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Pond Management

Ohio farm ponds provide important recreational, domestic, and agricultural uses that range from fishing, swimming and wildlife viewing to water sources for humans and livestock, irrigation and erosion control. Ponds benefit wildlife by providing feeding and nesting habitat, resting areas and water sources. Ponds that are constructed, maintained and managed with these uses in mind are a valuable part of Ohio’s natural resources.

The Ohio Pond Management Handbook is intended for owners of new ponds, owners of old ponds, or landowners who plan to build a pond. Managers of small private lakes will find useful information in this manual as will anglers who wish to be informed on pond management matters.

To stock pond fish, we recommend that you buy fish from a licensed fish propagator. This is the easiest, most economical method and you are guaranteed the correct size, numbers and species of fish(es) you request. The following is a list of propagators by county. The available fishes are included. Using these fish should ensure years of quality fishing with proper management.

Preventing Winter Fish Kills

The most common cause of winter kill is a lack of oxygen in the water. During the winter, an unfrozen pond has more than enough oxygen for fish to survive. However, when a pond freezes oxygen levels can fall to almost nothing which definitely causes stress and can potentially kill fish.

Oxygen in water can be acquired from two sources: the air and through photosynthesis (from aquatic plants). Ice cover on a pond effectively stops the pond from picking up oxygen from the air. Oxygen depletion is then made worse when a thick layer of snow covers the ice. Thick snow blocks sunlight from entering the water which prevents algae and other aquatic plants from photosynthesizing. Photosynthesis is the process in which plants make their own energy from sunlight and release oxygen into the water as a byproduct. When plants do not have enough sunlight they die and settle to the bottom of the pond. Once this happens bacteria begin to decompose the plant material which uses up more of the available oxygen in the pond. The longer and more severe the winter the more likely this will occur, which eventually leads to a fish kill.

There are several steps you can take to try and prevent a winter fish kill. First, when constructing a new pond the banks should be graded to a 3:1 ratio, or for every three feet of distance out into the pond the bank should drop one foot. Also, at least 25 percent of the pond should be dug to 10-12 feet if possible. This will deter the growth of rooted plants by limiting the total surface area in which these plants can grow. Second, a vegetation control program throughout the summer growing season is recommended. By managing and controlling plants during the summer you will limit the amount of dying and decomposing vegetation present in the winter. This can be done by using herbicides and adding pond dies to shade the water which will help limit plant growth. Good watershed management practices will also help limit plant growth. Watershed management includes preventing as many nutrients as possible from entering the pond. This could be as simple as making sure that grass clippings are not washed into the pond after mowing or, if you fertilize your lawn, by leaving an unfertilized buffer of at least 50 feet around the pond.

Finally, the single best step to promote the health of a pond is to add an aeration system. These systems add oxygen to the water, which speeds up plant decomposition while also keeping oxygen levels high enough to sustain fish. There are many types of aeration systems available on the market today but not all can be used through the winter. A diffused aeration system (also known as bubblers) will keep ice from forming in the areas of the pond where the diffusing heads are circulating the water. There are also systems marketed specifically to keep ice from forming. These use moving water to prevent freezing and usually work with a simple pump or propeller. However, they do not offer the additional benefits of a true aeration system that can be used in the summer as well.

Finally, if an aeration system is not an option you can simply shovel the snow off to help sunlight reach the water in the pond. By removing 25-50 percent of the snow you should allow enough sunlight in to permit sufficient photosynthesis to occur, which should sustain oxygen levels under the ice.