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I thought fish were dormant during the winter. So why do people ice fish? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I thought fish were dormant during the winter. So why do people ice fish?

Q: I thought fish were dormant during the winter. So why do people ice fish?

Keith – Commerce, MI

A: Not all fish go dormant in the winter. Some fish species, like trout, bluegill, perch and crappies, will happily bite despite the ice! There’s no reason to limit yourself to open-water fishing. With some gear and some know-how, you can sport fish or catch your dinner all year-long.

THE GEAR

Whether you plan to cast a line your own ice-covered lake or angle in a favorite fishing spot in your area, you will need some basic equipment. Here’s a quick list of expert-recommended must-have items:

  • Clothing: Water- and wind-resistant clothing is a necessity on the ice—particularly if you’re fishing in an area with biting winds and bitter cold. Make sure you have a warm hat, like a wool beanie, to cover your noggin, along with a warm parka with a hood. Dress in several thin layers, wear gloves, pull on some insulated rubber boots, and consider wearing some ice cleats to safely walk on the slippery stuff.
  • Shelter/Windbreak: In addition to wearing the right type of clothing, a shelter or windbreak will keep those cold winds at bay. It doesn’t have to be complicated: a frame with plastic, canvas or cardboard will do just fine. But there are some pretty upscale options for those who want to ice fish in style (while watching the big game on satellite TV!).
  • Hole-Drilling Tools: To get to the fish, you need a way to plow through the ice. Tools like a spud bar, or a pipe or a pole with a blade will allow you to cut through a 1-foot-thick sheet of ice. If you’re dealing with a thicker layer, consider investing in a 8-inch hand-driven or power auger with a spiral or spoon blade. It’ll slice through the ice like butter.
  • Tackle and Bait: Of course, you’ll also need tackle and bait. The kind of fishing equipment you use will depend on the type of fish you’re hoping to hook. Choose accordingly.

THE KNOW-HOW

With all your gear ready, the next step is to find the fish! As any angler will attest, this is an art in and of itself, particularly if you’ve never fished a particular lake before. A hydrographic map and portable depth finder can help you find fishes’ preferred hiding spots, and a fish finder or underwater camera can help you see them swimming about. So many gadgets, so little time …

If you plan to ice fish your own pond or lake, figure out where the game likes to congregate and plan to cast your line there. If you don’t have an established habitat yet, create one before the ice covers your pond by installing some Porcupine® Fish Attractor Spheres. When these 6-inch-diameter spheres are outfitted with 26 individual ½-inch PVC pipes, they create 5½ feet of coverage for fish to hide within—and a spot where you can successfully get a bite.

SAFETY TIPS

Safety is critical when ice fishing. As fun and relaxing as the sport may be, it can be dangerous when these basic safety tips aren’t followed:

  1. Ensure the ice is at least 3 to 6 inches thick to walk on, at least 7 inches thick to drive on with a car, and 10 inches thick to drive on with a truck. The thicker, the better!
  2. Avoid areas of cracked ice and listen carefully for loud booms or cracking sounds, which could indicate the ice is shifting.
  3. Never fish alone.
  4. If you bring pets or children with you, supervise them at all times and keep your dog on a leash.
  5. Have safety equipment, like a Life Ring or life vest, rope, blankets and a first aid kit, on hand in case of emergency.
  6. When you’re finished, mark or cover your hole with a branch to prevent anyone from stepping into your hole.

Pond Talk: If you ice fish, what’s your favorite part of the hobby?

Create a Winter Habitat for Game Fish - Porcupine® Fish Attractor Spheres

I started feeding my game fish this summer, when do I stop feeding them? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I started feeding my game fish this summer, when do I stop feeding them?

Q: I started feeding my game fish this summer, when do I stop feeding them?

Carl – Cedarburg, WI

A: Though fish don’t go into hibernation like a bear, the bass and other game fish in your lake or pond do go into a period of decreased physiological activity, or torpor, when water temperatures fall below 40° Fahrenheit. Their metabolism slows, their movement slows, and their temperature falls, which allows them to save energy and survive the winter chill.

Because of this, they need very little food to sustain them. If they do get hungry or need a midnight (or mid-winter) snack, they can forage for meals on their own. In fact, they like to nibble on pond plants and small insects. Their natural instincts kick in, and they use their senses of smell and sight to track down needed nutrients , which give them plenty of energy to weather the winter until feeding season resumes.

So—to answer your question—when water temperatures drop to 45° or 50°F or so, you can totally stop feeding them.

Until then, however, keep giving them a tasty diet like The Pond Guy® Game Fish Grower fish food. Scientifically balanced to suit the nutritional needs of bass, bluegill, trout and perch, the vitamin C-packed diet helps fuel and grow your healthy fish population, ensuring they’re in great shape for fishing season.

Pond Talk: What is your fish’s favorite all-natural snack?

Promote Rapid Growth With A Balanced Diet - The Pond Guy® Game Fish Grower Fish Food

Do I need to stop feeding my game fish for the winter? If so, when and what will they eat when I stop? | Pond & Lake Q&A

Do I need to stop feeding my game fish for the winter? If so, when and what will they eat when I stop?

Do I need to stop feeding my game fish for the winter? If so, when and what will they eat when I stop?
Missy – Racine, WI

When water temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, game fish activity slows down significantly – and their appetites slow down too. At that point, they’re capable of finding plenty of food in their habitat, making it unnecessary to continue feeding.

In a chilly winter pond, game fish are perfectly happy to forage for their meals. During the down season, they snack lightly on pond plants and small organisms, gaining sufficient energy to weather the winter until feeding season resumes. Game fish, it seems, never lose their natural ability to find the food they need. They make the most of their senses of smell and sight to track down necessary nutrients, and do their part to keep their pond clean until it reopens in the spring.

But when spring comes, and water temperatures climb above 40 degrees, their appetites return with a vengeance. They’ll be looking to you for sustenance – and nothing gets their mouths watering more effectively than our Game Fish Grower Fish Food. Scientifically balanced to suit the nutritional needs of bass, bluegill, trout and perch, this superfood creates a strong, healthy fish population, and ensures that your stock is in great shape for fishing season.

Pond Talk: Do you feed your gamefish?

The Pond Guy® Game Fish Grower Fish Food

What is the difference between regular Bluegill and Hybrid Bluegill? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

What is the difference between regular Bluegill and Hybrid Bluegill?

What is the difference between regular Bluegill and Hybrid Bluegill?

Dan – Toldeo, OH

Ask any thoroughbred Bluegill, and they’ll tell you there’s a huge difference. But the truth is, a Hybrid Bluegill is simply a cross between a Male Bluegill and a Female Sunfish. As it turns out, that combination produces a population that’s between 80% and 90% male.

There are effects of a predominantly male population. First – and most important – it slows down reproduction, which in turn prevents overpopulation. If left to their own devices, regular, non-hybrid Bluegills reproduce very quickly. Left unchecked, this means overcrowding – and all the negative ramifications that come with it. Also, with a predominantly male population, there’s also a natural tendency for fish not to ask directions. Fortunately, in a small, backyard pond, there’s really nowhere to get lost.

There are, however, some drawbacks to stocking your pond with hybrid Bluegills alone. Because reproduction is slower, natural cycles and predator fish may result in dwindling fish populations over time. In those situations, restocking with additional Bluegills and/or other feeder fish like minnows may be required every few years.

But for many ponds, hybrid Bluegills are an exceptional choice. Once they arrive, however, it’s important to make them feel welcome. We strongly recommend the use of Game Fish Food to satisfy hearty appetites. And for both predator protection and shade from the summer sun, our Fish Attractor Spheres are the perfect complement to your pond’s natural habitat.

Pond Talk: What type of bluegill do you stock in your pond?

Fish Attractor Spheres

When is the best time to stock fish in my pond? | Pond & Lake Q&A

When is the best time to stock fish in my pond?

When is the best time to stock fish in my pond?
Jan – Raleigh, NC

Pond owners looking to replenish their fish populations this season should grab their buckets and nets; spring is here and it is the perfect time to stock your pond with new game fish.

Spring and fall are the best times to add new fish to your pond as the temperatures are not as harsh making it easier for you to transport your newcomers and acclimate them to their new home. You can still introduce fish into your pond during the summer months but you will want to take extra precautions to make sure you can quickly transport the fish to your pond and take a little extra time during the acclimation process.

Deciding how many fish to add to your pond will predominately depend on the surface area of the water body. You can take a look at a few examples of stocking rates on our website. You will want to stick to a ratio of 3 prey fish (sunfish, bluegill, or perch) to 1 predator fish (bass) when choosing species to promote a healthy and balance fish population. Click over to our Fish Stocking Blog for some more information.

You can purchase fish from your local fish hatchery or catch and transport fish from a friend’s pond. Wherever the source, inspect the fish for signs of illness or disease before adding them to your pond. Our local customers can take advantage of The Pond Guy semi-annual Fish Day which takes place on the 7th of May. Fish day is a great opportunity to meet with other pond owners, speak with the friendly and knowledgeable The Pond Guy staff, and browse our wide selection of pond products from Pond Dye to 24’ Windmills. Customers can place orders online or over the phone until May 7th which will be available for payment and pick-up on the 8th between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. There will be a wide selection of both predator and prey fish available for purchase including Hybrid Bluegill, Perch, Catfish and Bass. Walk-ins are welcome but selection will be limited by availability.

Make sure there is adequate habitat for your smaller fish to hide, grow and reproduce. Weeds, grasses and other debris already in your pond will provide some cover but you can introduce man made habitats to protect your fish without dealing with weeds and plants. Check out our Fish Habitat blog for some more insight into creating comfortable living spaces for your fish.

Pond Talk: What fish have you found in your pond?

Fish Trap

There are some weeds in the pond but do I need to add anything else for my fish? | Pond & Lake Q&A

There are some weeds in the pond but do I need to add anything else for my fish?

There are some weeds in the pond but do I need to add anything else for my fish?
Kyle – Portland, ME

The fish in your farm pond or lake will definitely use weeds as a source of food and shelter but providing additional habitat is key for pond owners looking for a balanced fish population with large game fish.

Using pond weeds as a source of habitat for your fish population is an at times be a double edged sword to pond owners. While your fish will have somewhere to eat, hide and spawn you may not exactly enjoy seeing weeds taking over and greening up your pond. Snagged fishing hooks, expensive chemical treatments and a downright ugly pond can ruin any pond owner or fishermen’s day.

Porcupine® Fish Attractors are constantly growing in popularity as they provide excellent structure for your fish population without the headaches caused by an abundance of aquatic weeds. Unlike pine trees and pallets these Fish Attractors will not bio-degrade or promote algae and weed growth. The PVC spines are easy to fish within and do not snag lures or tangle fishing line. While they are essentially a simple concept these plastic spheres go a long way in maintaining a healthy stock of fish. Simply use PVC Primer and Glue to secure ½” PVC pipe within the Porcupine® Fish Attractor Spheres and you have an instant fish habitat. The Fish Attractor structures sink to the bottom of your pond on their own but can be secured to weights using the pre-drilled hole in each plastic sphere for areas with wake or strong currents. When placed in small groups the fish attractor spheres create hiding places for both large and small game fish. Smaller fish can maneuver closer to the center of each sphere while larger fish can utilize the outer portions. Minnows and fry hide within the hollow interior of the PVC tubes. Providing an adequate amount of fish habitat gives your smaller species an opportunity to grow and reproduce.

If an unbalanced fish population is a concern click over to our Pond Stocking Blog for some tips on what to look for when stocking your pond and how to select the right types of fish for your pond. You can also read more on natural fish habitats versus their man-made counterparts another of our Fish Habitat Blogs.

Pond Talk: Have you tried the Porcupine Fish Attractor Spheres? What do you use to create fish habitat?

Fish Attractor

I know there’s fish in my pond, how can I identify them? – Ponds & Lakes Q & A

I know there’s fish in my pond, how can I identify them?

I know there’s fish in my pond, how can I identify them? Dustin – Vortex, KY

Which Fish?

So you’ve seen some fish swimming beneath the surface of your pond. Maybe they’ve even taken a nibble or two at your toes while you are swimming. Regardless of how you use your pond you would still probably like to know what types of fish are swimming beneath the surface. For all of you curious pond guys and gals out there who want to be better acquainted with their fish we present to you a blog on getting to know your fish. While there are many fish in the sea, there tends to be a slightly small selection in your pond. Let’s review the characteristics of some of the most common:

Bluegill

Bluegill / Hybrid Bluegill – Bluegill are one of the most common types of game fish introduced into lakes and backyard ponds. The body of a Bluegill is deep, robust, and cichlid-like. The mouth is small and the front of the dorsal fin is spiny. Bluegill are typically olive-green in color with five to seven dark vertical bands which fade as they approach the middle of the fish. Their belly is a creamy color and the pectoral and pelvic fins are often pigmented with white. There is a black opercular spot just behind the top of the gill and another on the back of the dorsal fin. The typical Bluegill will grow to a maximum of 10” in length and weigh in at around 1 pound, the largest caught weighing just under 5 pounds. Bluegill are a relatively hardy fish that thrive in water temperatures ranging from 39 to 72 degrees, feeding off of vegetation, insects and worms. Bluegill will spawn in water temperatures between 67 to 80 degrees in saucer shaped nests located in the sandy or gravel covered shallow areas of water. While people enjoy fishing and eating Bluegill they are also great food source for larger predator fish like Bass.

Bass

Bass – The Largemouth Bass is considered to be one of the most prized game fish in North America. Largemouth Bass are similar to the spotted bass and small-mouth bass but can be distinguished by the deep curvature of its dorsal fin and an upper jaw that extends past its eye. They are a rather slender and streamlined fish with colors that range from dark green on top, silvery green to yellow flanks, to a yellowish-white belly. Their sides are commonly accented with a dark and irregular strip. The average Bass will grow to around 16” in length and weigh in at or below 10 pounds with the worlds largest weighing a little over 22 pounds. Largemouth Bass are best suited for temperate or warmer water flourishing in temperatures around 80 degrees. Though tolerant of turbid water, Largemouth Bass favor clear water, sandy shallows, and abundant rooted aquatic weeds or slow moving rivers and streams with soft bottoms. Many species of pondweeds, water lilies, coontail, elodea, cattails, and bulrushes provide excellent cover. It has a widely varied diet that emphasizes on bluegill, minnows and other small fish as well as frogs and smaller animals like birds or young muskrats. Its predatory nature helps to keep bluegill from overpopulating. Bass spawn in early May and into June in firm sandy areas 2’ to 6’ deep when water temps are in the 60 degree range.

Perch

Perch – While they don’t grow large enough to be considered a prize game fish, the Yellow Perch is most sought after for its excellent table fare. Yellow Perch have bright yellow or yellow/green oval shaped bodies with a back ranging from a bright green to a golden brown. They are accented by seven dark, tapering, vertical bars, running from their back down to their grayish belly. Yellow Perch range from 6 to 12 inches in length and weigh in between 6 to 16 ounces with the largest catch weighing 4 pounds 3 ounces. Perch prefer cool clear water and should be stocked in lakes where the water temperatures remain below 80 degrees year-round. Yellow perch feed on zooplankton, insects, snails, and other small fish and are considered a prey fish rather than a predator. Yellow Perch become sexually mature at 5 to 7 inches and spawn in the early Spring when the water temperatures are between 45 to 55 degrees. The yellow perch makes an excellent forage fish for cool-water predators such as walleye, smallmouth bass, and northern pike.

Catfish

Catfish – Channel Catfish are growing in popularity among sport fishermen due to its large size, hard fighting ability, and tasty flesh. Catfish are characterized by scale-less skin and barbells, better known as whiskers, about their mouth. Channel Catfish can be distinguished from other catfish by the presence of dark spots on its body and a deeply forked tail. Channel Catfish have awesome growth potential reaching lengths of 4 feet, the world record catch in South Carolina weighing in at 58 pounds. Channel Catfish prefer clear slow moving water but can also tolerate muddy water. Channel Catfish are scavengers and will eat just about anything it can find including live fish and game fish food. They are sensitive to light and will typically reside at the bottom of ponds and lakes. Channel Catfish usually become sexually mature when they reach at least 11” but do not generally reproduce in ponds due to the absence of an adequate spawning structure. A suitable structure can be installed by placing buckets or drain tile in depths of 3 to 4 feet of water along the pond bottom. They tend to spawn from May to July when water temperatures reach 75 degrees.

Walleye

Walleye – One of the most popular game fish in North America, the Walleye is second only to the Largemouth Bass. While it is not the most spectacular fighter, Walleye are quite tasty on the table. Walleye sport an elongated torpedo shaped body with highly variable coloring. Their bodies can range from olive green to brown to yellowish gold often marked with brassy flecks. They have no distinct markings or bars but instead an overall mottling of brown or black and a white belly. Walleye grow to be anywhere from 13” to 25” in length and weigh in between 13 and 22 pounds. The maximum recorded Walleye measured 42 inches in length and weighed 25 pounds. Walleye are considered a cool water fish preferring warmer water than Trout but cooler water than Bass and Bluegill. They enjoy water bodies with sand or gravel bottoms near vegetation though they don’t reside within it. Walleye have a special reflective layer of pigment in their eyes to help increase visibility in their favored dark and turbid waters. Yellow Perch, Whitefish and minnows are the food of choice for Walleye but they will also eat insects, frogs and small mammals. Walleye will spawn in early Spring when water temperatures are around 42 to 50 degrees. They tend to choose locations with rocky or gravel coated substrate in 1’ to 6’ depths where moving water is present. Neither parent cares for their eggs in any way.

Crappie

Crappie – Another popular sunfish behind the Bluegill, the Crappie is considered an excellent game fish when taken on light tackle and its flaky white flesh is considered very tasty. Crappie are similar in body shape to other sunfish but can be differentiated by connected dorsal fins that lack a notch and contain seven or eight spines. They also have a large anal fin consisting of 6 spines that is nearly as large as their dorsal fin. Their bodies range from dark olive or brown to a metallic green with a silver or blue cast with black mottling throughout. Crappie grow close to a foot in length and can weigh between 2 to 4 pounds. The largest Crappie caught weighed in at just over 5 pounds. Crappie prefer clear water with plenty of aquatic vegetation and mucky or sandy bottoms. They are highly intolerant of turbid water. Crappie eat insects and their larva as a primary food source but will also eat small fish and minnows as well. Like Bluegill, Crappie nest in sandy areas or places with fine gravel in depths of 3 to 8 feet of water. They typically spawn in May to June when water temperatures are within the 58 to 64 degree range.

Trout

Trout – One of the largest of the freshwater fish, it is endowed with a flesh of superb eating quality and is eagerly sought by commercial, sport, and subsistence fishermen. Trout typically grow to be around 27” in length and weight between 3 to 9 pounds but are known to grow to lengths exceeding 4’ and weigh over 100 pounds. The largest on record weighs 102 pounds and measures 49.6 inches in length. Lake Trout are the least colorful of all Trout with a light green, grey, brown or blackish torpedo shaped body covered with irregular lighter colored spots. Lake Trout sport a deeply forked tail and reddish-orange pectoral, pelvic and anal fins. Lake Trout are truly a cold water fish preferring water temperatures around 50 degrees. Most anglers fish for Trout in the cooler early seasons via fly or spin fishing and have to resort to long lines and heavy lures in the warmer months as the fish retreat to cooler waters. Lake Trout feed mostly off of other fish, insects and small mammals. It takes around eight years for Lake Trout to sexually mature, meaning heavy fishing demand can dramatically deplete the Trout population. They do not build nests or beds by simply scatter eggs among large cobble or boulder substrates in depths of up to 40’ in late autumn.

You may have a harder time finding Trout or Bass in your pond in comparison to Bluegill as they tend to be a bit less social. You can take inventory of the fish in your pond by trying to fish them out or by using a Fish Trap. When stocking or manipulating your fish population be sure to provide adequate habitat for smaller prey fish to hide from predators and grow. You can achieve this by installing Fish Attractor Spheres or by providing aquatic plants. Take a look at our Pond Stocking Blog and Fish Habitat Blog to learn more about predator/prey ratios and implementing habitat.

POND TALK: Which types of fish are present in your pond? Which do you feel are the best to fish or eat?

Attract tons of gamefish to your pond!

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