Just as in any other field of enterprise, in the pond management world there are competent companies, and there are companies that are less than competent. Unfortunately, the size of the company or how nice their website is does not always reveal the truth about how effective they will be at managing your pond. We’re not, at the moment, the largest pond management company operating in Tennessee; we do have many, many examples of very specific and quantifiable successes, on many different private ponds and lakes, that speak favorably about our capabilities compared to those of our competitors. Let’s look at a very basic example of how one very large company operating in this area is anything but what it seems.
We don’t advertise at all in any state that isn’t Tennessee or a state contiguous to Tennessee. We have worked on private ponds and lakes as far away as North and South Carolina, and we manage on an ongoing basis a 60-acre lake in Indianapolis. But we have never actively sought to dominate states that are multiple states removed from our border, because it seemed to us just greedy and unfocused.
There’s a fish hatchery located two states away from us, in a dramatically colder climate than what we have, that a few years ago opened an office in Nashville. It’s pretty small as offices go, located in a strip mall sandwiched between dozens of other offices many of which are also satellites. There are no ponds there; they don’t raise any fish in Tennessee; if you buy fish from them, they’re bringing you fish from that facility two states north of us. They of course don’t mention this on their website.
Their website also represents them as being pond management experts. Granted, there is some degree of subjectivity anytime the word “expert” is employed; but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone anywhere, outside of this company themselves, that has ever referred to them as experts.
Here’s a very specific example of how expert they are at their craft. Our company has come behind this large northern company several times and worked on ponds and lakes which they had previously managed for multiple years; in every case, the pond had shown negligible or no improvement in response to their work. Every landowner that we have talked to that had used this large company in the past said that the primary management technique for them, the main thing they did to improve the quality of fishing in the pond or lake, was to stock fathead minnows once or twice yearly into the pond.
This is not just mildly incompetent, it’s wildly so; it’s a waste of the landowner’s money. And this by no means is my isolated opinion, nor is it a discovery I can take any credit for; it is very basic knowledge that every competent pond consultant is well aware of, and you can find dozens of examples of it both in various government publications and in the online writings of private consultants. Here are two publications just to start:
Fatheads are valuable to stock into a new pond because they provide faster growth for the bass and bluegill fingerlings when they’re first stocked; they also help move energy from the lowest trophic level (phytoplankton, algae) to the secondary and tertiary consumers i.e. the bass and bluegill. Because of their slender minnow shape, they’re easier for largemouth bass fingerlings, which often can be only two or three inches long when stocked, to swallow than comparable-sized bluegill, and thus help keep fingerling bass from starving the first month or two they’re in the pond.
However, fatheads top out at around three inches long, meaning they never reach a size at which they can elude predation even from a six-inch largemouth. Compare that to bluegill which regularly reach ten inches (or twelve or more in ponds we manage), and which even at eight inches long are safe from a majority of the bass in the pond, and you can see why fatheads are typically eliminated from a pond within a few months of stocking, but bluegill are not. This is why knowledgeable pond consultants never recommend stocking fatheads into an existing pond – because as the Missouri publication linked above notes, it’s a waste of money and nothing more than an expensive snack.
But this large company that mails out glitzy catalogs and flyers every month to every pond owner in middle Tennessee and touts themselves as pond management experts will tell you you need fatheads in your pond; they’ll bring them to you twice a year if you let them.
The general consensus among fisheries biologists is that it takes ten pounds of forage fish to put a pound of weight on a predator fish; so it takes ten pounds of fatheads to get one pound of growth on one bass. There can be anywhere between 200 and 400 fathead minnows in one pound, depending on their size; fatheads typically sell for around $15-17 per pound. If you have a thousand bass in a five-acre pond and they average a pound apiece, to get just one pound of growth on each bass in a year, you’d have to stock 10,000 pounds of fatheads, which would cost you, even with a volume discount, well upwards of $100,000.
The company in question, of course, is not telling landowners any of this. They’re just selling them 100 or 300 pounds of minnows and making a quick profit, and counting on the landowners to trust that the mediocre fishing they have in their ponds is the norm rather than the fault of the management company