Many rural log home properties feature ponds, either spring fed or a naturally occurring collection of water in a low area. Many homeowners take the next step by preparing the pond and stocking fish. Here are some tips for setting up your own trout pond:
Start with the State
States oversee the lakes, rivers, streams and ponds that comprise freshwater features in their jurisdiction. Each state has different regulations regarding fish stocking and changes to existing water features. In Maine, the Department of Inland Fisheries handles permitting and fish stocking regulations. In other states the Department of Natural Resources is the place to start. If you visit your state’s official government website and search for fish stocking, the permitting process will be evident.
We spoke with Maine Fisheries Supervisor David Boucher who explained the fish stocking permitting process in Maine. Landowners can download the Maine application from the website and fill it out for review. In addition to contact information, the application asks for the location of the pond. Many people supply a map for further reference. The application also lists the licensed commercial fish hatcheries that are available for stocking fish once the application is approved. The Fisheries Supervisor reviews the information and, if necessary, may conduct an onsite review. In Maine, Boucher explained, certain fish are not allowed for stocking in specific areas because they do not occur naturally. Each state has its own list of approved and invasive species.
The cost in Maine for a 5-year stocking permit is $10 and is the most utilized, as successful fish stocking may take several seasons before the fish “take.” An annual stocking permit is $5. Another good resource for assistance is the local soil and water conservation district.
Illegal fish stockings are a constant threat to the balance of fisheries in many states. Non-native fish can upset the species balance in bodies of water and crowd out other desirable native fish, such as brook trout. States take illegal stocking seriously: in Maine illegal fish stocking is a Class E crime punishable with fines of up to $10,000.
Improving your pond for fish stocking
In the process of constructing your log home, an excavator may be hired for a day or two of site prep work. If you plan to stock fish in your existing pond, you may wish to improve their survival rates by deepening the pond with the excavator while it’s on site. Deeper waters allow for cooler temperatures, favored by most fish species. If you pond is relatively shallow, warm temperatures and sunlight may encourage vegetation. When the vegetation dies, it sinks to the bottom and decays, which can deplete oxygen levels and kill fish. Some pond owners invest in a bubbler system to increase oxygen levels.
To protect your fish from other natural predators, make the sides of the ponds as steep as possible, so that birds and mammals will find it harder to hunt from the pond’s banks. Other small pond owners opt for covering the pond surface with netting to discourage predation.
Many ponds require an outlet flow to direct excess water during rainy seasons. Some pond managers opt for a pipe screened at both ends that is above the surface level and below the annual flood line. However, if the pond is located in a northern climate where frost is evident, this pipe outlet method will result in a loss of fish. Frost heaves can lift the pipe up, creating an open flow for fish to escape into adjacent waters.
For cold climates, an outlet zone should be constructed. At the natural outlet zone of the pond, create a channel of large riprap rocks beginning at a level just above the normal level of the pond and rising to above the flood stage level. The spaces in between the rocks can be filled with large and medium-sized gravel mix. The outlet zone should be 4-6 feet wide and extend toward the flood drain area. This outlet zone will allow the water to trickle out through the stones, without allowing the fish to escape. As the season progresses, grass and other wild greenery will emerge in the outlet zone, providing a visual cover.
Once your pond is ready, give it a little time to settle the particulates and clear the water. The fishery will deliver the fish in a specially designed truck with a large water-filled holding tank installed. Depending on the size of the fish, they can be seined from the truck or carried by bucket to the pond and released. You may also ask the hatchery to bring some fish food pellets to encourage growth and supplement natural food supplies.
It may take several seasons to create a new habitat for fish in your pond, but the rewards are worth the effort!