Does Your Pond Sleep?
By Bob Lusk
Spent time last fall with dear friends from upstate New York, driving through the Adirondacks, into New England, enjoying mild weather and stunning reds, purples, amber, vivid yellows and green of fall, at their peak.
Ponds were beginning to show their annual signs of winding down, preparing as ponds do, for winter. In that part of the nation, they have distinct seasons…spring, mild summer, fall, winter, winter and winter.
Here in Texas, we have fall, spring, summer, summer and summer. Quite the contrast to our friends north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Even in Texas, winter runs a gamut. At our home base near Lake Texoma, I remember a Halloween when we received six inches of snow. I also remember another where we had the air conditioning on. It could be pushing a temperature of zero in Amarillo while the Rio Grande Valley plays golf in
What do your ponds do in winter?
As the earth shifts on its axis, our days grow shorter and the temperature inevitably drops. When photoperiod shortens, ponds respond. Most aquatic plants stop growing, some die and drop to the pond bottom. Ponds follow a parallel path as the rest of life above the waterline. When plants stop growing, go dormant, and sink, young fish which were hiding are released. Predator fish, especially bass and other sunfishes, go on a feeding frenzy, themselves preparing for winter.
So many natural things are coming together under your water as it prepares
for the coldest of its cold, wherever it sits in the state. As the temperature drops, productivity declines. Insects mature, nymphs turn into whatever their destiny is, whether its dragonflies, damselflies or mosquitos. The food chain is ripe to be picked…and that’s what happens. Nature feasts to prepare. Then, as the temperatures continue their annual journey toward cold, many creature go dormant. Frogs bury, salamanders find their moist hiding places, water snakes go to their holes and get as deep as they can. Turtles seem to disappear to the pond bottom. Heart rates drop almost to the point of non-existence in all these cold-blooded creatures. Plants around your pond drop their leaves, much of which floats to the side, becomes waterlogged and sinks.
By nature’s design, water’s affinity for oxygen rises as the temperature drops, and not by coincidence, those new additions of organic stuff needs oxygen to begin to decompose. As that process begins, remaining insects who need to winter in the pond tend to migrate into this new found debris field, offering itself as food and safety.
What about your fish? What do they do? Since those slick creatures are also
cold-blooded, they slow down as well. They don’t stop, but they move less andtend to seek areas underwater when the temperature is best suited, where there’s cover and a safe place to suspend. While fish don’t really sleep, they certainly drop off into a trance-like state and sit perfectly still…unless disturbed.
Physiologically, fish don’t need to eat very often, so their tendencies are to feed, digest for several days and then eat again. Food needed affords minimal energy needs and quite bit of those calories goes toward reproduction. Girl bass develop their eggs mostly during winter months. They eat what they can, but if there’s
not quite enough food, their bodies will use stored energy and proteins to fill those ovaries in preparation for next year’s spawn.
Can you catch fish during winter? Sure, if you know how. I can’t tell you how many times a good angler has told me, “Fish really, really slow…and when you think you’re fishing slowly enough, slow down a lot more.”
Keep in mind that fish in our ponds and lakes are sluggish as you plot your strategy. That doesn’t mean a fish won’t offer a burst once you have it hooked. It will, because it’s taking issue with you, not winter.
As you enjoy your pond this winter, keep a few things in mind. When you catch a fish, whether it’s a bass, a bluegill or catfish, handle it with wet hands. Don’t lift a big bass by its lower lip. Heavy weight of a big fish out of water tends to dislocate its jaw. If handled with dry hands, the fish’s slime coat is compromised. In winter, fish can’t heal from these stressors nearly as well as they can during the warm months, when their metabolism is high. It’s distressing to see a fungus-covered handprint on a huge bass, floating near the boathouse three weeks after a fisherman caught, handled and released it. I’ve actually seen that
In the deepest of winter, trees around the pond are dormant, reptiles and amphibians are nowhere to be seen, spring peepers and tree frogs have long since stopped their night time sounds, in hiding until spring offers better days. Plants are dormant, some die back, others just fall to the bottom until favorable temperatures awaken their natural instincts to grow and survive. Water does what it does, offering as much oxygen as it can. Microbes have backed off, plankton has died and sits in a thin layer on the pond bottom, interfacing with soils, like a blanket ready to change to something else. Fish are making the best of what they are
So, although your pond doesn’t really sleep, it certainly rests and takes a break to catch up from three other seasons of production.
That’s nature’s way.
Bob Lusk is known nationwide as the “Pond Boss.” He has 36 years of professional pond and lake management under his belt, traveling the nation helping people design, build, stock and manage premier private recreational fishing lakes. He is also editor of the nation’s leading pond management magazine, “Pond Boss.” Reach Bob and subscribe to Pond Boss at www.pondboss.com. He’ll help.