As I meet with pond owners to visit with them about improving their ponds, I interview them about the history of the ponds. Funny thing: people enjoy growing fish and catching them, but they seem timid about keeping the fish. Why?
The first reason is that they hear so often “catch and release” in public water situations that it is ingrained in their mind that it’s the most noble thing to do as a pond management approach. This is not so.
The second reason is that they may not have a destination for the fish after catching them. Many pond owners simply enjoy the immediate convenience and relaxation of going to the pond in the evening after work and angling for a few fish. They aren’t interested in cleaning and preparing them for dinner then or putting them up for later. They just want to enjoy angling.
Another reason is that some people may shy away from pond-caught fish, preferring only saltwater species or having a notion that pond fish don’t taste good.
Managed ponds are stocked and managed with a purpose of growing fish, but unless you are growing ornamental koi, the fish should have an endpoint of harvest. Many pond owners stock catfish, which in almost all cases is a “put & take fishery”. Stock them, grow them, harvest them, restock. I meet many pond owners that just don’t complete the last two parts. They tell me with some pride that they have huge catfish in their pond and don’t fish it anymore. All catfish should be removed over a period of a couple of years. They will be a 1-2 pound size, easy to clean, and less likely to acquire off-flavor. Catfish fingerlings are inexpensive to restock. You can have a big fish fry with your friends and keep the process going. Harvest and enjoy.
The other scenario is the pond owner with a bass-bluegill pond and the intention of growing a bigger bass. They default to the above common phrase “catch and release” as a pond management strategy. This is not healthy for the pond. Bass and bluegill ponds are, if managed well, a self-sustaining population with waves of reproduction, replenishing the populations as the larger ones are harvested. So, specifically, if you stock 100 bass per acre over an established population of reproducing bluegill, they will have lots of small fish to eat. The next spring, the fish that have achieved 1 lb can spawn at a rate of 4,000 eggs per lb. Conservatively, let’s say you have 4 successful spawns and now you have 80 surviving adult bass from year one, and 2% survival of the spawn. You now have 320 extra mouths to feed. Repeat and multiply this process year over year and you can see that the bluegill population trying to feed the hungry, predator population of bass, will crash. This is frequently what I find in the visit with the catch and release pond owner. They had a couple of enjoyable years of fishing and then all they catch is skinny, small bass, and few bluegill. Year two, going forward, you need to harvest 15-20 lbs of largemouth bass per acre to avoid this scenario.
I understand wanting to catch a few fish at the end of a day to relax and enjoy the pond, but that is not harvest. Harvest some fish this season and enjoy the results of productive pond management, while doing something good for the pond.