OVERTON Fishing ponds, like automobiles and houses, are best served by timely winterizing.
“Just like winterizing anything else, a bit of pond maintenance now can save you time and trouble down the road,” said Dr. Billy Higginbotham, fisheries and wildlife specialist with Texas Cooperative Extension.
While some common problems, such as oxygen depletion, diminish with cooler weather, other problems arise. Cool water can absorb more oxygen than warm water, and fish, being cold-blooded animals, experience a slowing down of their metabolisms as temperatures drop. A slower metabolism means less oxygen consumption. But less oxygen consumption means it’s easy to overfeed fish.
But addressing other issues, such as water quality and aquatic weed control, can result in better fishing next spring, Higginbotham said. Winter preventive maintenance includes.
Identifying problematic weed species now and selecting a method of control, either biological or chemical.
Fresh samples may be submitted to the local Extension agent or fisheries biologist for identification and control recommendations. Pond owners with Internet access can visit Extension’s Web site, Aquaplant. The site provides photos, sketches, descriptions and control options for more than 50 common weed species. In addition, labels for various herbicides can be downloaded to help determine the best course of action. The Web site address is http://aquaplant.tamu.edu/ .
The most common type of biological control is the use of triploid grass carp. When stocked at the proper density, grass carp will eat some species of plants and mosses. By state law, however, pond owners must obtain a permit through Texas Parks and Wildlife before purchasing grass carp. They may only be purchased from a fish farm holding an exotic species permit, Higginbotham said.
If feeding a floating ration, reduce the amount as temperatures cool.
“Feed only what the fish will clean up in 10-15 minutes, and select only warm sunny afternoons through the winter to offer feed,” Higginbotham said. “This keeps fish in good condition going into the spring.”
Many pond owners managing primarily for largemouth bass use feeders to enhance growth and reproduction of forage species such as bluegill, Higginbotham said. These feeders should also be adjusted as temperatures drop and fish become less active.
Check pH and total alkalinity of pond water.
A measure of water acidity, pH should range between 6.5 and 9.0 while total alkalinity, a measure of the buffering capacity of the water, should register at least 20 parts per million.
Winter months are an ideal time to adjust pH and alkalinity because the treatment, usually an application of agricultural lime, takes time to have an effect. Depending upon weather conditions, the fineness of lime used and the method of application, the time delay may be from a few days to as much as a month.
Water pH and alkalinity must be correct for pond fertility programs which should be started in early spring to have an optimal effect. All too often, pond owners wait until April or later to check pH and alkalinity, and have to delay the spring fertility program as a result, Higginbotham said.
“All Extension agents in East Texas have the testing equipment to perform these tests. If either pH or total alkalinity are below par, agricultural limestone applications will be recommended to improve water quality for fish production,” Higginbotham said.
Higginbotham also recommended pond owners who are serious about good fishing start keeping records of their catch during the fall and winter months.
“Assess your goals: Did fishing meet your expectations in 2004? If not, then better management can lead to balanced fish populations–a prerequisite for better fishing,” Higginbotham said. “Commit to keep records on the number and total length of fish caught by species. For largemouth bass, also accurately record total weights of all fish caught between August and January to determine fish condition. Your Extension agent can advise you on interpreting these records.”