What's the best fish to stock in your Michigan fishing pond?

Stocking the wrong species can lead to problems down the road.

Rainbow trout, such as these, are used to stock cold-water ponds. Photo: Ron Kinnunen
Rainbow trout, such as these, are used to stock cold-water ponds. Photo: Ron Kinnunen

Spring is the time of year to evaluate the type and quantity of fish to put in your farm pond. This is a critical decision as it will dictate the quality of fishing in the pond for years to come. Many make common mistakes when stocking fish into their pond that includes stocking the wrong type of fish species or the wrong combinations of fish species that are not compatible with each other.

Warm-water ponds

If you have a warm-water pond it is best to stock largemouth bass. A common mistake when stocking largemouth bass is to also stock bluegills with them. Many think that stocking the bluegills will provide forage fish for the largemouth bass and enhance their growth. Bluegills have the tendency to overpopulate the pond, monopolize the food supply, and stunt out in growth. Largemouth bass in our northern climate have a difficult time keeping bluegill populations in check. When stocking largemouth bass, it is best to have an established minnow population that they can forage on. These minnows can include fathead and bluntnose minnows.

Bluegills are many times stocked in Michigan ponds as the sole fish species. Several years of good fishing will occur after initial stocking of bluegills but over time they will overpopulate the pond, severely deplete the food supply, resulting in decreased growth rates that are not conducive to good quality fishing. Even as the growth of the bluegills decreases they will still remain very prolific producing even more bluegills which will tax the food supply. As an alternative to stocking bluegills, some will stock hybrid sunfish which is a cross between a green sunfish female and bluegill male. This hybrid cross results in the production of mostly male fish which can reduce reproduction in the early years resulting in larger growth and better quality fishing. But over time reproduction will occur and the quality of the fishery will be reduced.

Cold-water ponds

If you have a cold-water pond, you can stock trout. The best species to stock are brook and rainbow trout. These two fish species can also be stocked together. Avoid stocking brown trout as they are difficult to catch and as they grow they will eat other trout making it difficult to restock your pond. When stocking trout do not stock any other species of fish with them including minnows. Minnows will compete with trout for feed and reduce their growth rates. For trout, there is no need to stock forage fish. There are plenty of natural foods, such as aquatic insects, that inhabit the pond on which the trout can feed.

Avoid cool-water fish

Avoid stocking cool-water fish, such as yellow perch, walleye, and northern pike in ponds. These fish need large open water systems and will not do well in ponds. Yellow perch like bluegills are prolific breeders and can soon overpopulate a pond, monopolize the food source, and stunt out.

And never use grass carp to solve excessive aquatic plant growth problems as it is illegal to possess this fish species in Michigan.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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