just trying to scratch out a living doing what we were driven to do…help people be better stewards of their land and water. I’ll always remember comparing notes with the likes of Johnny Foster, from North Carolina, Mike Mitchell from Colorado, Malcolm Johnson and Mac McCune, from my home state of Texas. We were on similar paths, each of us thinking we were inventing something when the truth was that we were following our passions and doing things similar as kindred spirits do.
What does this have to do with you, you might ask?
All these guys, plus some, are pioneers of a cottage industry which now sits on the cusp of something significant. With dramatic land use changes over the course of the last three decades, more and more landowners are dedicated to becoming better stewards of the land, especially when it comes to recreational purposes. Wildlife and fish are standards in today’s landowner world, where smaller tracts are typically owned by absentee landowners. Not long ago, these parcels were used by people who lived there, raised their children there and depended on that land, at least in part, to help them make enough money to raise their families.
As those land use practices shifted, we started seeing our careers begin to shift. What was formerly a little mom and pop style business has spawned several larger companies. Vendors have taken note. The better pond managers around the country seem to stay busy, no matter the economic circumstances nationwide.
Along this path, vendors are seeing more and more opportunities.
Here are several examples of what I’m talking about. Hopefully, this will spawn a few ideas in your own minds.
Ponds north of the Mason-Dixon Line are typically not managed. Why not? Because every few years they winterkill. But, ice fishing is a huge sport in the north. Until now, there’s not really been much use to try to figure out how to prevent winterkill. Sure, you can aerate a pond, but that’s often simply trading problems. Aeration leaves a hole in the ice. A hole in ice otherwise a foot or more thick becomes a safety hazard for man and beast alike. It also exposes most of the water column to frigid temperatures, spiraling water temperatures so low that it causes health issues with fish. What’s the answer? Well, now scientists are looking at ways to inject oxygen below the ice during times of the year when a pond needs it the most.
What about the south? Different issues, but similar principles. Water quality deteriorates during the summer months to the point that fish can die in some areas, especially in older ponds.
Today, technology exists where several water quality parameters can be gathered real time, using probes mounted on small pontoons, moving across the water with small electric motors, guided by GPS coordinates. The little boat-looking device goes on its predestined tour, makes its circuit around the lake and comes back to the dock, computer driven. Then, it downloads the information into an onsite computer that can access the Internet. At any given time, the pond manager or landowner can log on, look at the data and make a proactive decision. One of those decisions might be turning on an aeration system remotely, from a laptop or smartphone as you travel across country.
Do you like that?
How about a feeding system on a wifi system? You can have a camera overlooking your favorite feeding station, whether it’s for fish or wildlife. Log on, go to that feeder, and tell it to toss out some nuggets and watch. From the confines of your office or your living room…maybe on the patio with all your buddies and cocktails, you can watch your fish eat …on your command.
There are cutting edge developments occurring as we speak. Pondmeisters all over the country are catching on to technological advancements that are currently in use in other fields and figuring out how to use them to take better care of our very own private waters.
Sure, we’ve come a long way. Not that many years ago, we stocked catfish, bluegill, fathead minnows and largemouth bass in the south. Our northern counterparts zeroed in on yellow perch, pumpkinseeds and smallmouth bass. Redear sunfish were an add-on and there were always those folks who wanted to stock a few crappie. Now, we have feed-trained largemouth bass, different species of sunfish, hybrid striped bass, tiger musky, tiger trout and even some neat exotic fish such as paddlefish in certain areas of the nation. Some areas have feed-trained smallies and yellow perch.
With advances in fisheries management, coupled with all these newly developing technological tools, pond management is poised to take a giant leap forward.
What’s really cool about all these things coming together is that pondmeisters are quickly and earnestly learning to take better care of our waters of these United States and beyond. That’s a critical step in doing our part for a much larger picture in society.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in pond management.