Building a backyard pond is a gratifying experience, but why stop at just having water? While a fountain or waterfall can be quite enjoyable, there’s nothing quite like having fish swimming around in your yard.
That said, knowing how to stock a pond takes more than just buying fish at a pet store and tossing them in. There are multiple steps involved, and some species are better for ponds than others.
So, with that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about how to stock a pond.
A Brief Intro to Stocking a Pond
One of the most important elements to consider before stocking your pond is its size and layout. If you have a small garden pond, you’ll need small fish to stock it so they don’t overcrowd the water and die off.
Typically, large ponds are ideal for stocking, but you can put small species into a backyard pond if you like. That said, the smaller the fish, the more you have to worry about them getting sucked into the filter or water agitator. Realistically, you can put a mesh net over the intake pipe so your fish won’t go for a ride.
Another point to consider is whether you’re stocking the pond for fishing or just for aesthetics. If you want to be able to fish your pond, you need something substantial, such as a quarter or half acre of water. Otherwise, the fish won’t grow large enough to make the process worthwhile.
Finally, you may have to look into local laws and regulations regarding the types of fish you can stock in your pond. Also, you may have to commit to fishing a certain amount of them to keep the population from exploding out of control.
Overall, knowing why you want to stock your pond can make the entire process easier. The more planning and preparation you do beforehand, the smoother it will be to have healthy and happy fish in your pond.
Pros and Cons of Stocking a Pond
Before you start looking up fish hatcheries and local regulations, it’s helpful to look at the advantages and disadvantages of pond stocking. Here’s a breakdown of the different pros and cons you can expect:
- Pro: Reduce Pest Populations - Mosquitos and other insects love to breed in water, and fish love to eat these insects and their eggs. While mosquitos usually breed in stagnant water, fish can still eat any bugs that land on the surface. Even better, fish can maintain algae so your pond doesn’t get too green and slimy.
- Con: Maintenance and Upkeep - Once you stock your pond, you have to keep an eye on your fish populations. If they’re getting crowded, you’ll have to cull the species so they don’t all die. Also, you may have to worry more about cleaning and filtration, but that also depends on the size of your pond.
- Pro: Easy Fishing Access - If you’re an avid angler, you’ll appreciate having a well-stocked pond from which to catch a meal whenever you like. Plus, if you have children, they’ll enjoy catching and preparing fish from the backyard.
Costs Associated With Stocking a Pond
As we mentioned, stocking a pond isn’t as simple as buying some fish and tossing them in. There are a few other materials and equipment you’ll need to complete the process. Also, consider the costs of ongoing maintenance since you’ll have to monitor the water regularly.
Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll need and the average costs it takes to stock a pond.
The type of fish you put into your pond matters. Some species, like catfish or bass, are carnivorous. This means you have to stock them with forage fish that will serve as prey. Since bass and other fish don’t eat feed, you can’t stock them by themselves, or they’ll die.
The cost of individual fish can vary, depending on where you live and how many fish you’re buying. For example, on average, bass can cost between $.90 and $17.00, depending on the species and size. Smaller fish are cheaper, but you have to wait longer to harvest them.
Similarly, bluegill (a prey fish for bass) can cost between $.40 and $7.00 per fish. As a rule, you want about a 10:1 ratio of prey fish to predators to keep the balance.
Also, the size of your pond will dictate how many fish you should stock. Typically, about 25 bass is good for ¼ acre, meaning you need about 250 prey fish. Ideally, you can stock different species to keep a better balance and maintain pond diversity.
Overall, on the low end, for a ¼ acre pond, you can expect to pay between $125 to $1,200 just for the fish.
Bagging and Delivery Fees
Buying fish from a hatchery is usually the best choice, as you can ensure they don’t have parasites or other diseases. However, hatcheries will charge you for the bags they use to transport the fish.
On average, a hatchery will charge about one to two dollars per bag since they’re made to provide enough oxygen for the trip. While you could supply your own bags, the hatchery may not allow that, or you may lose fish before they even reach your pond.
If you’re buying so many fish for your pond, you may not be able to transport them yourself. Hatcheries can deliver fish to the water, but they charge delivery fees and may require a minimum order.
For example, a hatchery may charge between $2 and $5 per mile for delivery and have a minimum order of 500 fish.
With all of these extras involved, you could be looking at a total cost of $1,000 for the fish and the bags, even on the low end of the spectrum. Then, if your pond is far away from the hatchery, you could be looking at a relatively steep delivery fee.
Catching Your Own Fish
One way to save money on stocking a pond is to catch the fish yourself from a local lake or river.
However, there are a few hurdles to overcome, so the price of a hatchery delivery may make more sense. The factors to consider include:
- Time - How much time can you devote to fishing? Also, consider the maximum number of fish you can catch in a single day (based on local laws). How many days would it realistically take to get the right number of fish?
- Transportation - Harvesting fish to eat is different than harvesting them to stock a pond. You need to keep them alive for the journey, so you still need buckets or bags with sufficient water. How close are you to a lake or river where these species live?
- Diseases or Parasites - If you’re not a fish biologist, you may not be able to tell if a fish is infected with something. Even if just one fish is infected, the disease could spread throughout the entire population quickly. In the end, you may wind up with a pond of dead fish after all that hard work.
Beyond the fish themselves, you’ll also have to invest in a few other supplies to keep your pond well-stocked and maintained.
For example, beneficial bacteria can help prevent algae blooms that will kill your fish. Packages of this bacteria can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on how much you need.
Additionally, you need to be able to measure the pH balance and oxygen level of the pond. A pond pH kit can cost about $20 to $50, depending on the setup. An oxygen meter can cost between $60 and $300, depending on the make and model.
Finally, if you don’t have fishing equipment already, you’ll need to invest in rods, bait, fishing lines, nets, and more. Even if you’re not trying to fish all the time, you’ll have to be able to harvest your fish populations so they don’t get out of control.
How to Stock a Pond: Step-by-Step
Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, here are the steps required to stock your pond effectively.
Step One: Determine Your Fish Species
This step will require some homework, as there are some variables to consider. For example, the size of your pond will dictate the size of the fish you can stock, as well as how many. Additionally, where you live can dictate which species will work best for your pond.
Again, having predator and prey fish can help keep the ecosystem balanced so you don’t have to work as hard to maintain the population. Overall, more diversity leads to a healthier ecosystem, so try to have at least three or four species if possible.
Step Two: Get Any Permits
Be sure to check with your local county government to see whether you need a permit to stock your pond. These permits usually apply to larger fish species, but it’s best to talk with someone to discuss your plans. Also, ask whether the permits come with annual or one-time fees.
Step Three: Source Your Fish
As we mentioned, local hatcheries are the best resource for fish species so you can save time and get healthy specimens. If you live close to several hatcheries, you can compare pricing options to see which one will fit within your budget.
Step Four: Stock Your Prey Fish
The best way to stock a pond is to put forage fish in first and let them establish nesting sites within the pond. This way, the ecosystem is already somewhat balanced before you add predator species. While you can add both at the same time, you need to be much more careful about the process.
Step Five: Add Predator Fish
Ideally, you can wait a full season before adding predator fish to your pond. Waiting longer periods can also help with budgeting since you don’t need the full amount upfront.
Step Six: Monitor the Water Regularly
Use your pH kit and oxygen meter to ensure that your pond water is always balanced and healthy. If there’s too little oxygen, you may need to harvest some fish. If the pH is unbalanced, there may be too much algae or waste from the fish. So, adding some beneficial bacteria can help equalize the pH.
FAQs About How to Stock a Pond
As you can see, stocking a pond is a relatively complex process, although the benefits usually outweigh the downsides. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions to help you get off on the right foot.
Which Fish Species Work Best for Backyard Ponds?
If your pond is small, goldfish, minnows, and koi fish are all suitable. For larger ponds, bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie, and sunfish are all excellent. However, some regions may have different species that are better suited for the climate, particularly during the winter months.
Where Can I Buy Fish to Stock My Pond?
Hatcheries are the best option, although you can buy small fish species from pet stores and aquarium suppliers. As a rule, the more fish you buy, the cheaper the per-unit price.
Do I Need to Feed the Fish in My Pond?
You shouldn’t have to feed pond fish anything, as they will naturally forage for their own food (i.e., insect larvae). Predator fish feed on forage fish, so you just have to make sure to have enough prey for them.
What Happens if My Pond Fish Die?
If all or most of the fish in your pond die, you need to figure out what happened. That way, you can avoid the same problem if you decide to restock the water. For example, if there was a lack of oxygen from overcrowding, you can start with fewer fish next time.
It may also be best to drain and refill the pond water, just in case algae or microbes were to blame. If necessary, you might have to clean the liner to prevent the algae from coming back.
Do I Need to Remove My Pond Fish During Winter?
As a rule, if your pond has a healthy ecosystem, you don’t have to remove the fish during the winter. That said, you need to make sure the pond is deep enough and that there is still aeration to provide oxygen to the fish. So, you may need to run your pump system even if the surface of the water freezes over.
If you’re worried about your pond fish or aren’t sure whether they can handle the cold temperatures, it’s best to transfer them to a tank during the colder months. However, consider the costs of such a setup and whether it’s feasible to do.