Sat, 23 Feb 2013 19:29:14 EST
When my wife Ginny and I built our home more than 35 years ago, having a farm pond in the backyard was a priority, and it is something we have never regretted. Our three sons grew up with the benefits of a pond in the backyard for fishing and swimming during the summers. Sharing it with their friends was a given, something they still do when they come to visit, including some camaraderie around the occasional evening bonfire. Two of my sons even married their wives by the pond, something Iím quite proud of (I was also mighty thankful for the clear blue skies we had for both weddings).
Besides planting fish in my pond shortly after it was created, I also went to various locations not far from home and captured and transplanted a wide variety of tadpoles. The main amphibians on the family farm at that time were toads, and I wanted to speed the diversity process up a bit. This turned out to be quite a success, and in no time at all the arrival of spring meant the evening trilling of countless frogs of various species that are in my opinion a wonderful serenade to listen to. Having the frogs was always meant to be dual purpose because besides their music, including that of tree frogs up in the leafy boughs, the tadpoles and frogs themselves became a natural part of the food chain for the pondís fish.
The species of fish in my pond were large mouth bass, blue gills, and channel catfish. I originally had trout as well, but eventually stayed with the fish species that naturally propagated in the pond. Some folks feed their pond fish, but I donít, as I rely on having a natural food base for that environment. It must work, as I ended up with a regular supply of big fish (the very prolific blue gills do to their part by keeping the other fish species busy feeding on them, and thus helping to keep the blue gill numbers in check).
For almost 30 years I never experienced a winter fish-kill in my pond, and then several summers ago I realized that frog numbers had multiplied, as well as there were more dragonflies than usual (which begin their lifecycle as a water bug that also provides food for fish). The frogs were so prevalent near our house in the evening, that when our dogs came back in after a short romp, they seemed to herd frogs ahead of them through our door, which makes for an interesting evening (try catching a couple lively frogs under a couch sometime). It didnít take me long to realize that I didnít have any fish in my pond. What was really surprising was when the spring thaw had occurred I never saw any dead fish floating on the surface. It appeared as if the fish had simply vanished.
I then started the process of planting fish in my pond again, something I hadnít had to do for many years. I went with the usual large mouth bass, channel catfish, and (this time) hybrid blue gills. With an abundant supply of frogs, tadpoles and (dragonfly) water bugs, it didnít take the fish long to get big. The fact is, kids fishing in our pond a couple summers later caught hybrid blue gills that were literal brutes. Blue gills in a pond are for a fact, great for kids to fish for.
Three summers ago I noticed an unusual amount of tadpoles in the pond and I became suspicious I had just experienced another winter fish-kill. Ginny and I tried fishing enough to verify there werenít any in our pond.
I called DNR Fisheries Biologist Jim Baker and discovered that I wasnít the only one in the area to have a pond-full of fish vanish over that winter. Apparently the ice topped with a thick layer of snow shaded the pond bottoms and prevented oxygen producing underwater plants from doing their job, while the natural decaying process on leaves and other plant materials that uses up oxygen continued on (and the trees surrounding my pond have matured enough that they are dropping a lot of leaves into the water each fall - the basic changing evolution of a pond). The end result is that the fish in the pond literally suffocate to death. Because the water temperature underneath the ice doesnít prevent the decaying process, the dead fish then break down and are on the bottom and basically gone when the spring thaw occurs.
Even though I quickly restocked the pond with (fingerling) large mouth bass, what we ended up with that summer was one dandy frog pond, which means Ginny and I had to become adaptable when our 3 granddaughters came to visit. Instead of doing the usual of taking them fishing, we took them the ďfroggingĒ instead, which turned out to be whole bunch of fun.
I credit Ginny for coming up with the idea of equipping the girls with short bamboo-handled butterfly nets to use to capture frogs. This is a catch and release affair with the real big frogs being the desired trophies that had and still have the girls squealing with delight when they successfully net one. Netting a frog isnít as easy as it sounds, and the girls have learned that it requires careful stalking along the shore, a sharp eye to see the frogs, and a quick hand to net one. Plenty get away, but the kids are always thrilled when it works out. The fact is, going ďfroggingĒ has become just as popular with our grandchildren as fishing.
One added feature has come out of all this, and that is my Labrador retriever ďEbonyĒ, who is always a constant companion of the girls out to the pond. It didnít take Ebony long to figure out frogs were on the agenda for her playmates, and in a very short while, she became a genuine frog-dog. Being a natural waterdog, Ebony would only need one of the girls to point out a frog, and there would be a black blur as Ebony was airborne in a leap into the water at the intended target. This would also include the dog putting her head completely under the water to nab a fast swimming frog.
At first the girls were alarmed that Ebony was harming the frogs, but soon came to realize the soft-mouthed lab was delivering them in fine shape and still hopping when they were released from the big jaws. Of course Ebony was starting to steal the show by catching every frog the girls tried to stalk, so the girls are learning how to work with Ebony, and to retrieve frogs only on command, at least part of the time. It tends to turn into a free-for-all sometimes in all the excitement.
One good thing about Ebony becoming a frog-dog, is that when she happens to herd a bunch of frogs into the house at night now, she is good at helping me sort the hopping little buggers out from under the furniture.
I guess learning how to adapt with the often changing elements of a farm pond
is one of the unique challenges that make the summers here more entertaining. Besides all that, the large mouth bass are doing great this year, and the kids have been catching all age classes, including some lunkers. Obviously the pondís natural fish reproduction is fine.
However I am entertaining the thought of getting an aerator for the pond when winter sets in. Last winter was pretty mild and the fish fared well. This coming winter could be another story, and I might have to start the fish restocking process all over again next spring unless I learn to adapt with the pond.
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