What should I stock? Five steps to a quality fish stocking recommendation.

How should you go about stocking an existing pond or lake? If the pond is empty, or if you can tell us with certainty what is currently in it, then recommendations are easy to do and we will get them for you in no time.  But if you cannot explain to us what the fish population is with confidence, then the situation is more complex. It is impossible to give a quality fish stocking recommendation if you do not know a few basic things about what is currently in there.  So we have to work with customers to gather the information required to make a quality stocking recommendation.  This article lays out a 5-step plan to guide the way.


Reaching out to us for a stocking recommendation is a great first step, because let’s face it, no one is born with the knowledge of what to do to improve a fish population. But being a fish biologist also does not give you superhuman powers of knowing what is going on in a pond/lake without data/info. Also, if you ask 5 fish biologists for a stocking plan, you will likely get 5 different plans.  There generally is not 1 right way to do things, so be careful about picking bits and pieces from different plans, because they could conflict.


If reaching out to a fish biologist is step one, being able to gather and convey your current fish population information should be step two. As discussed above, the simple truth is that it is virtually impossible to make any decent stocking recommendations without knowing the basic details of the current fish population that exists. Unfortunately, this is no simple task.


So, how do you gather details on your current fish population? There are 2 basic ways. The first is hiring a professional to do it for you. Depending on the logistics, expect to pay anywhere from one thousand to three thousand plus for this. The second is to get the info yourself through fishing and careful observations.


What we really need to know to make a quality recommendation is what species are present, what’s their size range and how abundant are they. If you want to try to gather this information yourself, ask for our creel survey form and we will go over it with you. If you don’t want to do this, but you also don’t want to hire a professional, there is one other option, and that is to find a trustworthy fisherman or fisherwoman to do it for you. There are many people out there that would jump at the opportunity to fish a pond for free!


There is one thing worse than no info at all, and that is bad info. Many times I have had people tell me about their stunted bluegill population that will not grow, despite what they do or stock. After considering everything they tell me, the facts just don’t add up, and I finally ask them to send a photo of one of these Bluegills.  Often they turn out to actually be Green Sunfish or some sort of stunted hybrid, which completely changes my set of recommendations. I guess this makes step three: “verify accuracy of information”.


Another form of information accuracy is exaggerated fish lengths and weights. Most people cannot tell the length of a fish by looking at it. I’d say many people would look at a 5 inch bluegill and say that it is 3 inches, and there are significant management differences between the two. When measuring fish, they must be laid out on a ruler of some sort and measured from tip of nose to tip of tail. Likewise, please don’t tell me you have 5 pound Largemouth Bass unless you have actually put a fish on an accurate fish scale and recorded the weight.


Step four is State Your Goals, in order. Let’s say you have 3 goals: to grow trophy bass within 5 years, to have them in abundance so that you can easily catch them, and to set up a self sustaining ecosystem so that you do not have to spend money on feeding. Well, if those were your 3 goals, I would ask you to list them in order of importance, because you could probably have 2, but not all 3.  In other words, sometimes goals are contradictory or incompatible, so if we know which are most important, we can tailor our recommendations accordingly.


Speaking of money, setting out a budget is step five. What good is a stocking plan if it costs 5 times more than you are willing or able to spend? If we know your budget, then we can consider your goals (in order) and provide you with a plan that best allocates your available resources.


Once we have that information, the ball is in our court and we will turn around the best recommendation that we can in little time. So here in review are those 5 steps:


Step 1: Reach out to a fish biologist that you trust to make a recommendation.  Once you find a plan you like, stick with that one.


Step 2: Gather and convey fish population information, or hire a professional to do it for you.


Step 3: Make sure the information is accurate. Ask for a creel survey form if you are doing this yourself. Send in photos of fish you cannot ID.


Step 4: List your goals, in order.


Step 5: Give a realistic maximum budget so we can best allocate your resources.