Tennessee Pond Stocking: Thirty Minutes that Can Impact the Next Forty Years

Your Initial Pond Stocking – long term effects!

We work on ponds all the time that have been in existence, and often have had fish in them, for forty or fifty years or even longer.  More often than not, older ponds do not have fisheries that are in a highly desirable state; various environmental factors, from run-off to decaying organic matter to trees growing up around the banks, can cause a gradual decline in water quality, and the fish population will generally skew toward unbalanced over time, with one species and sometimes more than one overpopulating, which in turn results in poor growth for the other species in the pond.  Genetics over time can also be compromised, particularly if the pond is decades old, through inbreeding, hybrids breeding with non-hybrids if the former are present, etc.  But one thing that can definitively be said about a pond is this: the initial stocking has a profound impact, good or bad, on the long-term trajectory of the pond.  There are dozens of fish hatcheries selling fish in the state of Tennessee; take the time to research who you’re buying from before you let them chart the course of your pride-and-joy honeyhole.


We consulted on a 35-acre lake in northern Mississippi in late 2014.  The lake had been managed by one of our competitors for two years, but the bass were pitiful: the landowner who brought us in claimed to have caught a largemouth bass a few months earlier that measured twenty-four inches long and weighed only five pounds, which is basically a starving fish.  We began asking questions, and discovered that the lake had been initially stocked five years earlier with numbers wildly out of kilter from any accepted ballpark for a trophy-largemouth lake.  Our competitor had not done the initial stocking: one of the landowners (not the one who had us come down) had taken it upon himself to stock the lake, and had stocked 200 bass per acre – which is four times the number that knowledgeable pond pros stock, whether here or in Texas or Indiana, when the goal is trophy largemouth.  The bluegill numbers had also been off, far too low; and despite the best efforts of our competitor, the landowners have been fighting ever since to turn that lake around, with little success.

It is possible to re-boot a pond, to wipe out an existing fish population and start from scratch; there’s a federally-approved chemical just for this purpose called rotenone, a derivative from a bean from South America that indigenous peoples there have used for centuries to harvest fish from streams, and it works well and neutralizes quickly, and we use it regularly to give a pond a new lease on life.

However, rotenoning a one-acre pond is decidedly easier than killing off a thirty-five or even a twenty-acre lake; just the cost of the chemical for a twenty-acre lake, for example, would run somewhere in the ballpark of six grand for a lake that averaged six feet deep, and that doesn’t include the cost of application, which typically would run at least another grand, possibly more depending on the company.

Stocking the Wrong Fish Initially:

One small misstep in the initial stocking can lead to the necessity of starting over down the road.  Something as simple as stocking channel catfish can derail your whole pond plan, for instance, if your goal is trophy bluegill.  Growing bluegill to outsized proportions means feeding them supplementally with the very best quality, fishmeal-based, high-protein food you can get your hands on; there are several other factors that have to be properly addressed, which I go into in detail in my blog post, “Growing Monster Bluegill in Your Pond;” but feeding is essential, and if you stock channel catfish they will be the wrecking ball for your bluegill feeding a year-and-a-half or two years down the road when they reach three or four pounds and begin bullying the bluegill away from the food, rolling their bodies and slapping their tails as they eat, so that they can hog more of it for themselves.  Grass carp are routinely recommended by many of our less detail-oriented competitors for every new pond, and they’re great if you have no interest in developing a banner fishery in your pond; but if you plan on growing trophy bass and bluegill, either plan of which requires feeding the bluegill supplementally for optimal success, the grass carp will trash your feeding program with even more gusto than the channel cats: they, too, love pellets, and will forsake every blade and strand of vegetation in your pond to wallow in those expensive pellets that you intended for the bluegill.  And good luck getting channel cats or grass carp either one out of the pond once they’re in there – channel cats are notorious among pond pros for being the smartest, wiliest fish in any pond and avoiding hooks with unmatched success, and grass carp have no interest in most angling presentations, and will destroy the tackle of the average angler even if he manages to hook one.  Once they’re in there, they’re there to stay short of poisoning every last fish in the pond.

Suppose you dream of growing a thirteen-pound largemouth in your pond…But it was stocked by the man who owned it before you did, and he filled it to the brim with northern-strain largemouth.  Northern-strain bass generally top out at around five or six pounds; in ideal conditions they can every now and then get a pound or two bigger; but you stand a much better chance of getting hit by lightning thrice weekly for the next six months running than you do growing a northern-strain largemouth to thirteen pounds, whereas this is a relatively common size for Florida and F-1 largemouth to attain.

It only takes a few minutes to put fish into a new pond; but whether in Kentucky, Alabama or Tennessee, putting the right fish can make the difference between an exceptional fishery years down the road and one that has to be totally reclaimed from the ground up.  There are Tennesee fish hatcheries who care more about your dollar than they do your long-term happiness with your pond; don’t let the carpet-bagger pond people cost you your dream fishery.