recreational pond on Arkansas farm

Ponds can provide storage for irrigation water, a source of healthy protein when stocked with crops of fish or simply a place for recreation and relaxation.

How to manage successful recreational ponds

Landowners may consider installing a recreational pond on their property a worthwhile investment, according to Scott Jones, small impoundment Extension specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Ponds can provide storage for irrigation water, a source of healthy protein for the family when stocked with crops of fish or simply a place of aesthetic beauty for recreation and relaxation.

“Many people believe that ponds add value to their property, but in reality it can go either way depending on the condition of the pond and the opinion of property appraisers, lenders and ultimately potential buyers,” Jones said. “Suffice it to say that when it comes to ponds, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

To increase the likelihood that a pond will add to a property’s value and serve as a good location for recreation, landowners should build and manage the pond properly from the beginning and throughout its existence on the land, he said.

A well-constructed pond depends on a number of factors including site selection and natural surroundings, soil chemistry, physical design, internal ecosystem and the type of fish species stocked.

Before shopping for a pond construction contractor, the first thing a landowner should do is contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in his county to schedule a consultation, Jones said. The county NRCS staff can help the owner determine if the soil is suitable for pond construction and select the best location for the pond on the property.

Reputable Contractors

“The NRCS can also help the owner find reputable pond construction contractors,” Jones said. “There is a big difference between digging a hole in the ground and creating a properly built pond. Shortcuts in construction will almost certainly doom the pond to failure.”

Jones said one of the most important aspects in constructing successful ponds is gaining an understanding of their delicate ecosystems. Pond management strategies that take into account the complexities of pond ecosystems have gained more traction over the past few decades as managers realize the physical, chemical and biological aspects of a pond and its surrounding area are all interconnected.

“In most cases, the chemistry of the pond water is a result of the geology not only from the soil within the pond basin, but also from the soil miles uphill from the pond,” Jones said.

“The physical design of the pond, local climate, sunlight, wind and water chemistry all influence the types of plants and fish that can grow and how well they grow. All of these factors determine the steps the owner should take to maximize the pond’s potential.

Jones said the best way to ensure a solid and productive environment for pond fish is to start evaluating soil characteristics and treating any issues before the pond is ever filled with water. Landowners should contact their county Extension offices for directions on collecting soil samples for a free analysis that indicates levels of acidity in the soil.

Acidic soil can lead to many problems in maintaining ponds, but can be neutralized with the application of agricultural limestone, he said. The limestone is most effective when it is spread evenly across the pond basin and tilled into the soil before the pond is filled with water.

“The amount of agricultural limestone needed to neutralize soil acidity in many parts of Arkansas can be substantial at about 1 to 2 tons per surface acre.” Jones said. “Fortunately, agricultural lime is relatively cheap and can often be delivered straight to the pond for around $50 per ton or less.

“These applications usually last five to seven years before reapplication is required and usually result in a more productive pond.”

After a site with good soil characteristics has been selected, the pond should be constructed with shoreline slopes at a three-to-one ratio — 1 foot deep for every 3 feet away from shore, he said. This shoreline angle is good for both preventing aquatic plants and providing shoreline stability.

Excessive shallow areas, less than 1 feet deep, should also be avoided unless aquatic vegetation is desired.

“The maximum depth of the pond should be around 12 feet,” Jones said. “There is no advantage to water deeper than this, as deeper ponds tend to have more oxygen problems that can lead to fish kills.”

Finally, landowners need to determine the species of fish they want to stock in their pond, he said. The most commonly stocked sport fish species in Arkansas ponds, in no particular order, are bluegill (or a hybrid of bluegill), largemouth bass, channel catfish and black crappie. Each species provides a certain fishing experience and a certain level of difficulty in management.

“Channel catfish are one of the easiest species to raise because they are highly tolerant of poor water conditions, and they are not picky eaters,” Jones said. “Ponds that are consistently muddy or never seem to grow other sportfish very well can usually sustain a good crop of channel catfish if the owner regularly feeds them with a floating catfish feed.”

In contrast to catfish, crappie are very difficult to manage in ponds because they have highly variable and unpredictable recruitment, or the number of fish in a population that survive to maturity. In other words, crappie do not spawn at the same rate each year and occasionally spawn so prolifically that they exhaust their food sources and become stunted.

“The best way to control a crappie population is to maintain a healthy population of relatively small largemouth bass, eight to 12 inches in length, that can consume large numbers of young crappie,” Jones said.

“The bluegill and largemouth bass stocking combination is fairly easy to manage as long as the owner keeps an eye on the condition of the fish and regularly harvests individuals of both species.”

Jones said if a landowner notices that largemouth bass are not growing beyond 12 to 13 inches in length or bluegill are not growing beyond 6 inches in length, there are likely problems with the pond’s water or simply too many fish stocked in the pond.

For more information on creating a recreational fishing pond or for tips on farm pond management, contact Jones at (870) 575-8185 or [email protected].

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