How to Stock a Backyard Pond for Free
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How to Stock a Backyard Pond for Free

Whether you love fishing or just enjoy feeding the catfish with the grandkids, there’s nothing quite like a stocked pond in the backyard. But there’s a lot more to keeping a stocked pond than just digging a pit, filling it with water, and tossing some bluegills in.

If you’re restoring an older pond or building a new one, some basic things will save you a lot of headaches and concerns later on. To help in that process, we’ve created this comprehensive guide with tips for finding free fish to stock in your fishing pond, information about stocking laws, and maintenance tips.

What You Need to Stock Your Pond for Free

  • A pond ready for stocking
  • Access to the internet
  • An understanding and knowledge of local laws
  • All licenses and forms for stocking your pond filled out
  • A specific number of fish in mind
  • Beneficial bacteria product
  • Sinkable features – such as ceramic pots, fish attractors, etc.
  • Supplies – nets, buckets, transport bags, etc.
  • Water parameter test kits
  • Aeration system items

Laws You Should Be Aware of When Stocking a Pond

Before we get started in on the details, I thought it was important to point out that there are some laws to be aware of. Each location has different laws in place, so be sure to check your own state and municipal codes to know what’s permissible and what isn’t.

To find the laws for your area, do a simple google search with terms like “laws for backyard pond stocking in [my state]” or “backyard fishpond stocking laws [my state]”. The search results should lead you to a local government site that gives you the necessary details.

How to Find Free Fish for Your Pond

Some states have free stocking programs. Check out your local government website to find out if your pond could qualify for these programs.

If your state doesn’t have such a program though, you may be able to stock your pond with fish you catch in public waters. Daily catch limits still apply and not all states permit this method, due to disease control and unfavorable species concerns.

How Many Fish Should I Stock?

The size of your pond will determine how many of each species of fish to consider stocking.

  • Largemouth Bass (4-6 inch) – 25 per 1/4 acre
  • Bluegill and Redear Sunfish (2-4″) – 35 per 1/4 acre, plus 40 additional per 1/4 acre after that
  • Hybrid Bluegill (2-4 inch) – 50 per 1/4 acre
  • Fathead Minnows – 10 lbs. per 1/2 acre
  • Channel Catfish (4-6 inch) – 15 per 1/4 acre, 25 per 1/2 acre, 40 per 3/4 acre, 50 per 1 acre
  • Black Crappie (4-6 inch) – 20 per 1/4 acre

How Do I Prepare the Pond for Stocking?

Before you start applying for your stock, it’s best to prepare your pond for them. There are different types of habitats to create in your pond, depending on the types of fish you’re keeping.

Both feeder fish and the fish you’re intentionally stocking will need some hiding places to tuck themselves into. They need these spaces for reproductive purposes, security from predators, etc.

Weeds and intentional structures can provide these hidey holes. Consider planting specific cover plants like Horsetail (scouring) rushes, cattails, taro, cardinal flowers, mosaic plants, and even iris. These aquatic plants add beauty to the landscape of your pond while providing the necessary cover for your minnows and prey fish.

You can also sink structures for your fish like ceramic pots, fish attractors, larger rocks and small boulders, and other things that won’t decompose. Before sinking any of these, though, make sure they’re cleaned with filtered, unchlorinated water to make sure you’re not adding diseases, parasites, or other nasty elements with them.

You should also consider including some beneficial bacteria if the pond is newer. This can be done through products like Pond Worx Pond Bacteria or Aquascape Liquid Beneficial Bacteria.

    PondWorx Pond Bacteria

bottle of Pond Worx pond bacteria
    Pond Worx beneficial pond bacteria for a healthy pond

    Aquascape Liquid Beneficial Bacteria

Pump bottle of Aquascape beneficial bacteria
    Beneficial bacteria for backyard ponds of varying sizes

Create the Right Water Conditions

For those with turbid water, you may need to seek treatment and management for your pond before stocking the pond. You may need to restrict animal access and mitigate runoff to start and apply some gypsum to manage the clarity.

You don’t want absolute clarity though, as the predator-prey balance will fall off. Weird as it may sound, some experts actually recommend kickstarting the right balance with the introduction of fertilizer to create an algae bloom. This gives the water that familiar green tint and helps to induce the food chain.

Should I Stock More Than One Kind of Fish?

To have a healthy pond, you definitely want to consider stocking a few varieties of fish, if not several. You need three prey fish species like bluegill and perch for every predator species you have (think bass and pike). This strategy ensures your predator species have enough food while keeping your prey species in check.

Catfish, algae eaters, and other bottom dwellers are great for keeping the health of the pond in balance, as well, though most of them don’t affect the predator-prey population ratio much.

When you first stock your pond, you want to also consider adding in some feeder species like minnows to help the food chain get started as well. Prey fish will typically be more prone to hiding when first introduced, so the feeder species will help your predators find some food as they adapt.

When Should I Stock My Pond?

Ideally, you should stock your pond in either spring or autumn. The mild temperatures and high oxygen levels help to reduce stressors for the fish that can affect them negatively as they adjust to a new environment.

If you live in milder climates, fish may be stocked during summer as well, though they will require a bit more time to adjust to their new home.

How Do I Acclimate My Fish?

It won’t take a lot to help your fish acclimate to the new pond.

  1. Place the transportation bag in a shady spot of the pond.
  2. Let the bag float for 15-20 minutes, allowing the fish to adjust to the water temperatures in your pond.
  3. Now, open the bag and let the fish swim out in their own time.
  4. If you’re releasing minnows, do so at one end of the pond, any larger fish to that end. Release the smaller species on the other end so that they have a chance to find some shelter.

Best Practices for Maintaining the Pond

Once you’ve stocked the pond, you’ll have a few things to maintain the environment for the health of your fish.

  1. Keep the water well oxygenated. This means using some kind of aeration system to keep water movement going. Many folks use fountains and water pumps throughout to keep things flowing.
  2. Maintain the water parameters. You can do this by testing the pH levels, nitrates and nitrates, ammonia, and other levels through the use of a water testing kit.
  3. Catch some of the fish each season to record how many of each species you’ve got. Examine them for health color, size, and weight, while you’re at it.

The Best Backyard Pond Looks How You Want It

No matter the size of your pond out there, and no matter what species of fish you choose to stock, the important thing to keep in mind is your needs for the pond. If you’re planning to focus on catch and release with the kids or bring in dinner a few times a week, focus on these concerns rather than what you’re seeing other folks do.

Your best pond is well-maintained, stocked with the fish you enjoy catching, and filled with the right features for the fish and your aesthetic needs. It’s as simple as that.

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