Bulletin E1554
Managing Michigan Ponds for Sports Fishing

November 10, 2015 - John D. Schrouder


This bulletin is primarily for the present or prospective owner of a Michigan pond where the main goal is sport fishing—for the owner, his or her family, and a few friends. It should also be useful where the pond is for public fishing, or where the pond has some other primary use such as for waterfowl, swimming or irrigation, and angling is a side benefit.

The emphasis is on pond management under Michigan conditions, but much of the information should apply to other northern U.S. areas. Many other writings on pond fisheries pertain to conditions in states with milder climate and are unsuitable for Michigan.

Our objective is to help owners of existing ponds achieve more satisfactory fishing, as well as to aid aspiring owners in foreseeing pond potentials and problems before building or buying one. How a pond is situated and constructed strongly affects the success of management.

The Resource

Many Michigan land owners want ponds of their own for fishing, although they have free access to fishing in a greater offering of fresh waters than may exist in any other U.S. state: four Great lakes fronting on some 3,200 miles of shoreline, 9,000 inland lakes, 36,000 miles (58,000 km) of streams, and numerous natural ponds. No person in Michigan is far from a selsction of public fishing sites. But one’s very own fishing water, close at hand on the farm or vacation property—or even in a suburban setting—may be more convenient, as well as privately controllable, although not without costs and special responsibilities.

Between 25,000 and 40,000 artificial ponds have been built in Michigan. About 1,000 new ones are creasted each year. Most of these are primarily for fishing. Other purposes often include swimming, wildlife habitat, livestock watering, irrigation, and scenic enhancement. If a pond is especially designed and managed for one of these other purposes, it shouldn’t be expected to provide the same quality of fishing as one designed especially as a fishery. For example, a pond that provides proper duck habitat may be too shallow and plant-choked to maintain enough oxygen for fish during hard withers.

What qualifies as a pond, and how does it differ from a lake? There are no sharp differences. Everyone thinks of a pond as being smaller than a lake, but opinions vary as to how much smaller. This bulletin is intended to deal primarily with water bodies ranging in size from ¼ acre to 10 acres (0.2 to 4 hectares).

Regardless of size, ponds typically provide a few years of good fishing when new, or when “renovated” in various ways, then fishing deteriorates as fish populations change. On occasion ponds may be dismal failures right from the start, usually because of faulty design, improper location, or poor water quality.

What is Successful Management?

When is a pond a “success” or “failure?” Satisfaction is the key. The owner’s or user’s idea of what constitutes angling quality and satisfaction is the ultimate measure of a pond’s success. Much of this bulletin is written to help the many pond owners and users who aren’t satisfied with their fishing. But if the fishing in your own pond does satisfy you, enjoy it, and don’t pay too much attention to what others say is a more successful kind of pond.

Because satisfactory fishing is so much a matter of personal taste (some people are disappointed at anything less than trophy-sized bass or trout, while others are delighted with catching stunted bluegills or bullheads), we try not to tell owners and users what the right kind of pond or pond management is. Instead, we explain principles and describe alternatives from which to choose.

Caution! Are You Sure You Want a Pond?

Creating and managing a pond can require substantial time, effort and money. There is risk of wast or property damage. Matters of legal liability, such as injuries and drownings are of concern. Another problem is over-abundance of aquatic weeds. Trying to prevent or control them can be frustrating, although we’ll provide information to ease the job.

Many owners soon discover that having a fishing pond is a bit like having a pet or an automobile. It needs to be well cared for if it is to serve its purpose. Trying to maintain a prime fishing pond is like striving to keep a hunting dog or racing car in good shape. Performance depends on great attention to details. Do you really have time for that?

Natural Ponds and Artificial Ponds

Many naturally-formed ponds exist in the Michigan landscape. They typically have marshy, gradually-sloping edges. Many of them have only a few feet of water at the deepest point, not enough to maintain good fishing, but fine for wildlife. Natural marshy or swampy ponds can be highly enjoyable just for the sights and sounds, possibly also for the hunting they offer. If such a pond provides some fishing, it’s a bonus. If a natural is deep enough (about 15 feet or more) to furnish proper habitat for a flourishing fishery, then the owner is fortunate indeed.

This bulletin should help in realizing added fishing from natural ponds, whether they are of low or high potential. However, owners are cautioned that radical management, especially in the form of reshaping the basin or altering plant life to benefit fish, may destroy some wildlife habitat or damage other features which the owner values. Natural ponds may be protected by state laws to preserve the wildlife values of wetlands.

The artificial pond, designed for maximal fish abundance and minimal maintenance, is quite different from most natural ponds. It has steeply-sloping banks, an average depth over 8 feet, and a maximum depth greater than 15 feet, no matter what the surface area. 


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