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Outdoor Life: Pond management for improved fishing
Alvin Richardson
Alvin Richardson

There are hundreds of small ponds in the Southeast Georgia area and thousands more around the state. Those waters account for nearly half of the recreational fishing done in Georgia and of course serve multiple purposes in many cases. Water for livestock and crop irrigation are the two most frequent uses of farm ponds other than for fishing.
    The information today is not intended to be a complete course in pond management but rather a way to get you started thinking about it. We’ll take a brief look at some of the more common problems or items that typically deserve consideration. Your county extension agent is the best source to go to initially and if they can’t help you with a specific problem they will know who can. There are plenty of private companies who are in this business but several of the things we’ll discuss today can be done without any outside help. Remember that each pond has its own unique set of needs. 
    If your goal is to improve the overall health of your fish population as well as to keep the fish numbers in balance it is critical to have a pond that is fertilized properly. Nearly every pond will need some attention to this on a yearly basis. Fertilization increases the pond’s ability to hold more healthy fish per acre. Most ponds have a mixture of bream, bass and catfish in them. Proper fertilization can increase the carrying capacity three to four times. Fertilization promotes the growth of microscopic plants which is the initial stage of the food chain critical to these ponds.
    The best time to begin the fertilization process is when the water surface temperature stabilizes around 60 degrees. The general rule of thumb is to apply about 40 pounds of 20-20-5 granular fertilizer per surface acre at two-week intervals. Once you notice the water darkening to a greenish color you have probably reached a proper balance. If you use liquid fertilizer the recommended amount is about one gallon per surface acre. Another rule of thumb is that if visibility is in excess of a foot and a half you haven’t yet used enough fertilizer.  If you have fertilized three times and the green color has not developed you may need to test it for a lime deficiency.
    Another problem that pond owners often have to deal with is weed control. Aquatic weeds are harmful for several reasons. They provide cover for small baitfish which results in too many fish. These weeds also use up nutrients vital to proper bloom development. A severe weed problem can result in a reduction of oxygen levels during warm weather, especially if there is an extended period of cloudiness. Fertilization is one of the best ways to control these aquatic nuisances. A well-fertilized pond cuts down on the sunlight penetration and reduces the chances of weeds becoming established.
    If you are in a position to do this, a winter drawdown can also help to control aquatic plant growth. By exposing the plants to freezing temperatures and dry conditions you can dramatically reduce your problems in this area.
    Grass carp is another way of keeping this problem under control. These carp are effective against submerged plants and floating duckweed. They are not effective on larger, tougher plants such as cattails. Grass carp are relatively inexpensive to buy and could be the answer you are looking for.
    Lastly you can use chemical herbicides for weed control but these usually provide only temporary relief. These treatments are usually most effective when the plants are actively growing. 
    Consult your county extension agent for advice on the type of chemical to use. Unfortunately, if you don’t follow up these treatments with a good fertilization program, the weeds will, in all likelihood, make a comeback.
    Another problem many pond owners face is keeping the pond in balance in terms of the numbers of fish present. Typically ponds can become unbalanced if there is an excessive weed problem, if there is not an ongoing fertilization program, or if too many bass are removed. These are not the only reasons but if you notice that your catch consistently results in lots of bluegill less than six inches in length and very few bass over two pounds, you probably have far too many bluegills. One thing to remember is that these are small bodies of water and the removal of too many adult fish in a short period of time can result in an unbalanced pond.
    Regardless of your situation, make sure to keep an eye on the health and maintenance of your pond. Proper care will result in a fishery that can give you, your family and friends hours of enjoyment.
    If you have any questions feel free to email me and I’ll try to help get you in touch with the right person.

    Alvin Richardson is a contributing writer, retired educator, and public speaker. Contact him at