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What Is A Winter Fish Kill & Why Do They Happen? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

What Is A Winter Fish Kill & Why Do They Happen?I’ve heard the term “winter fish kill.” What is it and why does it happen?

Linda – Stockbridge, MI

A winter fish kill occurs when your pond or lake becomes uninhabitable for aquatic life and a large number of fish pass away. Winter is the most common time for a fish kill because the long, harsh conditions of the season deplete the oxygen content of the water.

Prolonged ice cover on your pond or lake seals off the water from the air and prevents oxygenation of the water. Ice and snow cover also prevent sunlight from reaching your pond plants. Pond plants normally produce extra oxygen for your pond via photosynthesis. Finally, decomposing organic matter in your pond releases toxic gases that can’t escape from under the ice.

Eventually the competition for the limited supply of oxygen in the pond becomes too great. The fish suffocate and a winter fish kill occurs.

The good news is that winter fish kills are preventable. There are many things you can do as a pond and lake owner to maintain proper oxygen levels in your pond. First and foremost, invest in a good Aeration System. Aeration is the process of circulating air through water and it’s critical for overall pond health.  A second option is to add beneficial bacteria products like MuckAway™ or PondClear™ to your pond or lake before the winter season. Beneficial bacteria digest accumulated decomposing organic matter in your pond and convert it to a harmless, odorless gas.

Pond Talk: What fish behavior may indicate low oxygen levels in your pond?

Airmax® Aeration Systems

Q&A: Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?

Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?

Are there any tips to making sure the ice on my pond is safe to stand on?
Nicki – Sandusky, OH

Winter brings not only cold weather and snow to your pond or lake but a perfect layer of ice for skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and other fun as well. While you may be eager to get out on the ice this season, it is important that you know how to distinguish the difference between safe strong ice and a potential hazard.

There are a lot of different factors that determine the ice thickness on a water body. Temperature has a large part in ice formation of course but water currents, wind and snow coverage also play a role in how water freezes. You should see a satisfactory layer of ice form on your pond after two to three weeks of freezing temperatures. Once temperatures stabilize and the ice has time to thicken you can venture onto the surface and perform an inspection.

You can visually determine the quality of ice by looking for bubbles, trapped snow, cracks and color. A clear solid blue layer of ice is stronger than a white brittle formation caused by air pockets and other flaws. Keep in mind that a pond with a running aeration system will have air pockets and should not be used for recreation in the winter. Naturally new ice is stronger than old ice as there are less chances of warm weather thawing and re-freezing. Once you have inspected the surface of the ice you can drill or cut samples to verify thickness. Since a water body will not always freeze evenly you will want to take samples in multiple locations as you work your way out towards the center. A layer of ice less than 3 inches is unsatisfactory for most people to walk out onto. It may be able to hold up lighter people or small animals but can easily crack. If you plan on having a group of people on the pond or want to take your snowmobile out on your lake an ice formation of 6-8 inches minimum is ideal. Click over to our blog on Ice Formation for more information regarding ice thickness and formation.

Be patient this winter and exercise extreme caution when venturing onto the ice. Taking the extra time out to visually inspect your ice and take samples can mean all the difference between a fun day outdoors or potential injury. Always make sure there is a floatation device within reach in case of a fall-through and always use common sense when venturing out on the ice.

Pond Talk: How do you determine when it is safe to venture out onto your pond or lake in the winter?

keep your pond safe at all times with a life ring!

My pond isn’t frozen yet, but I can’t see my fish. Are they okay? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

My pond isn’t frozen yet, but I can’t see my fish. Are they okay?

My pond isn’t frozen yet, but I can’t see my fish. Are they okay?
Stephanie – Harpursville, NY

Fish are survivors. And when the water starts getting cold, they head for deeper waters, where the chilling effects of winter air are less pronounced. Provided there’s adequate aeration, your fish will likely linger at the bottom throughout the colder months. As a result, they’ll be much less visible – but the odds are extremely good they’re doing just fine.

In order to ensure there’s sufficient oxygen for the winter, some people opt to keep their aeration systems active all year ‘round. At the very least, though, it’s important to maintain a vent hole when – or if – your pond ices over. The vent hole allows harmful decomposition gases to escape, allowing fish to winter safely. And because their metabolism slows during the winter months, a properly vented pond will likely have sufficient oxygen to ensure the survival of your fish until springtime.

Fish, it turns out, are extremely resilient. After wintering in the lower reaches of your pond, your fish will gradually return to the upper levels once water temperatures start to rise. In general, it’s probably a good sign when fish become less visible. If they’re struggling, it’s far more likely you’d see them at the edges of your pond. So while you might miss them, your invisible fish are probably doing just fine.

Pond Talk: Have you noticed less fish movement in your pond recently?

During the summer, I run my aeration system all the time. Can I just run it part-time during the winter so the pond will freeze for skating? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

During the summer, I run my aeration system all the time. Can I just run it part-time during the winter so the pond will freeze for skating?During the summer, I run my aeration system all the time. Can I just run it part-time during the winter so the pond will freeze for skating?

Klaus – Columbia, MO

If you’re the least inclined to use your pond for ice skating during the winter months, there’s only one way to go – and it doesn’t involve aeration.

Lots of pond owners choose to keep their aerators up and running during the winter months. It’s a logical choice – particularly when the pond is inhabited year ‘round by fish – because the aerator prevents the pond from freezing fully, allowing potentially gases produced by organic matter decomposition to escape. But for people who put a premium on ice skating, any aeration is a no-no.

Why? Because aerators keep water moving. And when water is moving, ice has a tough time forming. When it does form on an aerated pond, the ice is extremely porous, and nowhere near as strong as the solid ice that forms on still water. As a result, an aerated pond is never safe for skating – even if the aeration is sporadic. That’s the primary reason we recommend the ready availability of our Taylor Made 20” Life Rings to provide an added measure of safety for anyone who ventures onto the weakened ice.

So, if you choose to skate, it’s wise to shut down your aeration system completely. You can leave your airline and plate in the pond, but the cabinet and compressor should be stored indoors to prevent condensation and rusting.

If you love to skate, skate safely. And enjoy your pond with confidence all year long.

Pond Talk: Do you use your pond for skating in the winter?

Taylor Made 20 Inch Life Rings

When should I remove the fountain from my pond? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

When should I remove the fountain from my pond?

When should I remove the fountain from my pond?
Fran – Lapeer, MI

While we’re not particularly anxious for winter to arrive it is in our best interest to start preparing for the cold that will inevitably come. Since you are working not only outdoors but in the water as well you may want to get a jump start on removing your fountain from your pond before you start feeling the full effects of winter.

Convenience aside, you can leave your fountain in the pond until ice starts to form. Surface forming ice may damage the float or other parts of your fountain and can potentially prevent water passing through the spray nozzle from returning back into the pond. This ice barrier can cause the fountain to run dry destroying your fountain’s motor.

Removing your fountain and preparing it for storage is a fairly simple process. Most fountains have a quick disconnect at the motor that lets you separate the fountain from the main power cord. Make sure you turn off the power to the fountain and pull your fountain ashore. Wash down the fountain and float assembly to remove any algae or debris that may have accumulated over the season, a pressure washer makes short work of even the dirtiest fountains. Inspect electrical cables for signs of wear or damage and, if your fountain has lights, check for burnt out or damaged bulbs and lenses.

Since the fountain is out of the pond and won’t be used for a few months, now is the perfect time to send it to a licensed repair facility for any routine maintenance it my require such as oil changes or seal replacements. Once your fountain is cleaned and inspected store it in an upright position in a climate controlled location like a heated pole barn or garage. Since there are many different types of fountains, it is very important that you read through your user’s manual for special instructions and maintenance plans to keep your fountain running at its very best.

If you are feeling adventurous and want to run your fountain throughout the winter you can minimize the risk of damaging your equipment by selecting a more suitable spray nozzle and regularly monitoring the environment. Choose a spray nozzle that throws heavier streams of water instead of a misty pattern. Water moving at a higher volume in a dense pattern is less likely to freeze than water sprayed in a finer pattern. Periodically check the fountain to make sure the spray nozzle is unobstructed and that the water can return back into the pond. If you are going to run your fountain in temperatures below freezing you will have to run it continuously or the water in the fountain head will freeze when switched off. Keep in mind that parts damaged by winter operation may not be covered under your manufacturer’s warranty.

If your fountain is your primary source of aeration you have a few alternatives to get you through the winter. Try to keep a hole open through the surface ice in your pond. This will allow toxic gasses formed by decomposing organic debris to exit the pond and let fresh air in. Since cold water holds oxygen easier and your fish are less active in cold water you may not need additional aeration. If you are concerned however, you can install a bottom diffused aeration system which can be run year round even when ice forms on the pond.

Pond Talk: Do you run your fountain in the winter? Send us some pictures of your fountain in action.

Kasco 1/2 HP Surface Aerators

Is it too cold to use bacteria? If so, is there anything else I should continue to use now? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Is it too cold to use bacteria? If so, is there anything else I should continue to use now?

Is it too cold to use bacteria? If so, is there anything else I should continue to use now?
Susan – Cincinnati, OH

Like lots of living creatures, beneficial bacteria appreciate a cozy, comfortable environment. And from their bacterial perspectives, water temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit are no longer cozy at all. That’s why we recommend against the use of bacteria when the water falls below that threshold.

Regardless of the temperature, many pond owners enhance the beauty of their water feature with the use of our Pond Logic® Pond Dyes. These dyes are available in Nature’s Blue™, Twilight Blue™ or Black DyeMond™ colors, and are completely safe for people, pets, and aquatic life. And whether you choose to add them during winter months – or all year ‘round – they add a touch of elegance to any backyard pond.

In addition to our Pond Dyes, it’s wise to consider the use of our Pond Logic® EcoBoost™ Bacteria Enhancer. With its unique, safe formulation, EcoBoost™ binds with phosphates and other harmful toxins that can be harmful to fish and plants, and introduces more than 80 helpful trace minerals to keep water clear and healthy. While EcoBoost™ doesn’t contain bacteria, its formulation helps to make pond water safe for beneficial bacteria to thrive. We recommend its continued use until your pond freezes over – which will help to ensure a good head start when the ice goes out, and preparations begin for a new season.

Pond Talk: What maintenance do you continue to do throughout the winter months?

Pond Logic EcoBoost

Do herons fly south for the winter? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Do herons fly south for the winter?

Do herons fly south for the winter?
Bobby – Milwaukee, WI

Herons are migratory birds, and they have no appreciation for cold weather. So if you’re located in the cooler northern climes – particularly where ponds tend to freeze during the winter months – you’ll usually notice their absence when temperatures start to drop. Like many of us would like to do during winter, herons that choose to migrate will head for Central America and northern South America to warm up and fill up on fish. If you live in warmer portions of the United States, however, you may see herons all year ‘round, provided there’s enough open water and food to keep them happy.

While they’re beautiful to watch, herons are often unpopular with pond keepers – particularly those who have stocked their pond well. Herons consider fish as their favorite snack, and a single bird will happily devour every available fish, leaving the pond empty, and the pond’s owner grumpy. Herons aren’t picky eaters, though, and they’ll also snack on feeder fish, frogs, salamanders, lizards, snakes, grasshoppers and even dragonflies.

Fortunately, herons don’t hunt in flocks. When they spot a pond that’s already been claimed by another enterprising heron, they’ll typically fly elsewhere. That’s why we strongly recommend our Great Blue Heron Decoy as a simple way to discourage hungry herons from settling in for an uninvited visit.

Without preventative measures – like a well-placed and regularly relocated decoy – a heron will settle in as long as food is available. Otherwise, only cold temperatures, which send fish to the warmer water layers at the bottom of the pond and other food sources to their winter lairs, will encourage a heron to move on.

Pond Talk: Do herons continue to visit your pond throughout the fall and winter or more on?

Pond Logic® Blue Heron Decoy

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