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