Young boy fishing in an Iowa farm pond
Iowa Ponds

An Iowa pond is the perfect spot for many fun outdoor activities, such as swimming, fishing, hunting, trapping, camping and picnicking. Many Iowans’ first fishing experience was at one of our 110,000 ponds. Anglers enjoy 1.6 million fishing trips each year to Iowa ponds with a local economic impact estimated at $7.5 million.

Iowa's ponds reflect the fertility of its agricultural land. A pond in Iowa will support more fish than ponds in most other states. This high fertility provides excellent fishing opportunities, but can also create vegetation issues in ponds. A pond plant identification guide can help you identify the plants growing in your pond so you can correctly manage them. Find more information on the aquatic plants in ponds webpage or download the printable stocking and managing Iowa ponds handout.

Life in a pond is a complex system with the many life forms dependent on each other. Small single and multicellular plants called plankton live in ponds. These microscopic plankton are eaten by animal plankton as well as some crustaceans, insects and tadpoles living in the pond. Small fish, crayfish and frogs eat the animal plankton, crustaceans and insects and are then eaten by larger fish. Bluegills, although they may grow to nine inches and over, eat mostly animal plankton and insects throughout their lives, while bass eat plankton and insects only during their early stages. As bass get larger, they become the major predator in a pond eating fish, crayfish and frogs. Each link in this web of life is needed to survive. Man, actively looking for and eating fish caught from the pond, forms the final link in the chain. Proper management of the pond and its surroundings is important to keep the pond healthy.

Pond Watershed:

The best ponds in Iowa have 10 to 20 acres of watershed for each surface acre of water impounded. Protected timber is preferred as watershed cover. Other good watershed covers are grassland and pasture. Row crop is the worst watershed cover because silt loaded runoff shortens pond life and reduces fish populations.

Livestock Watering:

Ponds that have a small pipe (2 inch) in the lower part of the dam can be used to water livestock. The pipe should extend into the pond and connect with a standpipe, the top of which should be four feet lower than the water surface when the pond is full. A watering tank with a float valve placed below the dam will keep a steady water level in the tank. Using a watering pipe and tank to provide cool fresh water instead of letting livestock go into the pond will keep the dam and pond banks from being trampled by livestock. Contact your local NRCS office for help with designing one of these systems.


Pond Fencing:

Fence in the pond and dam to keep livestock out. Built the fence at least 60-100 feet from the pond edge. Livestock that have unlimited access to the pond can ruin the pond’s bank slopes and sod, weakening the dam and spillway. Livestock wading into the water will destroy fish spawning nests and create muddy water. A grass buffer strip inside the fence can reduce soil erosion and chemical runoff going in the pond.

Wildlife Benefits:

Most wildlife species need nesting or denning cover, a food supply, escape cover and winter cover. Lack of one or more of these needs may limit total population numbers. Buffer strips next to ponds provide critical nesting, denning, winter and escape cover for wildlife. This cover can also improve the quality of the water and increase the life of the pond by reducing soil losses from erosion.

Seeding areas next to the pond to grass or legumes can reduce erosion and provide wildlife nesting areas. Native warm season grasses such as Switch grass, Indian grass or Big bluestem, provide excellent erosion control and wildlife habitat. Conifers can provide winter and escape cover. Other medium-sized trees such as mulberry and wild plum provide cover as well as food. Shrubs provide many benefits including food production, escape and winter cover and excellent nesting areas for wildlife. Contact your local DNR wildlife management biologist for technical help to plan for the best wildlife habitat around your pond. Your local county’s USDA office may offer help with the cost of adding wildlife habitat around your pond.

Pond Damage and Renovations
+ Wave Action
+ Turtles and Muskrats
+ Seepage and Leaks
+ Washout
+ Muddy Water
+ Shoreline Deepening

If you need help to diagnose problems or evaluate your pond for stocking, contact your local DNR fisheries management biologist.

Tips for stocking a farm pond are available on the pond stocking webpage.

Additional Information:
Pond Fishing
Aquatic Plants in Ponds

Wildlife Benefits
Example of wildlife habitat development:

(1) Nesting Cover:
Bluestem, Switch grass, Indian grass, Birdsfoot trefoil, Sweet clover, Alfalfa

(2) Winter Cover:
Juniper, Cedar, Pines

Escape Cover:
(3) Ninebark, Dogwood, Bush junipers, Elderberry, Raspberry

(4) Seed Producing Trees:
Wild plum, Mulberry, Osage orange

(5) Mast Producing Trees:
Walnut, Oak, Choke cherry