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We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q:We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Q: We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Dylan- Garner, IA

A: Ponds and lakes get plenty of visitors – including different species of snakes that linger around water. Some of the more common varieties that call the northern states home include the Black Rat Snake, Corn Snake, Garter Snake and the Northern Water Snake.

Water snakes live wherever there’s water, like near lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, rivers and canals. During the spring, summer and fall, when the weather is warm, you probably see these snakes slithering in and around your pond and in the grassy fields, looking for food and for places to sun themselves. But during the winter, they disappear. Where do they go? They’re holed up and hibernating.

Summer Home, Winter Home

Snakes are ectothermic, which means they use the environment to regulate their body temperature. When it’s warm, they’re warm – and they ensure that by basking on rocks, stumps or brush in the full sunshine. In fair weather, rocks, aquatic plants, muskrat houses and beaver lodges are good places to find water snakes, which like to hide among the sticks and plant stems when they’re not sunning themselves.

But when it’s cold, they go on hiatus. These snakes are unable to generate their own internal body heat, so they rely on outside forces to keep their metabolisms churning. They need to overwinter in areas that will not freeze. The underground becomes their winter home, where they spend their time in temperature-stable burrows below the freezing line, and often share the space with other snakes.

Preferred Diet

In the spring, summer and fall, these slithering, mostly harmless critters are active day and night. During the day, water snakes hunt among plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, young turtles, and small birds and mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water.

When the cold weather sets in; however, snakes go on a season-long diet. Their metabolism slows way down. Food supplies, like frogs and toads, dwindle. If snakes have undigested food in their bellies when they go into hibernation, they can die.

Friends and Foes

Water snakes have many predators, including birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs and other snakes. Humans who mistake the harmless snake varieties for dangerous ones, like Copperheads and Water Moccasins, can affect the population, too.

For the most part, these guys are our friends. They may eat some fish and frogs and hunt some of the indigenous wildlife, but they also do damage to the rodent population – which everyone can appreciate. If you see a snake on your property and you’re not sure if it’s a safe or dangerous variety, contact your local university extension office and describe the snake’s size, color, scale pattern and where you found it. Never kill a snake without good reason, because they are important to our environment.

Pond Talk: What kinds of snakes do you have around your pond or lake?

Shade & Protect Your Pond All Year Long - Pond Logic (r) Pond Dye

For winter, do I need to move my diffusers, or can I just close the valves?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: For winter, do I need to move my diffusers, or can I just close the valves?

Q: For winter, do I need to move my diffusers, or can I just close the valves?

Chuck- Tipton, IN

A: Diffusers – and the oxygen they pump into your pond or lake – ensure the health and well being of your fish. Year-round aeration circulates the water column and fills the pond with oxygen. If your pond freezes over during the cold months of the year, an aeration system will can also help maintain a hole in the ice to allow harmful gases to escape.

Move Your Diffusers:

As part of your winter-prep chores, you will need to move the diffuser plates to a shallower spot in your pond or lake. Why? Give your fish a place to safely overwinter in deeper, warmer water. When the plates are closer to the surface, they will also help to keep a hole open in the ice.

Close the Valves:

In addition to relocating your diffuser plates, you can also close about 50 percent of the valves (unless you have the PS10 or LS10 models of Airmax® Aeration Systems, in which case you leave the valve open). You won’t be mixing as much water, but you will be adding enough oxygen to the pond and allowing for gas exchange at the surface.

Stay Safe:

Because you’re aerating your pond over the winter, consider putting up a “Thin Ice” sign near the shoreline. Air pockets form in ice sheets created on aerated ponds, and they make the surface unsound and not safe to walk or skate on. Warn would-be hockey players and figure skaters of the danger before they get into trouble.

While you’re thinking about safety, make sure you have a Life Ring, first aid kit and blanket stowed lakeside in a weatherproof bin just in case someone does fall through the ice.

Pond Talk: How spectacular are the fall colors around your pond or lake right now?

Aerate Your Pond in All Seasons - Airmax (r) Pond Series (t) Aeration Systems

I see pond nets for little ponds, but how do I stop leaves from getting into my 1-acre pond?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I see pond nets for little ponds, but how do I stop leaves from getting into my 1-acre pond?

Q: I see pond nets for little ponds, but how do I stop leaves from getting into my 1-acre pond?

Casey- Wichita, KS

A: Pond netting works great to prevent blowing leaves and debris from landing in small water features, but they’re not practical – or possible, really – for large ponds and lakes like yours.

Can you imagine what it would take to install a supersized 1-acre pond net? It would be like you and 20 of your friends trying to cover Fenway Park’s field in rain delay tarp while maneuvering tiny tricycles. Entertaining for those watching, but almost impossible for those installing!

Instead, we suggest a three-pronged approach that involves a little manual labor, some beneficial bacteria and a lot of aeration – but no tricycles.

Shoreline Cleanup

The first step is to manually remove fallen leaves and debris from the shoreline with a tool like a Pond & Beach Rake or PondSkim™ Debris Skimmer. When you rake up or skim all that decomposing material and dump it in your compost pile away from your pond, you’re preventing it from decomposing in the water, where it turns into algae-feeding muck.

Bombard with Bacteria

To break down the organic material that does find its way into your pond, use muck-busting beneficial bacteria like those found in Pond Logic® MuckAway™. The pellets can be used throughout the fall, as long as water temperatures are above 50° Fahrenheit. They’ll sink to the bottom and instantly begin to break down debris and improve water clarity.

Aerate and Oxygenate

An aeration system, like the Airmax® Aeration System, removes dangerous gases like ammonia while delivering oxygen to your fish and muck-eating beneficial bacteria. It churns and turns over the water column, circulating that oxygen and keeping your pond or lake healthy. And if your pond freezes over in the winter, your aeration system can create an air hole in the ice for gas exchange.

They may not make 1-acre nets, but you can keep those blowing leaves managed with these three easy tips. Good luck!

Pond Talk: How do you prevent leaves and debris from landing in your large pond or lake?

Remove Unwanted Leaves This Fall - The Pond Guy (r) Pond & Beach Rake

When should I stop using PondClear™ and MuckAway™?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: When should I stop using PondClear™ and MuckAway™?

Q: When should I stop using PondClear™ and MuckAway™?

Alfred- Belmont, NH

A: PondClear™ and MuckAway™ contain colonies of beneficial bacteria that will eat through suspended and bottom-of-the-pond muck – but those microorganisms work best in warmer water temperatures. When the pond thermometer drops below 50° F, stop using the PondClear™ and MuckAway™ as their bacteria lose effectiveness.

Speaking of cooler temperatures, here are some things you can do to prepare your pond for the fall season:

Around-the-Pond-Cleanup:

Take a walk around your pond or lake and clean up any strewn debris like sticks or brush on the shoreline. While you’re at it, rake out the inlets and/or outlets to be sure they’re cleared and ready to handle the coming precipitation.

Treat Algae & Weeds:

To ensure your pond or lake is algae- and weed-free going into the colder season, add a final dose of algaecide and herbicide, like Hydrothol-191 Granular Aquatic Algaecide and Herbicide. Once the foliage turns brown and dies, remove it with your Pond & Beach Rake to prevent muck from accumulating during the winter.

Treat with Beneficial Bacteria:

Treat your pond with muck-devouring bacteria one last time before water temperatures drop to 50° F.

Once spring returns and water temperatures rise above 50° F, start using those microorganisms in PondClear™ and MuckAway™ again! PondClear™ attacks debris suspended in the water column, while MuckAway™ battles built-up debris on the bottom of the pond. They’re sold individually and as part of the Pond Logic® ClearPAC® PLUS Pond Care Package.

Pond Talk: What advice can you share with this new pond owner?

Remove Excess Nutrients & Odor - Pond Logic (r) PondClear (t) Natural Bacteria

If I run my aeration all winter, do I need to do anything special? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: If I run my aeration all winter, do I need to do anything special?

Q: If I run my aeration all winter, do I need to do anything special?

Jay – Gretna, NE

A: Running your aeration system through the winter is an excellent idea. Aeration helps to break down leaves and debris that make their way into your pond or lake, making cleaning and maintenance easier come spring. The water movement creates a hole in the ice, which allows for gas exchange and keeps water open and available for visiting wildlife. Aeration also circulates the water column, infusing it with oxygen for your fish and plants.

We highly recommend running aeration all year long—except if you plan on doing winter activities on your pond, like figure skating, ice fishing or playing ice hockey. The constant friction created by the water movement weakens the ice that forms, and that could be downright dangerous.

So if you plan to run your aeration system through the winter, here are three winter tasks to add to your to-do list:

  1. Move your plates into shallower water. Following your aerator manual’s recommendations, move the plates from the deepest areas of your pond to shallower areas. This will give your hibernating fish a warmer place to hunker down when the water temperatures get especially chilly. When the plates are closer to the surface, they will also help to keep a hole open in the ice.
  2. Check the aerator regularly throughout the winter. After a heavy snow or a storm, head out to the pond and inspect your aeration unit. Remove accumulated snow around it, particularly any that’s blocking the air discharge vent. If you lost power during a storm, check your GFCI; you may have to reset it.
  3. Be smart and safe. When your aerator is on during the winter, the ice that forms can be thin and uneven, so make sure you keep safety equipment out by your pond. A Life Ring or life vest, rope, blankets and a first aid kit are critical items to have on hand that can save someone’s life.

If you have more questions about running your aerator during the wintertime or need help with your system, contact one of our Pond Guys or Gals or post a comment on our blog page.

Pond Talk: What kinds of differences do you notice in your pond in the spring as a result of running your aeration system in the winter?

Be Prepared for Any Winter Scenario - Taylor Made 20 Inch Life Rings

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 heard you can lose fish during the winter. How do I prevent a winter fish kill? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I heard you can lose fish during the winter. How do I prevent a winter fish kill?

Q: I heard you can lose fish during the winter. How do I prevent a winter fish kill?

Jon – Little Suamico, WI

A: Imagine being cooped up all winter long in a room with no ventilation and no fresh air. Pretty claustrophobic, right? Now add the stench of decaying garbage and other waste buildup … it’s likely you wouldn’t last until spring.

It’s a similar situation with your fish.

In colder climates that freeze over the winter, decomposing vegetation and waste beneath the ice layer releases toxic gases that build up, displacing the oxygen that the fish need to survive. When that O2 is replaced with ammonia and other harmful gases, the result can be a winter fish kill.

So how to do you prevent this from happening? Aeration with an Airmax® Aeration System.

Open a Window!

An Airmax® Aeration System sized for your lake or pond moves the water below the frozen surface, which keeps an air hole open in the ice. This ventilation allows the harmful gases to escape while bringing in fresh oxygen for your fish. The aeration also injects oxygen into the water via the bubbles that come out of the diffuser or air stones.

Provide Year-Round Oxygen

For the health of your fish, we recommend you run an aeration system year-round—unless you plan to use the pond for winter activities, like ice skating or hockey, that require a solid and safe sheet of ice. In that case, follow the instructions in your product manual to safely turn off your system.

Create a Warm Zone

If you plan to run your system year-round, move the diffuser plates into shallower water during the winter months. This will allow your fish to hunker down in your pond’s warmer depth for the winter. It will also prevent the rare “super cooling” effect, in which the water temperature dips below freezing and over chills your fish.

Pond Talk: Have you ever experienced a winter fish kill? What changes did you make to prevent it from happening again?

Aerate Your Pond in All Seasons - Airmax® Pond Series™ Aeration

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