Chapter 6: Stocking Strategies for Recreational Small Impoundments
Russell A. Wright and Clifford E. Kraft
One of the most exciting and crucial steps in the management of a recreational fishing pond is the establishment of fish populations through stocking. Stocking turns an impoundment into a fishing pond. Since the beginning of the 20th century, stocking recommendations for small impoundments have evolved substantially. Prior to the 1930s, ponds were often stocked with not only a wide variety of fishes, but also with an array of plants, algae, and invertebrates (Embody 1915). Such prescriptions were difficult to follow, which produced unpredictable and often poor quality fishing (Edminster 1947; Swingle 1970). While early attempts at creating good fishing in small impoundments largely tried to mimic natural assemblages, research in the 1930s and 1940s took a more experimental approach using simplified pond fish communities (Swingle 1949a; Bennett 1951). During the past century (the period of modern, science-based small impoundment management), approaches to pond stocking have evolved from haphazard attempts to mimic nature, to largely standardized combinations of fishes, and more recently to specialized combinations of fishes that managers recommend to serve the changing goals of pond owners.
Food webs established by stocking small impoundments can be broken into two primary categories: those that are self-sustaining and those that must be maintained through stocking. Self-sustaining approaches rely on the establishment of a food web through an initial stocking or series of stocking events early after the impoundment is created. Populations of fish are sustained in the pond via reproduction and recruitment. Early research demonstrated that to maintain fast growth rates for prey species such as bluegills, predators were needed to keep bluegill populations under control (Swingle 1950). In a self-sustaining food web, the prey species must be somewhat vulnerable to a predator, but not so vulnerable as to be easily eliminated. The prey species must be highly productive (i.e., reproduce and grow successfully) to provide sufficient prey to facilitate fast predator growth rates. The predator should also reproduce well in pond conditions and be able to feed on and control the abundance of the prey species. Although the top predator in the pond is often the fish species of greatest interest to many anglers, ideally both predator and prey should be fishes favored by anglers, thereby maximizing the recreational potential of the pond.