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Low winter ponds show management
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Ponds that look low this winter don't necessarily need repairs but might simply be the result of an inexpensive and effective form of management.
Mississippi has more than 250,000 farm ponds of 40 acres or less. Together, they are a larger natural resource than all the state's public waters combined.
Marty Brunson, fisheries specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said pond owners have historically not managed these waters to their best advantage.
"With management and diligence, private waters can be a real treasure for landowners, anglers and families who want to enjoy the water without being crowded," Brunson said.
Farm pond owners regularly fight weeds and unwanted fish species as they attempt to have a successful pond. Lowering the pond's water level in the winter is an inexpensive and effective way to win both battles.
"A winter drawdown drops the water to a predetermined level to expose shallow shoreline areas and crowd the fish into a lower volume of water," Brunson said.
The biggest benefit this has is in controlling aquatic weeds, which tend to grow well in the warm, shallow waters along pond edges.
"Weeds freeze when a winter drawdown exposes them to the air, and you can significantly control that vegetation without spending any additional money," Brunson said.
The only cost involved is what was spent installing the drawdown structure when the pond or lake was built.
Brunson said crowding the fish in a pond with a lower water level has its own benefit. Many ponds are overcrowded with forage fish such as bream or bluegill, making it more difficult to increase bass numbers and size.
Because cold water holds oxygen well, fish are not stressed when they are concentrated in a small area of the pond in the winter.
"When all the fish are crowded together, the bass are able to feed more efficiently through the winter, grow much more rapidly and with fewer bluegill, the bass can have a good spawn in the spring," Brunson said.
Water levels in ponds were dropped in early November to 35 to 40 percent of the total pond area. Brunson recommended pond managers keep the water level this low through early February, then let spring rains re-flood the pond.
"We want all the shallow areas filled back up by March and April when the bass are spawning throughout the state," Brunson said.
More information on farm pond management is available in publications from local Extension offices.