Jeffrey J. Jackson
University of Georgia
A manmade pond is a place to fish, a place to hunt, a place to see wildlife, a thing that adds to the view from the house. It's a good place to take the grandchildren.
Ever notice what some people do when they get a lake lot, or make a pond? After choosing the site for the house or cabin is to declare war on all vegetation except perhaps for a few of the largest trees. Chainsaws weedeaters roar and machetes whack from the high ground all the way down to the water's edge. Ask them why and they say ``so we can see the water.'' I agree that ``seeing water'' can have some therapeutic effect but how much water does a person need to see?
After the clearing phase comes mowing--weekend mowing, hot weather mowing, noisy mowing, endless mowing and mindless mowing. Eventually anyone can visit the shoreline point on a carpet of grass.
How much mowing and clearing do you want? A glimpse of the water invites one to go exploring. A couple of clean mowed access points is a plus. But if you can see the whole edge there is no sense of adventure. Leaving some wild places along the shore is more intriguing. Not seeing all the water provides a sense of mystery.
How steep and deep do you want the edges? If the pond has been constructed to specifications for fish production, the edge slopes steeply down to deep water. This way there is little room for rooted aquatic plants like cattails, pickerel weed and arrowhead. Such a design allows fewer hiding places for little fish. That way the big fish can catch the little ones. A steep edge makes for a pond that's easy to manage to produce larger fish. Steep edges allow easier access to deep water and easier fishing from the bank.
But deepening pond edges means fewer rooted aquatic plants, too. Fewer shoreline aquatic plants mean fewer aquatic insects, fewer turtles, fewer snakes, fewer ducks, fewer tadpoles, fewer frogs, fewer nests of red winged blackbirds, fewer marsh wrens, fewer egrets and herons fewer snails, fewer crayfish, fewer muskrats, fewer mink...and fewer of lots of other living things that add up to what biologists call diversity.
What good is diversity? Diversity is less boring. What's more, wild and diverse environments are more stable than simple ones. If you are a wildlife lover with a pond in view of the house you might want to see a greater variety of water life.
A shallow tapering water's edge is a great place to visit because it is so interesting. Shallow water edges are more interesting to a duck hunter or a fur trapper. Shallow impoundments managed for ducks and muskrats aim to maximize the shallow interface where water meets land. There are various practices such as manipulating the water level to produce key duck foods that grow in shallow water. A steep edge and uniformly deep water makes this kind of management less productive.
Do you want sun or shade on the water's edge? You can control weeds by allowing some large shoreline trees to spread their branches. Their shade inhibits the growth of low vegetation. If you want a clear place it's easier to maintain in shade. Some sunny places and some shady places make a nice mix. Don't allow large trees to grow on dam. If they die and the roots rot they may allow leaks to develop along the root channels. What if a tree falls into the pond? You can clean it up or you can let it lie to make a hiding place for fish and a basking log for turtles.
Do you want clear water, greenish water, or muddy water? Steep sided ponds allow for efficient fertilization of the water to produce that greenish plankton bloom that forms much of the base of the fish food chain. A shallow tapering edge full of rooted marsh plants tends to make for clearer water. These plants suck nutrients from the water. And fewer nutrients reduce ``blooms'' of plankton. Very steep banks that project above the waterline allow the waves to slap the banks. Such wave action on steep shores tends to produce muddy water. You can see such ugly eroding shorelines at many large backwater lakes. I dislike such shorelines. Muddy water reduces feeding success of some fish because they can't see as well to find prey.
Cows and other livestock can make a pond into a mudhole. Fence them out. Pipe water to a trough below the dam. Maintain water level with a float valve.
Maybe you want to vary your shoreline to have some shallow zones and some deep zones for maximum variety.
An outlet with a water control device is a key to effective management no matter what kind of edge you have. This will help you periodically control water weeds if they get too thick. A water level draw-down in winter is also a useful fish management practice. It forces the fish into a smaller water volume so the big ones have an easier time feeding on the little ones.
Your management options are mowed or wild weeds, steep or shallow banks, shady or sunny shores, clear, muddy or green water. It's up to you.