Ponds provide a relaxing place to kick back and relax. For anglers, a pond is a little bit of heaven, to be able to come home and take a short walk from the front door to enjoy a little fishing is every angler’s dream. Built correctly, a pond can also serve as a swimming hole. Besides all of these attributes, a pond has a tendency to bring life to your property. Wild game of all kinds are drawn to ponds as if being pulled by a magnet.
A few years ago I wrote an article about a man in the Bay Area who built a small pond on his place, right in the middle of town. It was amazing. Within a year, ducks were settling on the water. Frogs started their croaking at night and there were even some raccoons move into the area. All around him were traffic jams, horns, planes and all the other sounds associated with living in a major metropolitan area, yet, his front yard provided a respite from the hubbub. It cost about the same amount of money to build the pond as it would have cost to install a swimming pool but his property value soared and people were constantly offering to buy the unique house.
Of course, this is California, so naturally there will be a few hoops you will have to jump through. These are basic requirements but you need to check with the county (public works department) before starting construction of your pond because regulations differ from county to county.
First, you need to ensure you have the legal rights to the water for your pond prior to construction. This may not be an issue for ponds filled by a spring or a well originating on your property. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) will require verification of water rights from the State Water Resources Control Board.
Before building a dam you will have to obtain a permit from the Department of Water Resources (DWR Division of Safety of Dams (916) 445-7606, if the dam exceeds certain limits. The dams exempt from this regulation are dams six feet or less in height, regardless of storage capacity, dams storing 15 acre-feet of water or less, regardless of height (An acre-foot of water will cover one acre, one foot in depth). And all dams less than 25 feet high which have a storage capacity of less than 50 acre-feet of water.
Construction and design
The design of the pond, dam and spillway are crucial to the success of your pond.
There are two types of ponds: Excavated and embankment. Which type of pond you build will depend on the topography of the area. Excavated ponds are used in relatively flat areas. They are built by digging a pit that is filled with water. The embankment-type pond is common to the foothill area and consists of an earthen dam constructed across a ravine.
The ASCS may actually reimburse up to 50 percent of the cost to build your dam, up to a maximum of $3,500. Applications are accepted for only three weeks each year due to limited funding. You must have a water rights permit. The NCRS can advise you whether a water rights permit is required for your pond. To receive reimbursement, you must have an approved application before starting construction.
Now, for the anglers
Stocking a pond requires patience and is a bit of a balancing act. If you want to raise healthy, hard-fighting fish, you need to follow a few guidelines.
Your pond’s construction should be completed prior to the winter rains. This is beneficial to stocking fish because they are more able to survive the stress of stocking. Warm water fish — bass, catfish, bluegill — are usually available during the spring and early summer. Trout are available throughout the year. Remember, trout are a cold water species and may have trouble surviving in many foothill or low-altitude ponds.
Largemouth bass are very popular. They are a great sportfish and prosper in ponds that are managed correctly. They are usually stocked with forage species such as bluegill and sunfish.
Fish used to stock your pond must be purchased from a registered aquaculurist. There is a list available from Department of Fish and Game. You may also need a private stocking permit.
Decide on the type of fish you want to stock. In warm water ponds you can stock channel catfish only or you can mix largemouth bass, sunfish and catfish. You can use other species but they can affect the productivity and complicate management.
It is best to keep careful records of the numbers and species of fish you stock and remove from your pond. Bass and sunfish harvests may need to be restricted. Keeping a balance between forage fish and predators is crucial to a healthy fish population. Selective harvesting is important.
Stocking the correct number and size of fish in your pond will ensure a long healthy life. You shouldn’t just try to stock some fish and hope it works out. There are formulas that have been developed that will make your stocking program viable. The ratio between sunfish to bass varies from pond to pond but, in general, 50 to 100 fingerling largemouth bass and 500 to 1000 fingerling sunfish per surface acre will provide a good density and balance. It is best to consult with a fishery biologist before stocking.
Fishing in a newly stocked warm water pond should not happen before the second summer following stocking. By this time the fish should have spawned.
The most common causes of poor fishing in warm water ponds are an overabundance of aquatic vegetation, a lack of fishing pressure on sunfish/bluegill populations and removing too many bass over too short of a time period.
Do not return bluegill to the water. According to the Department of Fish and Game, this is one of the most frequent mistakes made in managing farm ponds. Bluegill, left unchecked, will overpopulate and prey on young largemouth.
It is not advisable to use fish from lakes and other ponds to stock your pond. Besides being unlawful to transport live gamefish in California, most wild fish populations have some type of parasites.
There is a big advantage to having your own pond. They are esthetically pleasing, provide a recreational source, add to the value of your property, are easier to maintain than most swimming pools and no chlorine to burn your eyes. They may even help fend off wildfires. If you want more information about constructing and maintaining a pond call the California Department of Fish and Game in your region and ask for Inland Fisheries Informational Leaflet No. 23. It will provide more information and phone numbers of who to contact for permits and information.