Tennessee Pond Stocking: the Importance of Integrity

We made a blog post recently about a competitor of ours that uses once- or twice-yearly stockings of fathead minnows into ponds with established fish populations as a cornerstone of their management of said ponds. You can see that post under, “Pond Management Tennessee: Beware False Advertising.” This post will focus on the most important question you can ask yourself when it comes to choosing a company to stock your new or renovated pond. That question is simply this: do they have your best interest, or theirs, at heart?

This may seem like an obvious question, but in our experience, it’s far and away the most important thing to consider. The reason is simple: some fish hatcheries and some management companies care more about their bottom line than they do the success of your pond. They’ll sell you fish you don’t need, or in some instances even lead you astray regarding the overall management strategy of your pond, if it improves their profit margin. Once one of these companies has stocked your pond, the damage has been done; so ask them the right questions, and do your research on them to find out what they’re all about before you let them set the course of your prized honeyhole.

First, let’s look at an example from a management company. A couple years ago we did an onsite consultation for a landowner who had a freshly-dug three-acre pond; he was deciding between our company and another management company as to who would stock and manage the pond for him. He told me that his goal was trophy bluegill; then he proceeded to ask if crappie would be okay to stock with the bass and bluegill. When I told him that crappie would ruin the pond and prevent him from reaching his goal, he said that the other management company had told him crappie would be fine to stock and wouldn’t interfere with his goal of big bluegill. I then pointed out that the biologist who had told him that wasn’t even going by his own company’s stated position on crappie, because their website expressly states that crappie shouldn’t be stocked in ponds. He hired us to stock the pond, and within a year of stocking the bluegill as fingerlings he caught a ten-inch bluegill from his pond.

Now for an example from a hatchery that also offers management services. This particular company claims to be pioneers in lake management. If you read our blog post, “Pond Management Tennessee: Beware False Advertising,” you’ll see that not only is this not the case; they’re barely even competent in lake management, just going by the objective sources of multiple state publications on pond management.

It is certainly possible to be less than expert in one’s field in good faith, simply through lack of experience and/or knowledge. They have been in business for several decades, and tout this on their website; they make a point of noting how many lakes and ponds they have stocked (far more than we have, by the way). So why would they regularly give such awful advice to landowners?

Supplemental feeding with pelleted food is widespread practice in the management of private lakes and ponds all across the U.S. I don’t know of a single knowledgeable pond consultant that doesn’t rely heavily on feeding when it comes to growing trophy bluegill and largemouth. Supplemental feeding is far and away the most straightforward way to grow bluegill to two pounds and beyond; but thousands of pond owners across the country who don’t give a whit about bluegill still feed their bluegill supplementally via automatic feeders with expensive, high-protein food. The reason for this is simple: studies have shown that bluegill produce 80% more offspring when fed a fishmeal-based, high-protein food; this translates to 80% more forage for the bass.

As we noted in the other blog post about false advertising referenced above, it takes ten pounds of forage to put one pound of weight on a fish. Conversely, it takes under two pounds of a good fishmeal-based food with a protein content of 40% or higher, to put a pound of weight on that same fish. So for every two pounds of high-protein pellet food you feed to the bluegill in your pond, you get a pound of additional forage in the pond. Not only do the bluegill produce more offspring each time they spawn; they also grow much faster to the ideal sizes for good bass growth.

The difference in results from feeding done properly i.e. with high-protein food, and from stocking fathead minnows, is not slight: it’s profound and dramatic. This is why all of the knowledgeable pond consultants working in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and other southern states use feeding rather than minnow stockings as a cornerstone management tool in the ponds they manage.

The large company we’ve alluded to in the other blog post and this one, the company that is stocking fathead minnows every year in their customers’ ponds and lakes, doesn’t even sell an automatic fish feeder on their website. They have dozens of pond products on their e-commerce pages, but no pellet feeder.

Why would a company that touts itself as a pioneer in lake management take this curious approach to managing their customers’ ponds? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that they have a large fish hatchery at which they raise a lot of fathead minnows, among other species, but they don’t manufacture fish feeders or fish food.

We make a fraction as much on fish food as we do fish sales. But we’d sooner make no profit at all on a job and give that landowner the best fishing he has ever had than we would give someone bad advice just to make a bigger short-term profit. We like to think that, in the end, doing a better job for our customers will build our business in a way that shady companies could never achieve.