Small Lake Management

girl holding fishing pole with bluegill

Good fishing doesn't just happen! A pond that consistently produces good catches of fish is a result of proper planning, construction, and management.

Tennessee has approximately 200,000 ponds and small lakes that provide over 100,000 acres of potential fishing water. In fact, these waters account for nearly one-fourth of all fishing trips made in Tennessee annually. Ponds and small lakes are often the "stepping stones" for Tennessee youngsters who later become dedicated anglers and conservationists. With proper planning and management, these waters have the potential of providing many enjoyable hours of good fishing.

Although ponds and small lakes provide many important and practical benefits: erosion control, livestock watering, swimming, irrigation, and wildlife enhancement, the information found in "Managing Small Fishing Ponds and Lakes in Tennessee" has been prepared to encourage Tennessee landowners to plan, construct and manage their ponds and small lakes properly for recreational fishing.

 A good pond depends on location, design, construction, stocking, and management. After the pond is completed, success or failure depends on the landowner's using necessary practices to establish and maintain good fish populations. Recreational fishing in ponds and small lakes can benefit tremendously from a small amount of management effort. Proper stocking of the right species and number, a balanced harvest of mature fish, proper fertilization (if needed), water quality management, and aquatic weed control are basics that the pond/small lake owner should understand. Many unmanaged (or mismanaged) ponds could produce many more pounds of fish than they currently do if good management practices were followed.

Largemouth Bass

Although the stocking strategy you choose should be geared to the kind of fishing you want, for the best recreational fishing and table fare, the largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, and channel catfish (optional) combination is hard to beat in Tennessee.

New or renovated ponds must be properly stocked because the fish that are originally introduced represent the future sportfish catch and harvest for many years to come. Improper stocking seldom provides desired results. Except for supplemental stocking of channel catfish, a pond that already contains fish generally does not need to be stocked. Fingerling fish (2-4 inches) stocked into a pond that contains adult fish will become fish food. Only stock additional largemouth bass or sunfish if recommended by a fisheries biologist.

Moving fish from your neighbor's pond or a local lake to your pond is not recommended. Many sunfish species are similar in appearance. You could mistakenly stock sunfish that are not desirable in small ponds. Also, there is a good possibility of transmitting fish diseases from pond to pond.

In general, sunfish (bluegill/redear) are stocked in the fall and winter months. Bass are stocked the following spring. The timing is not as critical with catfish and hybrid sunfish combinations, but fingerling survival is always best when fish are stocked into cool water.

More information about stocking is available in the booklet, "Managing Small Fishing Ponds and Lakes in Tennessee".

Number of fingerling fish per acre, for stocking new or renovated ponds without an existing fish population:

  • Largemouth bass and bluegill at 75-100 bass/acre and 500 bluegill/acre.
  • Largemouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish at 75-100 bass/acre, 400 bluegill/acre and 100 redear sunfish/acre.
  • Largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish at 75-100 bass/acre, 500 bluegill/acre, and 50-75 catfish/acre.
  • Largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, and channel catfish at 75-100 bass/acre, 400 bluegill/acre, 100 redear sunfish/acre and 50-75 catfish/acre.
  • Channel catfish only at 100-150/acre.

All of the above combinations, except catfish only, must be stocked in ponds larger than 0.25 acres, and preferably in ponds 1 acre or larger. Channel catfish can be stocked alone in smaller sized ponds at 100-150 per acre, without supplemental feeding.

Stocking hybrid sunfish can offer a good alternative for owners of very small ponds (less than 0.25 acres) up to ponds 3 acres in size. But it is important for the owner to know that certain conditions are critical and need to be met for the success of ponds stocked with hybrid sunfish. First, do not stock hybrid sunfish into ponds containing other fish, and never stock them in combination with other bream(bluegill and redear sunfish) species. The reason for this is because [redear sunfish] hybrid sunfish will crossbred with other bream species and hybrid identity and vigor will soon be lost. Second, hybrid sunfish should always be stocked in combination with a predator fish, such as largemouth bass or catfish, to control both the small amount of expected hybrid sunfish reproduction (which is not desirable) and wild fish which may accidently get into the pond. In either case, more food will be available for the stocked hybrids.

It is important to remember that hybrid sunfish management is for production of large sunfish, and bass growth will be less than desirable. Also, periodic restocking of hybrid sunfish will be necessary to sustain the fishery for more than a few years. The recommended initial stocking rate is 750 hybrid sunfish and 30 largemouth bass per acre, or 400 hybrid sunfish and 100 catfish per acre. Pond owners should keep records of the number of hybrid sunfish removed and if possible, restock with 3 to 4 inch hybrids when 60 to 75 percent of the original stocked fish have been caught and removed.

Channel Catfish

White amur, commonly called grass carp is another fish species that may be stocked into ponds that have aquatic plant problems. Grass carp feed almost exclusively on aquatic plants and therefore can be an effective biological control method when aquatic plants become a nuisance.

Although aquatic plants are beneficial to natural functions in fishing ponds and lakes, they can sometimes interfere with the owners preferred use of the pond when allowed to spread unchecked.   Triploid grass carp may be stocked with other fish species at recommended rates and may be obtained from commercial fish producers.   Only triploid (sterile) grass carp are legal to stock in Tennessee.

No special permit is required of the pond owner to stock grass carp at this time, but pond owners should obtain verification from the sellers that they are purchasing triploid grass carp.   For more information, including stocking rates for grass carp, see the Aquatic Weed Control - Biological Control section of "Managing Small Fishing Ponds and Lakes in Tennessee". ​

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) is no longer offering fish for stocking private ponds and small lakes.

Private pond/lake owners wanting fish can purchase them from either the fish hatcheries in the state, or from commercial fish producers that visit many farm and feed stores located in each county (see “Obtaining Fish From Commercial Producers” below).

The pond owner can contact a farm/feed store in their county to check on the availability of fish. Pond and lake owners can also contact any office of TWRA for assistance in locating a commercial source for fish. Please visit the Dept. of Agriculture for more information. 

Fish species, including largemouth bass, bluegill, catfish, and grass carp may be purchased from commercial fish producers located in Tennessee.

Fish for stocking ponds, including triploid grass carp, may also be available at your local feed store, farmers supply stores and cooperatives. Fish producers visit some of these stores on a regular basis during the spring and fall. Call your local store for more information.

Since there are many commercial hatcheries that produce fish for sale to pond owners, it is best to consult several suppliers to see who has the best prices and delivery schedules. Also, do not hesitate to ask questions about the fish you’re buying in order to insure you’re getting your money’s worth. The following questions are suggested, and reputable fish producers will be happy to answer them.

Questions for commercial fish producers:

  1. What is the warranty on your fish? (Some producers only guarantee live fish delivery, but the fish may die later from hauling stress or disease).
  2. Do you raise the fish, or do you buy them from someone else? (It’s important to know the source of the fish provided, should problems arise).
  3. Can you certify the genetic composition of your fish? (Some strains of fish are more suited to certain situations (Florida bass, for example), but some hatcheries do not routinely check their brood stock or fingerlings for genetic purity. Tennessee law requires that only “triploid” or sterile grass carp may be stocked. The producer should have verification that his grass carp are “triploid”.
  4. What species and sizes of fish do you supply? (Some producers only sell or raise certain species or sizes of fish that may not be right for your pond).
  5. Are the fish you supply guaranteed to be free of exotic or unwanted species? (Exotic species can harm a fish pond, and cause problems when they escape the pond).

It is important to note that in most cases, the chemistry of the water your fish are shipped in is different from the water in your pond. When your fish arrive, adjust them to your pond water before releasing them or they may die! This is done by gradually mixing pond water into the shipping container over the course of at least 30 minutes. Then, lower the container into the water and let the fish freely swim out when they are ready. Do not pour the fish out!

Disclaimer! Reference to commercial firms is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is implied, nor does it guarantee or warrant the standard of the products or service offered. For additions, corrections, or to have your business included as a commercial fish producer, please send the appropriate information to:

Pond Fish Supplier List
TWRA-Fisheries Division
P.O. Box 40747
Nashville, TN 37207
FAX: 615-781-6667

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