The importance of varied cover is one of the most overlooked aspects of a healthy, productive
pond. Cover can be found naturally in the forms of aquatic growth, rock piles and fallen timber but most excavated ponds are devoid of everything except aquatic growth unless purposely added by the landowner. Relying solely on aquatic plants for cover is detrimental because of their natural life cycle; plants grow and die throughout the year, creating times of inadequate cover, primarily in late fall-early spring. Timber is
a great addition to ponds because it’s cheap, natural and can last many years, but it still has a shelf life. The decomposition of timber depends on the species of wood and the bacterial activity in your pond. Aerated ponds with high levels of aerobic bacteria will break down wood much faster than in ponds with low dissolved oxygen, especially if the timber is below the thermocline. On average, a Christmas tree should last 3 years before losing too many branches while wooden pallets can last around 5 before needing replaced. Rocks and gravel are better yet in terms of longevity but tend to take up more usable space than they create. Artificial structures, either store-bought or homemade, are a great option, especially to pond owners that are dealing with excess nutrients/nuisance plant and algae growth. While aquatic plants and timber will eventually decompose and spur aquatic growth, artificial habitats won’t decay and can actually help to lessen nutrient problems by providing beneficial bacteria and algae areas to attach. The goal to keep in mind when adding aquatic cover is a high surface area with usable spaces throughout that your target species can access. Surface area allows for the attachment of beneficial algaes that produce oxygen, reduce nutrient levels and attract food for the fish utilizing them. The space in between the cover should reflect your target species, dense cover for forage fish and fry and more open or sprawling cover for juvenile fish and predators. Utilizing varied materials and providing different sizes and densities of cover will allow fish of all species and age classes access to them when needed. The majority of created habitats should be placed in depths of 2 - 6 ft as this is where most spawning occurs and forage fish congregate. Cover in deeper depths will aid in overwintering and can benefit species that school or suspend in the water column throughout the summer.
(Photo Explanation: Item on the left is a store-bought MossBack Fish Habitat (my personal choice of the best available), the middle is a simple and cost effective home-made design and the right is obviously a stack of pallets fastened together.)
The author Alec Hillyer is a fishing and outdoor enthusiast! He has extensive knowledge in aquatic biology and earned his Bachelor of Arts in zoo and wildlife biology from Malone University in Canton, Ohio. When not fishing or hunting, he spends his time as a manager at Fender’s Fish Hatchery and is a private lake consultant. He worked for AquaDoc as an Aquatics Biologist and is USDA certified in applying pesticides. Have specific questions for Alec? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Instagram at alec_outdoors.