Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Saving the Fish

Every summer, my pond becomes a mud hole. I’ve never been able to keep water in it, so I haven’t had much luck with fish, either.
When I moved here 13 years ago, I had 18 catfish and dozens of bream. The fish would feel the vibration of my car on the driveway, and swim to my small pier. I’d throw them fish food, and they’d jump out of the water to get it. It was great fun, and I was looking forward to letting my grandsons feed the fish, too.
The pond is now a work in progress.
But it’s a runoff pond that’s dependent upon rain to keep it filled. When we have lots of rain, the pond is about a third of an acre in area, and several feet deep at one end. However, when we go through a dry spell, the pond shrinks up to a muddy, child-size wadding pool. The poor fish that are left become easy pickings for the blue heron that feasts there every year. A few years ago, when we had a particularly bad drought, I lost all those catfish, including the one with the white face that I called Grandpa.
Besides the receding water, I had a lot of vegetation to deal with, both in and around the pond. Norm Haley, a regional extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s forestry, wildlife and natural resources division, advised me on a herbicide that’s safe for fish and the groundwater downstream. However, it was extremely difficult to spray the sloping banks, much less the reeds and other vegetation in the pond itself. I liked the reeds, but they were slowly taking over.  A tenant got into a copperhead nest while chopping them down. Grass carp wouldn’t help, according to Haley, because the pond gets too low for them. He said I wouldn’t have the vegetation problem if I cut the banks steeper.
I had ducks once.
After 13 years of saying, “I ought to have that pond dug out while it’s shallow,“  I  put my money where my mouth is. Bobby Isbell, a neighbor who has an excavation business, did the job this week. Once the rains fill it in, the pond will be three to four feet deep from one end to the other. When the pond has enough water, Bobby will come back with a truck load of chicken litter, which he’ll spread over the water with a blower. The litter will sink to the bottom and fill in the cracks. Once the leaks are plugged, I’ll be able to keep fish in it, and maybe some ducks on it.
Bobby had to pump out some water before he could start the excavation, and I wanted to save the few fish that were left. So Phillip, his employee, scooped them out with a butterfly net and by hand as the pump sucked out the water. Some of them scooted into the mud, where they flopped around until Philip could grab them.
We put several dozen small bream in one water tank, and two catfish, a bass and a carp in another. Phillip suggested that the raccoons probably would make a feast of the smaller fish, and I was okay with that. At least they would die as part of the food chain, instead of from asphyxiation. But they were either too crowded, or the cold night temperature got them, because next morning, they were all dead. 
Well, at least I tried.


  1. That's a toughie. But it sounds like something I would have tried. Having the pond dredged is a good idea for the long haul. The future fish will be thankful.
    I love living on a farm where what you do matters when taking the long view.

    1. The fish may not be thankful, but my grandsons certainly will. They'll be able to fish all year.