Warmer weather and blooming plants often coincide with an increased interest in fishing, Scott Jones, small impoundment extension specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. Accordingly, many pond owners consider stocking their ponds this time of year.
"Supplemental stocking is the term used when stocking fish in an established fishery in which predators and prey are already fully grown and reproducing," he said. "The goal is usually either to fill an actual -- or perceived -- shortage of a certain species or to introduce a new species for the purpose of providing forage, sport or vegetation and/or parasite control."
Jones said the practice of supplemental stocking is not entirely standardized. This is because the species that gets stocked, as well as the number or size of fish getting stocked, depends heavily on the species and abundances of fish already in the pond or on what aquatic pest a landowner is trying to control. Jones said there are several situations in which supplemental stocking would be appropriate.
HIGH FORAGE ABUNDANCE
Owners seeking to grow very big largemouth bass and crappie are encouraged to overload their ponds with forage species such as bluegill, golden shiner, threadfin shad, red swamp crawfish, and in very specific situations, goldfish and tilapia.
"Annual supplemental stocking of these species can become very expensive -- but this is often the price one must pay to achieve truly exceptional predator fish production. Remember, raising a crop of wolves isn't cheap," he said. "These forage fish are meant to be eaten, so selecting small to intermediate individual sizes for stocking in an established fishery is appropriate."
At higher stocking rates, many of the fish will survive the initial onslaught of predation and proceed to spawning to help maintain their abundance through the year. Fathead minnows, though readily available and consumed by predator fish, are not recommended as a supplemental forage because they are very small, are almost always eliminated quickly and provide minimal short-term condition benefit to sportfish. They are great for new ponds, but an expensive minimal benefit to established fisheries.
INTRODUCING A NEW SPORTFISH
"Largemouth bass, black crappie (in certain situations), hybrid striped bass and channel catfish are appropriate sportfish for stocking in Arkansas ponds," Jones said. Crappie tend to be the most problematic species, as they often deteriorate a pond's fishery due to forage and cover limitations, or failure of largemouth bass and angler harvest to control their population.
Because of their popularity and demand, Jones urges clientele to understand that the failure risk of crappie in small ponds, especially those less than 25 acres, is very high.
"Supplemental stocking of sportfish requires stocking larger individuals than you would for a new pond because these fish are not meant to be eaten," he said. "Generally, six inches is the bare minimum size I recommend for supplementally stocked sportfish. Fish eight inches or larger are preferred. However, landowners should keep in mind that price per fish increases with size."
INTRODUCING A SPECIES FOR PEST CONTROL
Some species can help control specific troublesome infestations of aquatic weeds and parasites, Jones said. Landowners can use grass carp to control certain soft-stemmed or soft-leaved submerged aquatic plants; goldfish to control duckweed and watermeal; tilapia to control filamentous algae; and redear sunfish to control yellow grubs. As with sportfish stocking, remember that larger individuals are recommended to minimize loss to predation.
RESTOCKING FOLLOWING FISH KILLS
"Fish kills can occur even in well-managed ponds," Jones said. "When they occur, supplemental stocking can help rebuild the fishery and restore population balances."
To determine what and how many fish to restock, an assessment using electrofishing boats is recommended for larger ponds. For smaller ponds, a few acres or less in size, draining and restocking from scratch can be faster and more likely to succeed than rebuilding from what is left after the kill. Because these situations are complex, Jones recommends that landowners consult fisheries professionals for advice in the event of a fish kill.
Jones reminds landowners that all fish stocked into Arkansas ponds must be sourced from an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission-certified producer.
For more information on pond maintenance, contact Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or (870) 575-8185.
Will Hehemann is a writer/editor with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.