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What do I need to do to overwinter the fish in my farm pond? – Pond & Lake Q & A

Winter is coming, are your fish ready?

Pond & Lake Q & A

Recently, someone asked me a fantastic question regarding winter aeration and if it can “super-cool” your pond in the winter, possibly causing harm to your fish. I had one of our expert Fisheries Biologists, Justin McLeod, answer this question. Below are some easy solutions that he suggests to ensure a fish-safe winter for those of you in the colder climates. – Jason Blake, The Pond Guy®

Winter aeration (bubblers) can be very important in areas where ponds can freeze over. Along the Northern US border and into Canada, mid-winter temperatures dip well below freezing for prolonged amounts of time. This can put your fish into jeopardy if the pond freezes completely over. To answer your question regarding “Super-Cooling your pond, extremely cold surface temperatures cause ponds to stratify in the opposite way of the summer. Because water is most dense at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, the water beneath the winter thermocline stays around that 39 degree mark, while the water above the thermocline drops down near the 32 degree mark. This is a small difference, but it could mean life or death to a fish.

A “super-cooled” condition is created generally when surface aeration (fountains, High Volume Surface aerators, or really anything pump or pushing water into the atmosphere) is used during winter months. “Super-Cooling” happens when the colder water on the top is circulated to the bottom, leaving no warmer water refuge for the fish. Although it is uncommon to see “Super-Cooling” with sub-surface aeration (bottom bubblers), there have been instances when it has happened. With that said, I would never let this stop me from operating my aerator in the winter – my fish are just too important to me!

Here are some tips to make sure you get the most out of your aeration system and possibly avoid the chance of “Super-Cooling”:

    1. If you have multiple diffuser plates, it is ok to run only 50% of your diffusers. Even though the mixing power of your system is decreased, it will still add oxygen to the pond and allow gases to escape out through the hole it creates in the ice. Note: You only need 10% of your water surface open in the winter for gas exchange.
    2. If your pond is extremely small (1/8 acre or less), you may want to move your plate(s) out from the deepest area into a shallower spot. This will leave room for fish to winter in the deeper water.

POND TALK: What do you do to prepare your lake fish for winter?

What’s the best way to acclimate new fish to my pond? – Pond & Lake Q & A

Float for 30 minutes.

Pond & Lake Q & A

Q: What’s the best way to acclimate new fish to my pond? – Lafayette in Maryland

A: So, you’ve been to the fish farm, picked out your fingerlings, brought them home, and now they’re sitting in plastic bags or tubs waiting to dive into your farm pond. Unfortunately, you can’t just pour them in. In order for these little fish to survive and thrive, you’ll want to slowly acclimate them to your pond’s water and its temperature.

Here are some tips to make it easy:

  • Oxygenate: When you pick up your fish, most farms will pack your fish in plastic bags with water and oxygen; the fish will be fine for several hours. But if you transported your fish in barrels, keep in mind that they will quickly run out of oxygen unless supplemented with an air stone or air diffuser, like the Laguna® Mini Aeration Kit.
  • Float for 30 minutes: The most widely used method of acclimating your fish to the pond is to float the unopened bag in the pond for about a half hour. This allows a gradual change in the water temperature until the water inside is the same as the water outside, at which point you can open the bag and release the fish into the pond.
  • Just add water: If you transported your fish in barrels or containers, use a bucket to add water from the pond to the barrel. This will gradually change the temperature and will provide some additional oxygen for the fish. Check your water temperature with a fish-safe thermometer, and once it has stabilized, pour your fish into the lake.
  • Remember, take it slow: Patience is critical when acclimating your fish to the pond’s new water temperature. Rapid changes in temperature may weaken the immune systems of your fish and make them prone to infection or – worst case – cause the fish to die immediately.

    POND TALK: How have you acclimated fish to your farm pond or lake?

    Why is it important to aerate my lake during the summer? – Pond & Lake Q & A

    Airmax® Aeration

    Pond & Lake Q & A

    Q: Why is it important to aerate my lake during the summer? – Eric in Texas

    A: Though the hottest days of summer are nearly behind us, your pond or lake still needs proper aeration – especially as we approach fall, when temperatures shift and your pond water will turn over. An aerated pond is a healthy pond, and a healthy pond is one you’ll enjoy all year long.

    Why Aerate?

    Ponds and lakes go through two stages of life: Stage 1, when the pond has just been excavated and Stage 2, when the pond has had a chance to become established. During Stage 1, which may only last a year, the pond is virtually nutrient-free. It has little or no leaf and plant debris, the fish have produced little waste and the environment has leached almost nothing into the water. It’s like the honeymoon stage of your pond – all the beauty with little maintenance.

    After a season or two, the pond enters into Stage 2. Nutrients, like leaves, plants, fish waste and plant fertilizers, build up in the pond. You’ll start to see large amounts of algae and weed growth. Under the surface, the water column becomes murky with debris; at the bottom of the pond, muck will start to develop. This decomposing organic waste adds even more nutrients to the water – which can cause even more algae and weed growth. Talk about a vicious cycle!

    At the same time, all those decomposing nutrients create a rise in toxic gas levels. Ammonia and nitrites build up in the water while the oxygen level plummets, especially in the deeper depths of the pond. Because ponds without aeration can become thermally stratified, the toxic gases created on the bottom build up in the cool water underneath. A change in temperature, a heavy rain or sometimes even high winds can turn the water over allowing the toxic, oxygen-deprived water at the bottom to mix into the top layer leaving your fish without oxygen and causing a fish kill.

    The Solution

    Many pond owners will turn to fountain aeration or surface aerators to churn the water. While fountains are aesthetically pleasing, they will only draw surface water, leaving the bottom of the pond uncirculated and doing nothing to eliminate toxic gases underneath.

    A bottom bubbler, however, will circulate the entire water column from the bottom up and eliminate the thermal layers that form in the pond or lake. In a permanent state of motion, the action caused by the bubbler will continuously vent gasses and provide oxygen to the bottom sediments, allowing the beneficial bacteria to break down the toxic gasses and muck and give off a little oxygen in return.

    The best option for a bottom bubbler is the Airmax® Aeration system. In combination with aerobic muck-eating bacteria, like MuckAway™ Pellets or PondClear™ Packets, the system can eliminate up to 5 inches of muck per year – and keep your pond or lake healthy no matter the season.

    POND TALK: Why do you aerate your pond or lake?

    How Do I Get Rid of this Terrible Odor Around My Pond? – Pond & Lake Q & A

    Picture of Gas Being Released from the Pond.

    Pond & Lake Q & A

    Q: I have an awful smell around my pond. What is causing it and is there anything I can do to get rid of it? – Hailey of Nebraska

    A: I think we’ve all experienced this at one time or another. We’re outside, enjoying the spring breeze and decide to go wandering around the pond to maybe spot some frogs or to feed the fish. All of sudden you go to breathe in the fresh air and you quickly realize that it’s not so fresh after all. Your nostrils are engulfed with a distinct musky odor as you retreat away from the pond. Is it gas? Do you call the fire department? No. Call The Pond Guy. That sulfurous smell that finds its way around ponds is a common byproduct of a pond that is not aerated.

    Non-aerated ponds stratify (layers in the pond have distinguished temperature differences) in the summer and winter, locking the bottom layer of water away for months. With no circulation, the oxygen is quickly used up down there, resulting in an anaerobic (functioning without oxygen) digestion process that is loosely equivalent to that of a cow’s stomach. Slow-moving anaerobic bacteria on the bottom use enzymes to ferment and digest the muck on the bottom. These bacteria produce waste products including carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg smell).

    Most of the year, an un-aerated pond will smell fine because this buildup of nasty gasses stays locked away on the bottom. It is when the pond turns over (Spring/Fall temperature shift, strong weather event, etc.) that the foul-smelling gasses are released. Surprisingly, the foul smell is the least of the pond’s problems at this point. The release of this gas also signals that the inhospitable water that was stuck underneath has now mixed into the upper part where your fish are living. Wacky pH shifts, dissolved oxygen crashes, and algae blooms are a few of the byproducts of turnover, all of which have fish-kill potential.

    The solution? Aerate like it’s your job! An Airmax Aeration System will keep the pond in a permanent state of motion, continuously venting gasses and providing oxygen to the bottom sediments. This allows the aerobic (good, oxygen loving) bacteria in the pond to inhabit the bottom sediments and work away at that ugly muck layer. Aerobic bacteria work similarly to plants in that that they use up the bad gasses and muck, and give off a little oxygen in return while working much more quickly than their anaerobic (cow’s stomach) counterparts. Supplement these bacteria with MuckAway or PondClear bacteria that will accelerate the decomposition process. Remember, keep that pond moving to keep that pond healthy and odor free.

    POND TALK: Have you ever run into this odor problem? Tell us about it. What are you doing or have already done to get rid of it?

    Why Did My Fish Die Over the Winter? – Pond & Lake Q & A

    Illustration of No Aeration Versus with Airmax Aeration

    Pond & Lake Q & A

    Q: I lost all of my fish after the winter. We love to catch fish in the pond and now we have to start over! What happened? And is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening again? – Alfred of Michigan

    A: My first thought when I read this question was, “They don’t have an aeration system”. And after speaking with him, come to find out, he didn’t. This is usually always the case during a winter fish kill. Everything seems to be going just fine when all of a sudden one morning you wake up to discover a wave of fish floating on your pond’s surface. This is not a pretty sight, nor is it any fun to clean up. So what causes fish kill and what can you do to prevent it?

    What Causes Fish Kill?
    During the warmer months of the year a pond with no aeration will contain oxygen towards the surface of the pond. This is because there is an oxygen transfer from air to water at the pond’s surface. The bottom of the pond, however, will contain very little or no oxygen; Certainly not enough to support fish life. Also, the toxins associated with fish waste and other organic biodegradation tend to sink and stay at those lower depths of the pond, polluting the already oxygen-starved water. This unfortunately, condenses your fishes’ habitat area and forces them to live towards the surface of the pond.

    There is also a difference in temperature from the bottom of the pond to the surface. The bottom of the pond will be colder than the pond’s surface. The reason for this is because the sun will heat up the surface of the water and since cold water is denser than warmer water, the cold water will fall to the bottom. This difference in temperatures can be quite dramatic at times. Have you ever jumped into a pond and felt the brisk cold water towards your feet? This is the thermocline border. This dramatic change in temperature can cause your fish to stress as they travel from a warm temperature to a cold temperature and back to warm. This stress can lower their immune systems.

    During the colder months of the year, the oxygen as well as the thermocline will actually flip. All of a sudden the colder water containing no oxygen will mix with the warmer water with oxygen. As this mixing occurs, the fish are left with few places to go for oxygen and they will eventually suffocate.

    Another issue during the winter are toxic gasses. As bottom organics (grass clippings, leaves, trees, twigs, fish waste, etc.) decay, they will create toxic gasses. When ice covers the pond’s surface, these toxic gasses are trapped underneath the ice and will cause a fish kill.

    Preventing Fish Kills
    Using an Airmax Aeration System is the single most important way to help prevent winter fish kills. The reasons are simple: With an Airmax Aeration System, a compressor sits on shore and pumps air down to a diffuser on the pond’s bottom. This air forces the cold water containing no oxygen to the pond’s surface. This water, because it is denser, will fall back to the pond’s bottom. This cycle will repeat and create a convection or current within the water column. This will fill the whole water body with oxygen as well as maintain the same temperature level throughout the pond (see illustration on left).

    Also, during the winter months, when ice has covered the surface of the pond. An Airmax Aeration System will keep a small hole open in the ice to allow those toxic gases to escape.

    The Bottom Line: Having aeration will help reduce the chances of fish kill. Also, remember that this is one of many benefits of having an aeration system (Refer to this blog post for the other benefits of aeration).

    Is There Anything I Should Be Doing to My Pond During the Winter? – Pond & Lake Q & A

    Picture of a pond during the winter.

    Q: Is there anything I should be doing to my pond during the winter? – Cindy of Colorado

    A: During the winter season there are just a couple things you should be continuing to do help make the following spring a breeze:

    Continue to run your aeration system: As I’ve said many time before and will always continue to say it…aeration is important. Continue to run your aeration throughout the winter to help prevent winter fish kills as well as promote an overall healthy pond.

    Add pond dye & natural bacteria: Now is a great time to use Pond-Clear 2 in 1 with Nature’s Blue before the ice begins to accumulate. Not only will this continue to shade your pond, it will also add a boost of beneficial bacteria that will go to work to break down fall leaves and debris.

    Remove any dead debris from around the pond: Remove dying or dead cattails, tree branches or twigs from around the edges. Allowing these to decay in your pond throughout the winter will add more nutrients for algae and pondweeds to grow during the spring. Doing these few things will help for a great spring!

    Do I Need an Aerator During the Warmer Months? – Water Garden Q & A

    Picture of a water garden with a koi aeration system

    Q: Does my water garden need an aerator during the warmer months of the year? -Several Customers

    A: That depends on a two things: Fish Load & Depth.

    Fish Load: The greater the fish load, the higher the oxygen demand. A water garden aeration system is highly recommeded for high fish loads.

    Depth: If your water garden is deeper than 24″, it is important that the water towards the bottom is also being circulated. In a skimmer/waterfall filtration system, the water will circulate across the surface of the water and leave the water towards the bottom stagnant. Adding an aeration system will prevent any stagnation by lifting the bottom water towards the surface. See our selection of Water Garden Aeration Products.

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