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I know herons are a common pond problem, but I think I have a raccoon around. Will it eat my fish, too? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A


Q: I know herons are a common pond problem, but I think I have a raccoon around. Will it eat my fish, too?

Q: I know herons are a common pond problem, but I think I have a raccoon around. Will it eat my fish, too?

Matt – Burton, MI

A: Bandit-masked raccoons are a familiar sight just about everywhere because they will eat just about anything, including your fish. Found in forests, marshes, prairies, suburbs and even cities, raccoons can be a nuisance around ponds and lakes. Here’s what you need to know to keep them away from your pond – and your garbage cans.

ID, Please

With the exception of 75-pound Bandit that holds the world record for “World’s Fattest Raccoon,” these nocturnal foragers are typically between 15 to 23 pounds and 30 to 37 inches long, or the size of a small dog. They sport heavy fur streaked in brown, black and gray, and have black eye stripes that resemble a mask. Raccoons have bushy ringed tails that grow up to a foot long, and their dexterous paws and long fingers make distinct prints in the mud or snow.

Sushi for Dinner

Though raccoons love to eat mice, insects, and tasty fruits and vegetables (particularly sweet corn) plucked from your garden and garbage can, the opportunistic water-loving critters will happily take a dive in your lake to hunt for crayfish, fish, turtles, frogs and worms. They’ll use their lightning-fast paws to grab both aquatic and terrestrial prey.

Tracking a Bandit

Raccoons aren’t exactly stealthy. If they’re prowling around, they’ll leave telltale signs around your home and property – like knocked-over garbage cans, overturned rocks and flower pots, rooted-through plants and disheveled yard decor. They’ll also leave tracks in the wet soil around the pond. And, if you’re lucky, you may even find a shelter or den made in a hollow tree, culvert, woodchuck burrow or under a building.

Evicting Raccoons

Mother Nature provides her own raccoon control in the form of coyotes, foxes, great horned owls and bobcats, but you can give her a hand in several different ways.

  • A live-animal trap baited with cat food or tuna will allow you to capture and relocate your problem raccoon.
  • The Nite Guard Solar® deterrent keeps raccoons away with its solar-powered LED lights. Activated at dusk, the red lights resemble a predator’s flashing eyes flash and cause the critter to run away.
  • Keep garbage cans securely sealed and manage other easy-access food sources, like cat food bowls and compost bins.

With hundreds of thousands of raccoons traipsing across the countryside, you’ll likely discover one or two (or an entire family!) living on your property near your lake. But if you use some wildlife management tactics like these, you can keep them under control. Good luck!

Pond Talk: How do you manage the raccoon population near your pond?

Protects Against Nighttime Predators - Nite Guard Solar®

27 Responses

  1. You are the intruder, because racoon was there first before you came in the place, so, put yourself in there shoes what will you think if somebody will destroy your habbitat?

    • Hi Giovanni – We certainly would love to keep ponds natural and encourage wildlife, unfortunately in some instances it becomes an issue for some pond owners. Thank you for the reminder that we should always be trying to keep environments natural and for animals that call them home.

  2. It is illegal in Michigan to reloacte Raccoons and other creatures to anything other than your own property because of DNR worries of disease migration.

  3. Before you “relocate” the raccoon(s) you had better check with the local or state regulations on doing so. In Virginia it’s illegal to do so.

    • Thanks John, it is important to always local regulations first as every state may have different rules.

  4. Few years ago, wife went out a few nights in a row with a big stick & flashlight, and scared the beegeebers out of the raccoons that were in the trees for 20 to 40 minutes a shot. Told them they could drink, but no fishing! Unless there were stupid baby fish, that have been too numerous at times, we’ve never lost any fish to predators, knock on a near by tree!

    • I’m glad you had success getting them to leave, at least for a little while. I had two coons on my deck that literally stood a few inches from the stick I slide out the door to scare them away and they just laughed at me.

  5. You didn’t mention the most important thing- a pond net. We lost several goldfish to a raccoon, but now that we have a net staked firmly across the shallow end, the critter hasn’t eaten any. And yes, the net came from the Pond Guy although we prefer metal tent stakes from REI.

    • Hi Tara – This particular article was in response to a homeowner with a larger pond or lake but for a water garden a net is also another good method of protection.

  6. Take care of my coons with leg traps and a twenty-two😠😠😠

    • Thanks Ken – Always a method for nuisance control. Though anything you can do to discourage them and avoid the situation is beneficial.

  7. Relocating problem raccoons is a very bad recommendation, because they have a homing instinct and will try returning even from many miles away. Even if they don’t find their way back, they will become somebody else’s problem, and will be much tougher to catch in a trap a second time because of previous experience.

    • Hi Mike – we definitely don’t want them to become someone’s else’s problem but relocation may be an option in less populated areas.

  8. What about muskrats? I understand there is a season to trap them, but in the meantime what do I do? Suddenly there was a hut on the hidden side of the pond and we see them swimming occasionally. they have damaged my dike and that is a major concern. What do we do?

    • Hi Jody – There are some similarities when dealing with a muskrat. Here is a past article that talks more specifically about muskrats.

  9. I had fish, miracle snails and clams in my pond and the raccoons ate them all. I trap them with the ex-large one door Hav-a-Heart trap. Hav-a-Heart also has a sprinkler head that squirts any critter that gets close to your small pond. A large pond would require more sprinklers. The cheapest way I’ve found to run off most critters is the Bunker Hill Wireless Security Alert System. It’s 2 pieces, a sensor and a receiver. Most people buy this to let them know when someone is on their property or when the mailman delivers the mail, etc In that case, you leave the sensor outside and put the receiver on your nightstand. I use them to run the Raccoons off buy cutting a square opening in a one gallon plastic milk or water jug. Only cut 3 sides of the square. Leave the top of the square attached so you can make it a canopy, to shield the electronics inside from the rain. Make sure you cut the bottom of the square low enough so the seeing eye can see out. Now put about 1″ of sand or fine gravel in the bottom of the milk carton in case rain gets in. Put a small hole in the bottom of the square canopy. Tie a piece of string through it. Pull it up and tie it around the bottle cap. That makes your canopy. Put your receiver in first at the back of the milk carton. Next put in the sensor, making sure the red seeing eye has a clear view of the surroundings. Place the milk carton 5 to 7 feet from your pond. When the raccoon or deer comes around the sensor comes on beeping loudly with red lights coming on and off until they leave, which happens very quickly. I’ve been doing this for 2 months and so far the raccoons haven’t got any more of my fish. I bought these at Harbor Freight for $12 each on sale. They are about $20 normally. I wait for them to go on sale and then I stock up. I’m now using them to protect my plants as well as many other things. For those of you that live down a long driveway or private road, these work great to notify you that someone is coming. Put one every 30 or 40 ft to let you know they are progressing toward the house. It will notify you from 400 ft away. I have a camera system I also bought at Harbor Freight. It covers all 4 sides of my house my front door and my long drive way. When the bells start to ring, I just go and look at the screen to see who is coming or who is at my door. Hope this helps a lot of you. Ming – Flint, TX

  10. We have relocated 22 raccoons from our watergarden (a 2500 gallon, three-pond system). We have used a live trap and have discovered that mini marshmallows work best for raccoons. The mini marshmallows were recommended both in the instructions that came with the trap, and from an Internet search. The problem with using cat food, tuna or canned sardines is that you catch stray cats instead of raccoons. The only thing we have caught using the mini marshmallows is raccoons.

  11. When you live-trap a coon, kill it! It is a pest. In Indiana it is illegal to re-locate nuisance animals because they will become someone else’s problem.

    • Thanks for the information Fred – always good to check with local regulations before relocating an animal.

  12. Thank you for this information. You know, I once came home after a day of work to find a 50# (or so) raccoon curled up on my down chair. What a sight! I broke into laughter then sprung into action before it awoke and jumped towards me. I decided to use noise as my method of management causing it to awaken sleepily. He’d come through a cat door I’d inserted into my sliding glass door. But that was just my first mistake, the next was when I crossed his path to get to the kitchen for the real noise makers. I remember the expression on his face, first it was one of inconvenience, but then turned to rage and fear as I anted up on the competition for ownership of my apartment. Gratefully he was able to push his fat little body through the cat door that probably fit much better on the way in. His failure to make a speedy departure caused him to pause and take a breath as he searched for a new approach. Once he was all the way out I locked the cat door behind him and started looking for my cats. I feared they were inside of his belly but instead, every morsel of kibble was gone, their water bowl dirty with soil and bits of food and the two of them crouched on top of the high top dresser, holding onto each other for dear life, quivering and distrusting my call for freedom. When I checked the rest of the apartment for signs of his day inside I found my luxurious down comforter turned into a round nest of mud, gravel, little raccoon prints marking the lace dust ruffle on his entry. Admittedly I considered keeping him as a pet when I first saw him curled into a bundle of beautiful grey fur, but I understood the price my cats almost paid for their freedom to roam the neighborhood while I was gone during the day, and never left my home open to intruders like that again.

    • That’s quite a story, we appreciate you sharing and are glad to hear your cats made it through the adventurous day. Wildlife it wonderful to have around but it’s a good reminder that they are wild animals and belong outdoors.

  13. Wait until legal trapping season then “eliminate” them. Two to three years of this and no issues for two to three years, repeat process. If one can not, or will not, be able to do this, ask around. There is always a trapper looking for a spot. Ask questions about how they do things. You want someone who is motivated to avoid non-target animals.

    • Great advice Jon, make sure you are targeting the correct culprit and an experienced trapper can be very helpful.

  14. Rabies among raccoons is prevalent in our area (central VA) as well as foxes. People should be aware that seeing a raccoon in daylight and acting strangely is probably not a good sign. Be aware before trying to handle one.

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