Some of the most frequent questions I get are regarding farm ponds. Folks in West Texas call them “tanks” or “stock tanks”. And I have it on good order from my co-workers in northeast Texas that their chosen name for ponds is “pools”. Regardless of their name, ponds are used for watering livestock, aesthetics, or just plain fishing.
I suppose that most ponds in our area produce catfish, bass, and other fish without too much effort. Indeed, there are lots of folks who don’t do anything but throw out a fishing line from time to time.
Smaller ponds that are an acre or less are ideal for raising catfish. If you want to raise more than one species of fish, the experts recommend having a pond larger than one acre. Keeping a multiple-species pond running requires plenty of space for the fish to move around, spawn, and feed.
And for the curious, one acre is 43,560 square feet. If your acre was perfectly square, it would be 209 feet wide and 209 feet long. But I’ve never seen a perfectly square pond, and many folks greatly overestimate the size of their pond. If you’ve ever played around with Google Earth Pro or similar programs, you know you can measure the length of a road, property lines, and even measure the area of a pasture or pond.
I’ll bet you’d be surprised how small your pond is. Nearly everyone I ask will tell me they’ve got a pond that’s “about an acre”. If you insist on ‘guesstimating’ the area, compare it to the area of a football field. A football field, excluding the end zones, is 1.1 acres.
So how many fish does one acre support? A good rule of thumb for the maximum carrying capacity of a pond is 1,000 lbs. of fish per surface acre. Focus on the words “surface acre” because when estimating the number of fish you can easily keep, the depth of the pond is of no concern. True, a deep pond will still hold water for livestock in long dry spells, but for how many catfish to stock, you need to know the surface area.
If you lost all your fish during this past drought, have constructed a new pond, or dug out an old pond during the drought, the upcoming fall months of October through December are a great time to stock catfish. Catfish stocking rates range from 100 to 1,000 fingerlings per surface acre. (Remember, if you have a small pond that is a tenth an acre, your range will be from 10 to 100 fingerlings.) The range is dependent on the frequency of feeding.
Supplemental feeding greatly increases the growth rate and short-term carrying capacity as you are supplying the protein needed to grow them out to eating size.
When you feed your fish, use a floating feed that contains at least 28% protein. Feed at a rate that will be consumed in 10-15 minutes each time. Frequent feeding should occur from March to November and can be provided once a week during the winter months on warm, sunny days only.
If you are interested in stocking your pond, call your favorite local feed store to ask when their fish supplier is coming and what the prices will be.
For those who stocked fingerlings years ago, one of the most common mistakes I hear of is simply not harvesting your fish. Plenty of folks go fishing for the fun of it but then release them back into the pond. As your fish grow and multiply, you’ll reach a stocking rate that is too high and will be short in available oxygen during the summer months.
The solution? Catch ‘em and eat ‘em. You must harvest your catfish or they’ll naturally die off when pond water levels are low in oxygen.
Think of a cattleman who never sold his calf crop. Over time, the pasture that could support his initial herd of cattle would be so overpopulated that there simply wouldn’t be enough grass.
The same is true with fish and oxygen levels. Interestingly, you’ll lose your bigger fish from oxygen depletion rather than your smaller ones during a die-off. Unlike thin cattle that anyone can see need more to eat, you may not be easily able to tell when your fish will eventually die off.
If you do have lots of eating-size catfish and you know you have plenty of fish in your pond, your best management would be to just go fishing this fall, and catch all you can. Be sure to invite your family and the neighbors over for a fish fry. It could easily be an annual event.