EAST TEXAS - Springtime begins a new season in pond management.
Spring is the time for stocking and the beginning of regular feeding of catfish.
For most ponds in our area, a catfish only or catfish and fat head minnow combination is the best stocking option. Fishery experts say that unless you have a pond that is larger than one surface acre in size, you would do better with a catfish system rather than including bass, perch, bluegill or other species.
If you don’t know the surface area of your pond, you could look on an online global mapping program such as Google Earth. One acre is 43,560 square feet. By comparison a football field is about the size of an acre. Another way to estimate your pond size is that many city residential lots are about a quarter acre in size.
If you already have catfish in your pond, then you probably need to start feeding them. Catfish begin feeding actively starting in the spring when the water temperature is above 50 degrees.
Experts recommend that most folks feed the floating catfish rations. There are several quality complete catfish feeds to choose from at our local feed stores. While it is true that the sinking catfish food is cheaper, you won’t be able to monitor their consumption. As a rule of thumb, only throw out as much feed as the fish will eat in 10 to 15 minutes. Avoid feeding on windy days when the feed will be blown into the shore or use a feeding ring to contain it.
Catfish typically respond best if fed in the early morning or late afternoon, but they can be trained to eat at any time. Feeding corn, bread, dog food or other substitutes are poor choices and should be avoided.
Channel or Blue catfish, what is best to stock? Both are certainly suitable for our east Texas ponds, but Channel tend to be more readily available for purchase. In addition, Channel cats can better tolerate low levels of oxygen that commonly occur in our summers.
There is no difference in taste or texture between the two and they should grow to an edible size in the same time frame. Cooler weather is the best time to stock catfish as they will be less stressed from being handled, moved around and placed in a new pond.
Check with your favorite, local feed store for the dates when the fish truck is delivering. Many catfish are sold as 4-6-inch fingerlings, and this is about the minimum size to feed out to an edible “eating-size fish” by fall as most growth on catfish happens between April and October.
Some years ago, I remember a local FFA chapter would stock catfish in a pond near the school in the spring. They would feed the catfish all thru the summer using an automatic feeder (similar to what you have at the deer lease). The students in the fall would then have a day that they harvested the fish, processed and froze them to sell as a fundraiser. Some of the high school boys would drag a huge seine thru the pond several times to catch all the fish. No doubt a few made it past them, but the vast majority were caught and made into fillets for waiting customers.
We could do the same thing. Imagine supplying enough catfish for a fish-fry for large gathering of family and friends!
Stocking rates range from 100 to 1,000 fish per acre depending upon feeding rates. Know your pond size so that you can stock and feed accordingly.
Above all, you’ve got to harvest your fish, or you’ll eventually lose them when the oxygen levels in your pond run out.