Managing farm pond fisheries

By Joe Wilkinson DNR Information specialist
Posted 10/14/99

The light crankbait parted the quiet water as I retrieved my cast. I had felt a bump on the last retrieve as it crossed a spot about eight or 10 feet from shore. As the shiny lure came closer to the …

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Managing farm pond fisheries


The light crankbait parted the quiet water as I retrieved my cast. I had felt a bump on the last retrieve as it crossed a spot about eight or 10 feet from shore. As the shiny lure came closer to the spot, I anticipated the strike. It came, right on cue.

I could pretty well tell this would not be a monster. The dark green backside broke water as the largemouth tried to shake the hook. Within a minute, I had cranked him up to shore. Not a keeper, but definitely a fighter. Within a few seconds, the hook was loose and the indignant bass wiggled away to deeper water on the 2-acre farm pond.

On a good pond, the scene is repeated over and over. And here in southern Iowa, there are plenty of good farm ponds. The key is water quality.

“Think of a pond as an ecosystem in itself,” suggests Tom Monroe of Sigourney. “Everything that lives in that pond depends on that water quality. For the whole food chain to be healthy, it has to have good water quality. You really can’t emphasize that enough.”

Moments before, he pulled in a bass, about the same size as the one I’d hooked earlier. “It’s a small bass, probably a 2-year old, but look how healthy, how thick he is,” comments Monroe, as he turns the 10-inch fish sideways to show the wide body. On my last farm pond trip here, we caught half-pound to three-fourths-pound (yes, three-fourths of a pound) bluegill all afternoon.

Although in the hardware and farm supply business (he is the “M” in “H & M Farm Supply” in Sigourney), Monroe has a degree in fish and wildlife biology from Iowa State University. That comes in handy as he manages about 20 ponds around Keokuk County.

“Erosion from the watershed above the pond should be kept to the bare minimum,” stresses Monroe. “You do that with filter strips, with waterway management. You can do it with dry silt dams.”

Over the last few years, I’ve seen a half-dozen of the ponds Monroe manages. He points out the owners’ conservation practices as often as he brags about the lunkers that have been hooked over the years. On this trip, he makes note of the fencing protecting the pond from being trampled and muddied by cows grazing in the hilly pasture. On the next pond are rows of young trees planted on the slopes above the water. The nearest corn or bean field is a couple hundred yards away, another Monroe proviso.

Yet even with the best water in the world, big lunkers don’t automatically show up in that pond. That’s when Monroe and the pond owners work on a good balance of fish.

“I really like bass and bluegills for stocking ponds,” he notes. “The secret to success on any body of water is the predator fish. If you have a good, healthy population of predator fish, they will have a good forage base. If you keep large bass in the pond, they will keep the bluegills thinned down to where the remaining ones grow to a good size. They’re really fun to catch.”

Bass up to 5 pounds are not uncommon catches in these ponds, and photos on the wall of Monroe’s office show they are not the largest ones, either.

The take home quotient is important. Remove too many big bass and the smaller forage fish will multiply. Too many of them in a pond will mean stunted growth. Take home too many of the big, slab-sided bluegills and you can “fish a pond out” in a short time.

Catfish, as bottom feeders, round out the underwater biology lesson. Though he works with some crappies, and even walleyes, Monroe says it really depends on the pond. As a rule, crappies will not do well in a pond with a healthy bluegill/bass ratio.

Whatever is in the pond, it keeps coming back to water quality.

“Many times, unfortunately, one of the last things people think of is water quality. However, we are now realizing more and more, how important it is.”

Pond Fishing Remains Hot

Even as the temperatures cool, farm pond fishing will still be hot for awhile.

“It is usually good until late October,” notes DNR Fisheries Technician Scott Grummer. “Water temperatures are around 60 degrees right now. Things will slow down when it hits about 50.”

Fish react to the shortening daylight periods and onset of cold weather by going on feeding binges. For many anglers, the fall fishing makes up for the slow summer doldrums.

“I’d use smaller tackle and a slower presentation, though,” advises Grummer. The cooler temperatures mean fish metabolism and reaction time will be slowed. “In a farm pond? Smaller crankbaits and jigs will work well.”