If You Dig It, Will It Fill? Pond Construction Detailed at East Texas Field Day

A premium lake project of ours begins to fill. Located just east of Huntsville,TX
A premium rural retreat lake project of ours begins to fill. Located just east of Huntsville,TX

Pond or lake? Construction for maximum fish production was one of the topics discussed by Bill Deauman, zone wildlife biologist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at the recent Panola/Shelby County Pond Field Day in Carthage, Texas.

A good lake site is critical, he pointed out. Yet, “it is hard to find a good site in East Texas.”

The key for a good pond or lake is the construction. “A properly constructed pond will last a long time,”  Deauman stated.

To begin a lake construction project, the soil needs to be considered. It should be high in clay content to hold water. “People think all red soil is clay but its not,”  he added. Good ponds have been built on sandy sites that have spring flow adequate to make up for any seepage, Deauman added. Seepage through a dam is bad, but some water loss through the basin can be acceptable. “You need a good clay core underneath sand,”  the biologist said.

Some people believe the sign of a good pond is the water color. “People think clear water is what we want. Actually we want a brown tint to green (tint) so that when you put your hand in the water, you can’t see your fingers,”  the biologist stated.

These land owners were thankful we incorporated an emergency spillway when engineering their lake. This picture was after a tropical storm dumped many inches of rain on Central Texas.

The design of the dam is also important. “Dams that are designed improperly will break. If the lake is 10-foot (deep), then a 10-foot section will come out of dam, if the lake is 20-foot than a 20-foot section will break. There needs to be no trees or brush on the dams.”  (Nick adds “I was called in to look at a dam that was leaking profusely. When we did core sampling, we found leaves, sticks, tree trunks etc all covered up.  The dam was not fixable.”

Another guideline cited at the field day is the need for islands in shallow ponds. Fish habitat will be more abundant around these islands than the shores, according to Deauman. Another way to increase fish habitat is adding brush piles. In new ponds, leave as much timber standing as possible. Place one shelter for every one to three acres. “Large mouth bass are around ambush points,”  Deauman told the fishermen and women at the event. Spawning sites for the fish can be constructed by adding pea gravel or sand to lakes with mucky, organic or clay bottoms. Aeration systems  (fountains, surface aerators, diffusers) can also increase fish production of a lake, in addition to be very pleasing,”  the biologist stated.

Another topic discussed at the pond field day was water quality. Dr. Billy Higginbotham, wildlife biologist at Overton, began his presentation by saying, “If you  don’t have good water, you  don’t have good fish.”  To check water quality, a sample is necessary to check the water’s pH levels. Most county Extension offices have testing kits to check the pH levels. “You want the pH to be between 6.5 and 9. Check the total alkalinity. A pond should have at least a 20 parts/million (ppm) alkalinity reading,”  Higginbotham said. If the pond is lower than 20 ppm, then lime is needed. “If you need lime, use ag lime. Not hydrated or slag lime,”  he cited.  Liming increases the water alkalinity/pH, making available phosphorus, which in return promotes the growth of plankton, the natural fish food base. Liming also increases carbon dioxide available for photosynthesis by plankton.

For muddy ponds, Higginbotham stated if the pond is small and being managed for catfish “there is no problem. These ponds are short circuit.”  So how clear does the pond need to be? Higginbotham stated, “Elbow clear” meaning visibility within the pond should be from your elbow down to your fingers.

One of the main problems in ponds is oxygen depletion. Oxygen depletion normally occurs in July or August, but Higginbotham cited he already knows of one incident this year. “You can’t control the seasonal changes to a pond. Warmer water needs more oxygen. Check oxygen levels first thing in the morning, just at daybreak. The number one case of oxygen depletion is too many pounds of fish,”  Higginbotham said. In order to increase oxygen levels, Higginbotham stated, “Most people have access to a boat with a boat motor.”  The running motor will move the water, causing water to contact with the atmosphere, therefore, picking up oxygen. More oxygen creates more food for fish, with the end result being more fish for the pond owner.

Building a farm pond or fishing lake is not a job that can be completed successfully by an amateur. Mistakes made during the initial farm pond or fishing lake construction will haunt you for years to come and in our experience, fixing these blunders is more expensive than hiring a professional to construct your farm pond or fishing lake would have been in the first place.

It takes a rare combination of knowledge, experience and the proper equipment to construct the fishing pond or recreation lake that will complement and add value to your property for years to come.

Contact Nick Jones

Winter view of one of our matured North Texas projects