Let’s Go Fishing: Building Your Own Backyard Pond

Even if you do not like to fish, having a backyard pond is good for many issues like preventing runoff water from damaging your yard or crops, providing an important watershed for ducks, geese, and other waterfowl, and providing a water source for livestock and other animals. It is also great to just sit in your yard and listen to the sounds of the frogs and other animals that live in the pond. While building a pond on a large plot of land is pretty easy, finding a spot big enough for a pond on less than five acres can be difficult. However, it is not impossible. You do not need tons of acreage to make a pond big enough to hold some bass and bluegill. In fact, even if you only have one acre, there is still enough room to make a small pond deep enough to house some fish. What size, shape, and design are up to you. However, there are some basic guidelines to follow.

Find the Right Space

Where you put your pond is the most important step of the process. The best spot for a pond is a place where there is a mix of sun and shade on a low-lying piece of ground so you can take advantage of nature’s own watering hose (rain). Try to find a spot that is not going to be affected by your neighbors’ weed killer or bug spray for obvious reasons and make sure you have a way for the pond to drain so it does not flood during heavy rain. The last thing you want is to get flooded out by your own pond.

Test the Suitability of the Soil

Certain soil is perfectly suited for holding water such as clay. It is best to have soil that is at least 25% clay to be able to hold water. Of course, if you are building a really small pond, you can use a liner, so you do not have to worry about the soil, but it is always good to have soil that holds water for a decent amount of time. If you get a hole in the liner and your pond water leaks out, all the fish will die and you do not want that to happen. To test the soil, they sell kits in most farm stores or you can get one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service. For a small pond, you can just dig a hole about six inches deep and pour some water in. The longer it takes for the water to be absorbed, the better your soil is for a pond. If your soil is not the best, do not panic. You can either put a layer of clay over the soil or use a liner.

Build the Outline

Make an outline of the pond the shape and size you want it to be. If it is small and you are going to dig it out with a shovel, you can mark your area with chalk, spray paint, string and stakes, or whatever else you have. For a large pond, it is best to use stakes. Before you start digging, make sure you call the utility companies to make sure there are no pipes or anything in the area. They will usually come out and mark the area for you with little flags.

Dig the Hole

Digging the hole can be done with a shovel for a small pond. However, you have to get it pretty deep if you want to have decent sized fish. Also, if you live in a cooler area, you have to dig it at least three feet deep so it does not all freeze and kill your fish in the winter. You should have different levels like steps starting from the edges, like a natural pond. For example, you need to have about 1/3 of the water to be less than three feet deep so plants will grow better. Yes, you need plants in the pond for food and to provide cover for small fish to hide. Use the soil you remove from the hole as a dam or levee downhill to keep in the water.

Design the Landscape

You should have grasses and other types of plants to provide a filter or buffer for the water. The water will run through the grass and it will absorb most of the silt and sediment before it reaches your pond. Also, plants and grass make the soil stronger and less muddy. Japanese millet (Echinochloa esculentaor) or Korean Lespedeza (Kummerowia striata) are both excellent choices to plant at the shoreline to keep the water clean and prevent erosion. It also provides cover and food for other wildlife like ducks, frogs, and turtles. Having a few trees around for shade is good, but make sure they are not too close to the water. The leaves and debris from the tree can cause an overabundance of certain nutrients that can kill your fish.

Place the Liner

If you are making a small pond, a liner is a good idea. To find out what size liner you need I suggest you use one of the handy calculators offered online such as AZ Ponds or Just Liners. These are pretty simple to use. You just enter the length, width, and depth (at deepest point) of your pond and it will tell you the size you need and even how many gallons your pond should hold when full. Put the liner in with about 12 inches overlay around the edges and hold it down with large rocks or gravel.

Place Structures for Ground Cover

You should put in some ground cover such as large rocks, a log or two, a downed tree or bush. These structures are important for fish to hide and to breed. You can also place some plants and other natural items like driftwood while you are at it. If you are using a liner, it will obviously be more difficult to put in plants because you will have to put holes in the liner where water will most likely leak out. Better to have other plants like water lilies (Nymphaeaceae) for the wildlife. There are many varieties in different colors and shapes.

Fill with Water

Okay, now if your pond is small, you can fill it with a hose or wait for it to rain. However, if you have a large pond, it can take several seasons to fill your pond, depending on how much rain you get. In dryer climates, you may be waiting years for your pond to fill. If you are in a hurry, you can dig a well that will fill your pond or hire someone to do it for you. However, this has a whole new set of problems like stabilization and water quality.

Add the Fish

When the pond is full, you can add your fish. It is best to add them in the spring. The fish you add should be mostly fingerlings (young fish). It is up to you (and the depth of your pond) what kind of fish to add but make sure not to put in too many aggressive fish or they will kill the rest and you will be stuck with just a few bullies. Contact your local conservation department for information on stocking your pond.

That’s it, now let's go fishing!