A day spent fishing is a great way to pass the time, but if you want to create a sustainable food source, you’ll need to learn more about farming fish. Fish need to be kept in optimum conditions to thrive, whether you grow and harvest them from an existing pond or set up a tank.
The right fish for you will depend largely on where you live and your setup; both in-pond and tank setups can deliver hundreds of pounds of fish per season if you choose the right fish. Largemouth bass and bluegill sunfish are pond staples, but considering a few alternatives is worth it if you are starting fresh.
How Fish Farming Works
You’ll need a few things to get started; if you have a pond, slow-moving stream or other body of water on your property, you can stock it with fish. An in-pond cage can help keep your fish secure and make harvest a snap; if you prefer, a hook and line can do the job as well. Simply cordon off a section of your existing water body to create an enclosed environment for your fish; the cage floats, allowing you to feed and harvest in one location.
In most cases, a pond will need several varieties of fish. Stocking a pond with a large predator like a largemouth bass means you’ll also need a smaller, prey fish for them to eat. Learning more about what fish work in which kind of environment can help you succeed at creating a sustainable fish farm right in your own backyard.
Stock Quality Fish
Just scooping up a few wild fish and tossing them in your pond won’t do; you risk introducing harmful invasive fish to your pond. Stock with care and you’ll have fresh fish for years to come. Which fish should get a spot in your pond — and which are better for raising in tanks? This list will help you decide:
- Largemouth Bass: The pond standard, ideal for sport and eating.
- Bluegills: Smaller, tasty fish that serve as dinner for you and prey for your larger pond residents.
- Smallmouth Bass: If your pond is cool enough, these relatives of the largemouth bass are tasty and easy to catch once they reach full size.
- Catfish: Great eating and relatively easy to catch, cats can also help control the population of less desirable species. Catfish reproduce readily, but young cats will be preyed upon by largemouth bass and other predators.
- Pickerel: Ideal for small bodies of water, this bony fish makes an ideal companion for bass – who will feast on them and grow to larger sizes. Pickerel also make good eating for humans as well and they feed year-round.
- Walleye: If your pond is large and cool enough, the flavorful walleye may be a good option (though you’ll need to stock a prey species for best results).
- Rock Bass: If you have a rocky, stony bottom pond, this bass might be the right fish for you; rock bass make an ideal substitute for smallmouth bass in cool climates.
Do Not Stock Your Pond with these Fish:
Some fish just are not suited for a farm sized pond; from their predatory nature to the difficulty you’ll have catching them, avoid these fish when you stock a pond:
- Carp: These are ideal for tanks, but will interfere with other fish in your pond
- Goldfish: They are pretty to look at, but cause excess turbidity in your water and should be avoided.
- Yellow Perch: These tasty fish are far better suited to a large tank; they’ll prey on smaller fish and eat bass spawn, too.
- Green Sunfish: They don’t taste particularly good and will compete with your tastier species for food.
- Tilapia: This aquaculture standard is ill suited to ponds, they are nearly impossible to catch with a line and can live through winter in only the warmest parts of the US.
No Pond? No Problem!
An above-ground swimming pool or other repurposed tank can be pressed into service to farm fish right in your back yard, even if you don’t have an existing pond. Consider one of these methods for growing and harvesting fish:
An above-ground pool makes an ideal recirculating tank for a backyard fish farm; properly filtered and aerated, a 12-foot pool can raise more than 100 pounds of fish per season, according to Mother Earth News.
Backyard Fish Options
If you are opting for a tank system, then one or more of these species is a good start, depending on where you live and your personal preferences.
- Tilapia: Perfect for warm weather, Tilapia are hardy and tough to kill; blue, Nile and java tilapia are all good bets for backyard aquaculture.
- Channel Catfish: Hardy and resistant, these fast-growing fish are an ideal choice for a first-time fish farmer.
- Bass: Grow in cages or recirculating systems and separate from smaller fish; bass do well at 80 degrees, making them a good choice for mild climates.
- Perch: These swift growing fish can be harvested in about a season; they eat trout feed and love cool water. Perch are ideal for northern climates in the USA and Canada.
Whether you want to make the most of an existing pond or create a sustainable fish farming system, your local extension office can help. Most publish useful guides to local waters and offer region specific advice on the very best fish varieties for your on-site pond.