Stocking Michigan ponds for sport fishing

Stocking the right fish at the right time in your pond can make the difference in a successful fishing experience.

Spring is the time of year to evaluate the type and quantity of fish to put in your farm pond. The summer water temperature dictates what type of fish is best to use in your pond. Warmwater fishes, such as largemouth bass, survive best in ponds where the summer water temperature is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Ponds that remain below 70 F (when measured a foot below the surface near the center) may support coldwater fishes, such as trout, if the dissolved oxygen concentration stays above 5 parts per million.

In Michigan, largemouth bass are stocked in most warmwater ponds. The fastest growth for largemouth bass occurs when the water temperature is above 75 F, and on average, they can live up to five years. When stocking largemouth bass, it is best to have an established minnow population that they can forage on. These minnows could include fathead and bluntnose minnows. Many people make the mistake of stocking bluegills for forage fish for largemouth bass. Bluegills have the tendency to overpopulate the pond, monopolize the food supply, and stunt out in growth. Largemouth bass can reproduce in the pond when they reach an age of 2 to 4 years old or around 10 inches in size. Reproduction usually occurs in May or June when the water temperature is between 60 F to 75 F.

To prepare for bass stocking, it is best to stock about 500 adult minnows and, after they spawn, stock the bass. To stock your pond, use either 100 fingerlings (2 to 4 inches) per surface acre in July - August, or 25 - 50 yearlings (6 to 10 inches) per surface acre in April - October, or 6  -8 adults of both sexes (over 12 inches) per surface acre in October or May.

If you have a coldwater pond, you can stock trout. The best species to stock are brook and rainbow trout. 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. Best growth for rainbow trout occurs when the water temperature is between 54 F – 66 F. Rainbows can reach a size of 15 inches in three years. Best growth for brook trout occurs between 48 F – 60 F. They are stocked more in the northern part of the state rather than in southern Michigan. For trout, there is no need to stock forage fish. There are plenty of natural foods—like aquatic insects—that inhabit the pond on which the trout can feed. Also avoid using artificial formulated feeds since they will promote increased nutrient loading in the pond that will lead to excessive aquatic plant growth.

For initial stocking of trout in a pond, spring fingerlings (2 to 3 inches) can be stocked at 200 - 300 per surface acre in April - May. Fall fingerlings (5 to 6 inches) can be stocked at 50 - 150 per surface acre in September - October for initial stocking or restocking. Spring yearlings (6-7 inches) can be stocked at 50 - 150 per surface acre in April - June for initial stocking or restocking. Adult trout over 7 inches can be stocked at 25 - 50 per surface acre in the spring or fall for initial stocking or restocking. Trout usually will not reproduce in ponds.

Avoid stocking coolwater 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.

For detailed information on fish pond management you can order Managing Michigan Ponds for Sport Fishing Extension Bulletin E-1554 from the Michigan State University Extension Bookstore or your county Extension office.

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