Pond Stocking and Management

Years of experimentation have shown three fish species are best suited for Iowa ponds. Largemouth Bass and Bluegill are the primary species stocked in ponds, and must be stocked in combination with each other if a good fishery is desired. Channel Catfish are also recommended for pond stocking because they are popular with Iowa anglers and provide excellent fishing.  All three species are available from many private hatcheries in Iowa.

Correct Stocking is a MUST for good fishing

Some of Iowa's best fishing for Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, and Channel Catfish is provided by properly stocked ponds.  The recommended stocking for a pond (to provide good fishing in two years and excellent fishing by the third year) is:

The Iowa DNR's recommended stocking rate is successful and well respected because it is based on research funded by fishing license dollars. This research was initiated to assist landowners in their efforts to provide quality angling to fellow Iowans.

Iowa ponds contain about 250 pounds of Bluegill per surface acre of water; hence, this species will provide most of the fishing in a pond. Harvest of Bluegill can be started the second year after stocking. Bluegill limits need not be imposed on private ponds because they are plentiful.

Largemouth Bass populations in a balanced Iowa pond will reach 50-75 lbs/acre, approximately 1/5 that of bluegill. Largemouth Bass should not be removed from the pond until the fourth year after stocking. No more than 15 bass/acre over 14 inches in length should be removed annually. Greater harvest rates will reduce the quality of both Largemouth Bass and Bluegill fishing.  Removal of too many Largemouth Bass  may result in small Bluegill due to their prolific reproduction.

Key to management: harvest most bluegills, release most bass.

Channel Catfish harvest can typically begin three years after initial stocking. Harvest should not exceed 15 fish/acre and can be restocked once half the original population has been harvested.  Large fingerlings (at least 8 inches) should be stocked when introducing Channel Catfish into established ponds to escape predation by Largemouth Bass.

Although the Largemouth Bass, Bluegill and Channel Catfish combination typically does well on its own, Fathead Minnows are sometimes stocked to provide initial prey for Largemouth Bass but they will not be self-sustaining. 

Many people like to have species of fish in their pond other than the usual Largemouth Bass, Bluegill and Channel Catfish. Several species are available for sale from private hatcheries in Iowa.

Walleye and Northern Pike are trophy fish and highly sought by anglers. These fish can be stocked into ponds and will cause no harm. Neither species will reproduce, however, and they must be stocked periodically if the population is to be maintained. Walleye seldom grow large in ponds, but Northern Pike often do. A major disadvantage of stocking Northern Pike is when they become large they feed heavily on Largemouth Bass.

Redear Sunfish, another member of the sunfish family, are often stocked into lakes or ponds as a control for yellow and black grubs.  Redear Sunfish work well with the DNR recommended stocking as they don’t compete directly with Bluegill but provide fish that are on average larger than Bluegill.

White Crappie and Black Crappie are often stocked in ponds although they usually produce little fishing, seldom grow to acceptable size in ponds and compete directly with Largemouth Bass. They are not recommended for ponds smaller than 5 acres in size.  Black Crappie may be suitable in ponds larger than 5 acres, but should not be stocked until Largemouth Bass and Bluegill populations are well established.  White Crappie are not well suited for ponds because they usually produce little fishing, seldom grow to acceptable size due to excessive reproduction and compete directly with other fish.  White Bass and Yellow Bass act similarly to White Crappie, and also are not recommended for ponds.  Hybrid Striped Bass should also be avoided due to their direct competition with other species.

Bullheads can be popular with Iowa anglers, but should not be stocked in ponds. Bullheads often become over-crowded, are very slow growing and muddy the water.

Vegetation Management and Grass Carp

The Iowa DNR does not stock Grass Carp into public waters and does not recommend them for stocking private ponds.  Stocking Grass Carp often results in increased algal growth and near elimination of all aquatic vegetation.  Once stocked, Grass Carp are difficult to remove and can live beyond 20 years. 

Although the DNR does not encourage stocking Grass Carp, they can legally be stocked into a private pond.  If Grass Carp are stocked into a private pond, the DNR recommends no more than 1-2 ten-inch fish per acre.  Pond owners who opt to go this route should be patient as vegetation control may not be noted for 2-3 growing seasons. 

Restocking should not occur until rooted aquatics become a problem.  Often, additional fish are stocked because vegetation control is not apparent immediately.  When the happens, the pond ends up with too many Grass Carp resulting in too little vegetation, poor water quality, and ultimately sport fishing suffers.   

A list of private fish hatcheries in Iowa which sell fish is available from the Department of Natural Resources.  Private Fish Hatcheries