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Fish for Pennsylvania Ponds

Posted: July 1, 2012

Is fishing a passion of yours? Why not stock your pond with the right kind of fish so you and your kids can have a great time outdoors?
Photo courtesey of PA Fish & Boat Commission

Photo courtesey of PA Fish & Boat Commission

Whether for aesthetics or for fishing pleasure, most pond owners are interested in stocking and managing fish. Dozens of fish species are suitable for stocking in Pennsylvania ponds, but some species are usually more successful than others.

Bass and bluegill are by far the most popular and successful combination of fishes. Either smallmouth or largemouth bass are suitable although largemouth bass are the more common choice. Both bass and bluegill thrive in the warm water present in most ponds. Bass offer excellent sport fishing opportunities, while bluegills provide a food base for bass and good fishing for youngsters. You can fine-tune the size and number of both bass and bluegill by regulating the harvest. Common mistakes are over harvesting bass and under harvesting bluegill.

Other types of sunfish are sometimes stocked instead of bluegill, but usually with less success. These tend to be harder to catch than bluegill and have unpredictable survival rates. However, if your pond suffers from swimmer’s itch, a rash-causing parasite carried by waterfowl and snails, you can stock pumpkinseed sunfish in place of bluegills because they feed on snails and reduce the parasite.

Most ponds cannot sustain trout year-round because of warm summer water temperatures. Adult trout can be stocked during spring or fall and harvested before the warm summer temperatures in a “put-and-take” fishery.

Yellow perch can be stocked for ice fishing. They can produce more satisfactory results if stocked in combination with other species, like bass, that will help keep their population under control. Black crappie are active throughout winter, also making them popular for ice fishing. They do best in very large ponds or lakes with cool, deep water and extensive underwater habitat.

Channel catfish have been somewhat successful in Pennsylvania ponds when stocked with largemouth bass. They can reach very large sizes, but their survival and reproduction is unpredictable in Pennsylvania ponds. Brown Bullhead catfish rarely grow larger than 12 inches in ponds. They are able to tolerate low water quality, such as high water temperatures, muddy water, and low dissolved oxygen. Brown bullhead can be problematic however, because they are prolific. The result is a large population of stunted catfish that stir up the mud on the bottom of the pond while looking for food. They may be most useful in ponds that are unable to support more desirable fish species.

Golden Shiners, which are large, native minnows, can reach 10 inches. It is a good forage fish that is often stocked as a food source for bass. Shiners do best in ponds with aquatic vegetation that provides cover and breeding locations.  Fathead minnows are also native to Pennsylvania but are smaller than golden shiners. Like channel catfish, fatheads are tolerant of poor water quality. They breed prolifically, which makes them an excellent baitfish. Bass easily prey upon fathead minnows, so they must be stocked more frequently than golden shiners. As a result, they are not recommended in ponds with well established bass populations.

Many types of native darters are found in Pennsylvania. They are small, bottom-dwelling forage fish. Since they are intolerant of high water temperatures, muddy water, and other problems, the presence of darters indicates high water quality. Most darters will do well, but Johnny Darters and Tesselated Darters are recommended for ponds.

There are certain fish that are definitely not recommended for small Pennsylvania ponds including walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, and pickerel. You should avoid these fish when planning to stock your pond!

So how do you stock your pond? You can stock it with fish caught from other ponds, lakes, or streams as long as the fish are of legal size and were caught during the legal fishing season. Or you can purchase fish from Pennsylvania’ dozens of commercial fish hatcheries. A list of those hatcheries summarized by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture can be accessed online. More detailed information on pond fisheries management can be found in several publications from Penn State Extension and online at our Water Resources Web site.