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Ten Tips for Building a Fish-Friendly Lake

A well-designed and well-constructed fishing lake will increase a property’s value and provide good fishing.

Landscapes Winter 1998

The youngster who has his own fishing hole is often the envy of his friends. In children's eyes, a body of water with a few fish and tadpoles is a valuable asset -- and they're correct.

Land Bank Association staff say a well-constructed fishing lake almost always enhances the value of rural property. In fact, FLBA of North Mississippi CEO Gary Gaines reports that his association recently made several loans for the construction of fishing lakes for personal use.

"On a typical 10-acre tract in our area, a lake would increase the value of the property 10 to 15 percent," Gaines says, "and it would definitely increase the resale value of the land."

Whether you call it a pond, a stock tank or a plain ol' fishing hole, a lake should be designed to meet your needs and built according to proper specifications. "Starting with a well-constructed lake will save you from a great deal of problems in the long run," says Baytown, Texas, fisheries consultant Bill Gammel. "Redesigning a finished lake is an expensive undertaking, and one should do it right the first time."

If you plan to build a fishing lake or already own one, keep the following tips in mind.

1. Depth. Depth should vary from 3 to 12 feet, with an average of 6 to 8 feet. Less than 3 feet of water allows sunlight to reach the bottom of the lake, thus promoting aquatic weed growth, which will limit fish size. In the South, 12 feet of water will protect fish during the winter months.

2. Structure. "Structure is one factor in lake design that will truly affect your fish-catching ability," says Gammel. Structure refers to the contour of the lake -- not the cover or brush that litters the bottom. Fish orient themselves to the lake bottom at different times of the day. Be creative when building structure-forming points, drop-offs, mounds and creek beds. Map the lake so you can find the various structures when fishing.

3. Drains and Emergency Spillways. These two features should be incorporated into every lake if possible. The drain will allow you to start over if you need to redesign the lake. The emergency spillway will allow excess water to run off and not endanger the dam or levees.

4. Forage Fish. The predator-prey balance must be correct to achieve a balanced fish population. Forage fish are a must for a balanced pond. In a bass lake, the native bluegill is the basis of a good food chain because it reproduces quickly enough to support the largemouth bass population. Managed correctly, the bluegill also can be a good sport fish. In new ponds, stock one- to three-inch fish at a rate of 750 bluegill per acre (or 25 adult bluegill per acre) during the fall prior to stocking the predator fish.

5. Sport Fish. For ponds less than one acre in size, the sport fish decision is easy. Channel catfish and blue catfish can be used as sport fish. Stock these fish at a rate of 400 fish per acre and feed a high-protein pelletted food. For ponds one acre or larger, most sportsmen favor the largemouth bass. Stock largemouth bass at a rate of 100 fingerlings per acre. These fish should not be harvested for at least three years, allowing several year-classes to form.

6. Supplemental Forage. Thread fin shad are good for large, open-water lakes. Golden shiners should be used if trophy bass are desired. Redear sunfish are suitable for most lakes and make good sport fish. Because they feed on snails and crustaceans, they don't compete with bluegill.

7. Supplemental Sport Fish. Do not stock crappie unless you have professional help. Stocking crappie in a small lake often backfires. Channel or blue catfish can be stocked at a rate of 100 fish per acre.

8. Fertilizer. The most important maintenance practice is fertilizing the lake with a 15-36-0 liquid fertilizer. Fish capacity doubles if the lake is fertilized. Fertilizer also will shade the lake bottom by darkening the water, thus preventing aquatic weed growth.

9. Harvest. The No. 1 and 2 mistakes made by lake owners are over-harvesting and under-harvesting. A managed lake typically produces 50 to 70 pounds of bass per acre. Of that, you should harvest 20 percent per year.

10. Water Quality. Together, the pH and alkalinity indicate the acid nature of the lake water. The pH, or acid level, should be 6.5 to 7.5. The alkalinity, which is the water's ability to buffer the acid, should be above 30. Lower levels require the addition of lime to the water.

For more information on lake design and maintenance, the American Fisheries Society at (301) 897-8616, or contact your county agricultural Extension agent, U.S. soil conservation agent or state wildlife department.

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