Currently there are more than two million farm ponds in the United States alone. Their popularity has several reasons, including ecological and practical ones. Farm ponds or stock tanks can provide an aquatic environment for many fish, flora, and wildlife in addition to offering a place for farmers and friends to fish for food or enjoyment. Having a diverse ecosystem on your farm land helps everyone, including the wildlife and any domesticated animals such as cows or goats that may graze on your land.
The most common size of farms that can accommodate farm ponds are anywhere between half an acre up to 30 acres in general. Farm ponds themselves can range in size from a small watering hole to large stock tanks filled to the brim with fish and other aquatic wildlife. The term farm pond refers to a body of water anywhere from a quarter of an acre up to a 5-acre area on farm land. The pond needs to be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet deep in order to shelter the fish from freezing or possible drought if there is not enough rainfall. As with any new environment, consider the size of the pond and the size of the fish species you want to stock before you visit a fish hatchery.
If you have at least a 1-acre farm pond, there are three species of fish that do best in this size body of water: bass, bluegill, and catfish.
Best Fish to Stock in Your Farm Pond
Bass (Largemouth Bass)
Largemouth bass are a favorite among pond owners for good reason. They’re aggressive predators that help control the population of smaller fish, preventing overcrowding. Bass adapt well to different water conditions, making them suitable for most farm ponds. They’re also a popular choice for sport fishing, offering a challenging catch that’s rewarding for anglers.
Bluegill serve as an excellent forage fish for larger species like bass, creating a sustainable food chain within your pond. These sunfish are prolific breeders, ensuring that there’s always enough prey for predators. Bluegill are easy to catch and good to eat, making them an ideal choice for recreational fishing ponds. They thrive in a variety of water conditions and can coexist peacefully with other fish species.
Catfish (Channel Catfish)
Channel catfish are another great addition to your farm pond, especially if you’re interested in a diverse fishery. They grow quickly and can reach substantial sizes, offering a hefty catch for anglers. Catfish are bottom feeders, helping to clean up the pond by consuming dead material and reducing waste buildup. They’re also tolerant of lower oxygen levels and murkier water, making them a resilient choice for your pond.
Other Popular Choices for a Farm Pond
Below are some other popular choices. Under the right conditions, these fish can make valuable and enjoyable additions to your pond ecosystem. But for these species, do not release more than 100 per acre.
Smallmouth bass are suitable for cooler water ponds and can provide an exciting fishing experience. They prefer habitats with clean, clear water and rocky or sandy bottoms. Smallmouth bass are less tolerant of warm, murky water than largemouth bass, making them a good choice for ponds in cooler climates or with deeper areas where water temperatures stay relatively cool. They can coexist with largemouth bass but require a slightly different habitat to thrive.
Striped bass can be a challenging yet rewarding addition to larger farm ponds. They require well-oxygenated, deep water and can grow quite large, making them an exciting target for anglers. Striped bass are schooling fish and can help control populations of smaller fish species. However, they might not be suitable for small ponds due to their size and the need for a more complex management strategy to ensure their survival and growth.
Rainbow trout are a popular choice for stocking in farm ponds, especially those with cooler, oxygen-rich water. They are prized for their fight when hooked and their delicious taste. Rainbow trout can coexist with other fish species, provided the water temperature and quality meet their needs. They are a good option for seasonal stocking in ponds that can maintain the cooler temperatures they require.
Walleye are a nocturnal predator fish known for their distinctive eyesight, adapted to low-light conditions. They prefer cooler, deeper water and can be a good choice for larger ponds with a mix of deep and shallow areas. Walleye are valued for their excellent taste and can contribute to controlling populations of smaller fish. They require careful management to ensure they have enough forage and the right conditions to spawn successfully.
Although previously mentioned as a species to be cautious about due to their potential for overpopulation, yellow perch can be a valuable addition under the right management practices. They are a popular sport fish, known for their delicious taste. In larger ponds with a balanced predator-prey relationship, yellow perch can thrive without becoming overpopulated. They require good water quality and can benefit from a habitat with plenty of vegetation.
Northern pike are top predators in any water body and can be stocked in farm ponds to control the populations of smaller fish. They prefer cooler waters with abundant vegetation for cover. Northern pike can grow large and offer exciting fishing opportunities. However, they should be stocked cautiously, as they can quickly dominate a pond’s ecosystem and may reduce the diversity of other fish species if not properly managed.
Fish to Avoid Stocking in Your Farm Pond
Here is a partial list of fish species that generally should be avoided in farm ponds.
Bullhead (Yellow, Brown, or Black)
Bullheads, including yellow, brown, and black varieties, are often considered undesirable for farm ponds due to their prolific breeding and tendency to overpopulate. They can quickly dominate a pond, outcompeting more desirable fish for food and habitat. Bullheads also stir up the bottom sediment, increasing water turbidity and decreasing water quality.
While trout can be a delightful addition to a pond in the right conditions, they generally require cooler, oxygen-rich water, which might not be feasible in all farm ponds, especially in warmer climates. Trout stocking can lead to challenges in maintaining the necessary water quality, and they might not survive in the warmer summer months, making them a less practical choice for most farm ponds.
Carp (Common and Grass)
Common and grass carp are known for their ability to alter the aquatic environment drastically. While grass carp can be useful for controlling certain types of vegetation, they can also overeat and eliminate beneficial plants, destabilizing pond ecosystems. Common carp are notorious for muddying waters by disturbing the pond bottom while feeding, which can harm spawning areas for other fish and reduce water quality.
Goldfish, although attractive, can become a nuisance in farm ponds. They breed rapidly, compete with native fish for food, and can grow to surprisingly large sizes, disrupting the balance of a pond’s ecosystem. Goldfish are also known to carry diseases that can be transferred to other fish species.
Yellow perch can be a problematic species for farm ponds as they tend to overpopulate in confined spaces, leading to stunted growth and an imbalance in the fish population. Their prolific breeding can outcompete other desirable fish species for food and habitat, making management difficult.
Buffalofish, including bigmouth, smallmouth, and black species, are large native North American fish that are not typically recommended for small farm ponds due to their size and dietary requirements. They can quickly deplete the food resources necessary for smaller, more desirable fish species and are better suited to larger bodies of water.
Tilapia are often used for algae control in ponds but should be used with caution. They can survive only in warmer waters and will die in temperatures below 55°F (13°C), which could lead to a significant biomass decrease and potential water quality issues in colder climates. Furthermore, if not properly managed, tilapia can outcompete native fish species for food.
Crappies (Black and White)
Crappies, both black and white, are popular sport fish but can become a problem in farm ponds. They have a tendency to overpopulate and become stunted in small ponds. Crappies are also capable of consuming large amounts of small fish, including juvenile bass and bluegill, disrupting the balance of the pond ecosystem.
There are others to avoid, so do some research before throwing just any fish into your farm pond.
Always buy your fish from a licensed commercial fish hatchery, listen to their instructions, and follow their advice. Whatever you do, do not transfer native species from any local stream, river, or lake – this could disrupt your entire ecosystem. You must also be aware of what kind of aquatic environment you want to provide and what your fish will need for protection, spawning, and feeding. Some species such as catfish need spawning areas and prefer the dark recesses of the bottom near the mud. Other species may need more rock formations or aqueous plants to hide in. Again, do your research before you decide what kind of fish to stock in your pond.
When is the best time to stock your farm pond? The best time is in the fall or spring once the water temperatures are warmer than 65 degrees F. Water temperature is very important so verify that the temperature in the hauling tank and the pond don’t differ by more than 5 degrees. Add the pond water to the hauling tank slowly in order to make the temperatures consistent and reduce the chance of stressing the fish. If possible, it is optimal to let the hatchery know your particular pond’s water temperature ahead of time. If you have any questions, your fish hatchery will be glad to answer them.
No matter what kind of fish you decide to stock, you need to make sure that your fish pond is safe for them. Check and make sure that the pond is safe from runoff caused by pesticides, fertilizer, or animal manure. Also make sure you use nontoxic materials in your fish pond liner, such as the reinforced polyethylene that companies such as Western Liner provide. This gives you assurance that your pond is a safe place for all its inhabitants.