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Iowa Farm Ponds

Farm pond owners host some 1.6 million fishing trips by licensed anglers and support fishing valued at $7.5 million.The DNR annually stocks about 670 acres of ponds at a cost of $17,000 to pond owners.
 
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 farm ponds. The recommended stocking for a one-acre farm pond (to provide good fishing in two years and excellent fishing by the third year) is:
  • 1,000 Bluegill
  • 100 Channel Catfish
  • 70 Largemouth Bass
 
The Iowa DNR's stocking program is successful and well-respected because it is based on research funded by fishing license dollars.The DNR stocking program for ponds was initiated to assist landowners in their efforts to provide quality angling to fellow Iowans. This booklet has been prepared for the licensed anglers of Iowa. Their license money supports the farm pond program. Farm ponds on private property stocked by the Iowa DNR are not automatically open to public fishing.  You must acquire landowner permission to fish private ponds in Iowa.

Iowa Farm Ponds BookletA farm pond is an ideal spot for many forms of outdoor fun. Swimming, fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, and picnicking are but a few of the enjoyable outdoor pursuits which can take place at a pond.
Farm ponds contribute a significant portion to Iowa's water resource. There are more than 90,000 ponds statewide with an additional 300 being stocked by the DNR annually.  Basically, most ponds are located in southern Iowa where the topography is best suited for their construction. Very few are found in the northern part of the state.

Iowa's ponds reflect the fertility of its agricultural land. A pond in Iowa will support more fish than ponds located in most other states. Because of this high "carrying capacity" our ponds have the potential to provide outstanding fishing in both sizes and numbers of fish.

Each year, personnel of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are questioned repeatedly by pond owners and fisherman about proper procedures to manage a fish pond. This booklet was published to provide answers to those questions. Because each pond is different, additional help may be needed to solve specific problems. Contact the Iowa Department of Natural Resources concerning questions dealing with fish or wildlife resources and your local Natural Resources Conservation Service representative concerning questions dealing with soil, erosion, pond construction, and cost sharing.

Life within a pond is a complex system with the various life forms dependent upon each other. Ponds contain minute single and multicellular plants called plankton. The microscopic plankton are eaten by crustaceans, insects, and tadpoles also living in the pond. Small fish, crayfish and frogs feed on the crustaceans and insects and in turn are eaten by larger fish. Bluegills, although they may grow to nine inches, feed primarily on insects throughout their lives, while bass feed on insects only in their early stages.  As bass get larger, they become the major predator in a pond consuming fish, crayfish, and frogs. Each link in this web of life must be present for successive links to be present and survive. Man forms the final link in the chain by actively seeking and consuming fish caught from the pond. How man goes about managing the pond and its surroundings is the most important influence on that environment.

Advice from two agencies is needed when building a farm pond. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is the agency to contact for pond construction because of their construction and design expertise. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers cost sharing programs. Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides fish and wildlife management assistance at no cost.

Pond Watershed: The best ponds in Iowa have between 10 acres and 20 acres of watershed for each surface acre of water impounded. Protected timber is preferred as watershed cover. Other suitable watershed covers include grassland and pasture. Rowcrop is the least desirable watershed because silt laden runoff shortens pond life and fish populations are drastically reduced.

Livestock Watering: Ponds can be used for livestock watering if a small pipe (2 in.) is installed in the lower portion of the dam. 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 could then be placed below the dam and a float valve installed to keep a correct water level in the tank. Using a watering pipe and tank as opposed to allowing livestock access to the pond will provide cool fresh water to the livestock and eliminate livestock trampling the dam and pond banks.  Contact your local NRCS office for assistance in designing one of these systems.  The pond and dam should be fenced.

Pond Fencing: One of the most important aspects of building a pond is fencing to exclude livestock. Unfortunately, this is the most neglected part of construction and often is the cause of slow fish growth, unbalanced fish populations, lack of wildlife cover and shortened pond life. The fence should be constructed at least 60-100 feet from the pond edge and completely enclose the pond and dam. Fence construction should be adequate to exclude all livestock.

Proper Watering: proper cattle watering

Improper Watering: improper cattle watering

Proper Dam Design for Watering: dam design diagram


Ponds without fences usually have the bank slopes and sod ruined by livestock, thereby weakening the dam and spillway. Livestock wading into the water will destroy fish spawning nests and will result in muddy water. A grass buffer strip inside the fence will protect the pond retarding runoff, thus allowing most silt and contaminants to settle before reaching the pond. This strip will provide escape, nesting and cover for many wildlife species.

Wildlife Benefits:
The basic needs of most wildlife species are rather simple. These requirements include 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 adjacent to farm ponds will provide critical nesting, denning, winter and escape cover for wildlife. This cover can also greatly improve the quality of the water and add to the life expectancy of the pond by reducing soil losses from erosion.

All requirements for wildlife and erosion control can be met when adequate areas adjacent to the pond are properly managed. One program of importance in both erosion control and wildlife nesting is the seeding of suitable areas to grass or legumes.  Native warm season grasses such as Switch grass, Indian grass, or Big bluestem, all provide excellent erosion control and wildlife habitat. Other wildlife requirements can be met by planting trees and shrubs in the pond area. Conifers can be used to provide both 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, both escape and winter cover, and provide excellent nesting areas for wildlife species. Planting should be carefully planned to provide the maximum amount of edge and cover diversity so wildlife can benefit.

A Wildlife Management Biologist is located in your area and is available for technical assistance in planning for optimum wildlife habitat in the vicinity of your pond. Wildlife seedling packets as well as tree seedlings are available at low cost from the State Nursery to help establish wildlife cover. Wildlife habitat development may be cost shared through FSA offices.
 
1. NESTING COVER (Bluestem, Switch grass, Indian grass, Birdsfoot trefoil,Sweet clover, Alfalfa)
2. WINTER COVER (Juniper, Cedar, Pines)
3. ESCAPE COVER (Ninebark, Honeysuckle, Dogwood, Bush junipers, Elderberry, Raspberry)
4. SEED PRODUCING TREES (Wild plum, Mulberry, Osage orange)
5. MAST PRODUCING TREES (Walnut, Oak, Choke cherry)


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