The catfish option is ideal for any size pond, including small ponds (less than one acre) and heavily fished ponds. Catfish require very little management, eat a wide variety of foods, are easy to catch and good to eat.. They can also tolerate a wide range of water quality and will not spawn in most ponds unless nesting sites such as stumps, barrels, and tires are added. Spawning is not encouraged to prevent overcrowding.
Channel catfish can be stocked at any time of the year, grow 3/4 to 1 pound per year and can reach large sizes if cared for properly. Fathead minnows should be stocked with channel catfish as forage. Channel catfish will grow faster and larger if fed daily with a feed that has at least 28-32% protein and 6-8% fat. Ponds without aeration should be fed no more than 10-15 pounds of feed per acre per day. Aerated ponds can be fed 20 to 30 pounds per acre per day. Redear sunfish may also be stocked with channel catfish to control grubs. Grass carp should also be stocked in fall or spring to control aquatic vegetation before it becomes a big problem.
The Catfish Option is suited for ponds 1/4 acre to 5 acres in size.
Well managed ponds not fed, fertilized or aerated should support 300 to 500 pounds of fish per acre. Fed, fertilized or aerated ponds can support 800 to 1000 pounds of fish per acre.
If you decide to feed your fish, feeding should begin when water temperatures warm in the spring and should continue through the fall until water temperatures cool. Fish should be fed daily all they will eat in 10 to 15 minutes. Ponds without aeration should be fed no more than 10-15 pounds of feed per acre per day. Aerated ponds can be fed 20 to 30 pounds per acre per day. Excessive feeding can lead to oxygen depletion and should be avoided. Catfish should be fed with a feed that has at least 28-32% protein and 6-8% fat. Fish feed should be 1/8-1/4" pellets.
Fertilization increases productivity of a pond and can help control aquatic vegetation. Water chemistry determines how effective a fertilization program will be. Ponds must have a total alkalinity of 20 ppm in order to benefit from fertilizer. If alkalinity is less than 20 ppm agricultural limestone can be added periodically to increase alkalinity. Contact your local Natural Resource Conservation Service Agent for assistance when measuring alkalinity and determining how much limestone to add. Fertilization should begin when weather warms in spring and can continue until water temperatures cool in the fall. Fertilizer should be added every 2 weeks until visibility is less than 2 feet, then as needed only when visibility increases beyond 2 feet. Excessive fertilization can cause oxygen depletion and fish kills and should be avoided. Ponds with muddy water or aquatic vegetation should not be fertilized. Fed ponds will require less fertilizer.
Aeration improves the carrying capacity of ponds and helps mix pond water to prevent turnovers and fish kills. A variety of aerators are available ranging from ornamental fountains and windmills to air compressors and paddlewheels. The most important aspect of aeration for fishing ponds is mixing of pond water, which can be accomplished with fountains or air compressors, to prevent turnovers . Pond owners wanting serious fish production may consider paddlewheels. Solar powered systems are available for remote locations without electricity.
Fish Habitat Improvement
To avoid overpopulation of channel catfish, old tires, milk cans and buckets should not be added to encourage spawning.
Channel catfish can be harvested when they reach eatable size. However, the longer fish are left in the pond the larger they will grow. A minimum harvest size may be enforced to allow all fish to reach target sizes. Because spawning is not encouraged, 4-8" catfish will need to be restocked every year to maintain fishing.
Monitoring Fish Populations
Angler catch records should be maintained year round keeping track of how many, what size and what kind of fish are being caught. Anglers should record every fish they catch even if they release them. Based on the results of this sampling you should be able to determine the health of your fish population and if any corrective management is necessary.
The presence of skinny fish indicates that there may be to many fish in the pond or the fish are not being fed enough. This can be corrected by increasing daily feedings. If fish continue not to grow, fish must be harvested until improvements in growth occur.
The presence of many small 4-6" fish indicates that catfish are spawning and may overpopulate. This can be corrected by stocking 6-10" largemouth bass fingerlings and removing any spawning structures in the pond.
A decline in fishing or general lack of fish indicates that there may not be many fish left in the pond, This can be corrected by restocking periodically with new fingerlings.