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Choosing a Lake Management Company in Tennessee: Do They Know Our Waters?

We make a big deal about being the only full-service lake and pond management company working in this state that is owned by a Tennessee native. We have frequently mentioned in other posts the fact that most of our competitors routinely send out biologists just a year or two removed from college to evaluate the lakes of new clients, while we conversely have our head biologist Walt Foreman, who has been managing private lakes in this state since 1987, personally evaluate every new lake we take on. We have pointed out in the past the fact that more than one of our competitors is based out of a northern state with a very different climate than ours, and is using northern methods on Tennessee ponds. Something as simple as what a company thinks and says about fertilization as a lake management technique, can tell you whether or not you should consider hiring that company to manage your private lake in Tennessee.

Fertilization on a monthly basis from early spring through September is a staple lake and pond management technique in the South; every state from Texas to Florida to Kentucky recommends this practice in its literature on pond management. TWRA’s pond management booklet has an entire section on fertilization, and notes that fertilized ponds will typically support up to four times as many pounds of fish per acre as unfertilized ones, and that the fish in fertilized ponds that are properly managed will grow to larger sizes than those in unfertilized ponds. Every lake management company working in this area that is even remotely competent utilizes fertilization as a key component in their management of their clients’ lakes and ponds.

Conversely, fertilization is not widely employed in northern states because it can lead to winterkill in lakes and ponds that are subject to heavy ice cover for months at a time. This occurs when the phytoplankton that are fed by fertilization, and which become exponentially more numerous than they would be in unfertilized ponds, die under the ice due to lack of sunlight, they take up far more oxygen from the water column as they decay than would the much-lower numbers of dying plankton in an unfertilized pond, and this extra load of decaying matter can remove enough dissolved oxygen from the water column to cause a fish kill.
Additionally, many northern states have soil that tends to be more fertile than the average soil in Tennessee or Alabama or Georgia, and oftentimes just the nutrients that are introduced to a northern lake or pond from runoff are more than sufficient to produce good phytoplankton blooms in the warm months. As a result, all of the most knowledgeable consultants managing private lakes and ponds in northern states are well-versed in nutrient reduction, through many methods ranging from bottom-diffuser aeration to chemicals added to the water column to bind nutrients to the pond bottom so they can’t be uptaken by phytoplankton, and this aspect of lake management is an important one up north.

There are times when nutrient reduction can be a valuable tool in southern waters. Certain regions of Florida have high concentrations of phosphorus in their soil; Florida is known as the nation’s capital of phosphate mining. Some lakes in the Sunshine State, particularly if they have large areas of shallow water, can have problems with excess weedgrowth; these lakes are so fertile that even after phosphorus reduction or other mitigating action taken to reduce the nutrient input to the water column, they typically still have more robust food chains than ponds anywhere else. Along these same lines, a lake or pond anywhere that is decades old and has a heavy build-up of organic muck on its bottom can become eutrophic, meaning overly fertile, and have significant problems with undesirable weedgrowth. These water bodies typically do not need to be fertilized, and often cannot be fertilized without creating new and unmanageable weed issues.

The lakes and ponds in the South that are too eutrophic to fertilize account for perhaps one percent of all the water bodies we have ever worked on. By far most of the private lakes and ponds here in our region need more productivity, and not less, and therefore benefit greatly from fertilization.

Fertilization does not always have to be done by direct application of a pond fertilizer product. Fishmeal-based pellet foods with protein contents of 40% or more introduce enough phosphorus and nitrogen to the water column, via fish waste excreted by the fish that eat the pellets, such that oftentimes just this additional input of nutrients is enough to yield a good phytoplankton bloom; furthermore, oftentimes this secondary method of fertilization is employable in ponds that are too eutrophic for direct fertilization. One of the two best trophy-bluegill ponds we have ever managed was an old phosphate pit that, when we began working with it, was already nearly eighty years old, meaning that in addition to being dug in phosphate soil, it had eight decades of accumulated organic muck on its bottom. This pond would maintain a perfect phytoplankton bloom from April or May through late September every year, and said bloom helped to grow hundreds of bluegill to giant sizes. But we never fertilized it directly with pond fertilizer because we had fertilized another pond 100 yards away that had been created by the same phosphate mining and gotten stung with a major outbreak of watermeal. But both that trophy-bluegill pond and the other pond 100 yards away got fertilized on a daily basis in the warm months, indirectly, by way of the pellet feeding that was employed on both ponds.

The very best trophy-bluegill pond we have ever managed has never been fertilized. It has a feeding program, however, and keeps a perfect visibility of around two feet from roughly April through late September every year, by way of the phytoplankton bloom produced from the twice-daily feeding of the high-protein fishmeal food the landowner gets from us. Said pond produced a two-pound-fourteen-ounce bluegill this past August; judge for yourself if the plankton blooms that pond gets from feeding have been beneficial.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with the title of this blog post, or why you should choose us to manage your Tennessee pond rather than one of our competitors that is based up north. One of those northern companies has only been working in Tennessee since 2016; they have an office in Nashville, and two biologists out of that office who had not been born when our chief biologist started working with private lakes. They’re a much larger company than we are, and have a dramatically bigger marketing budget than we do. And they sell their own exclusive formulation of fish food that touts the fact it’s a low-phosphorus formulation that will reduce phosphorus input to your lake.

Phosphorus is the main ingredient in every brand of commercial pond fertilizer; it typically accounts for between 44% and 52% of the total volume of the product. Phosphorus is what creates the phytoplankton bloom that turbo-charges the natural food chain of your private lake and gives you bigger fish; it’s the primary food of plants, and what you’re feeding to your phytoplankton when you fertilize your lake, either directly with a fertilizer product, or indirectly with a fishmeal-based food.

What would you say if a pond consultant said to you he had the perfect food for your fish because it would make them grow less and stay smaller? Would you buy food from him, or look for a new consultant?