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I Don't See My Fish. Are They All Dead?

By Samuel Scott

When the weather turns really hot for an extended period, or cold enough so the average water temps drop below 40 degrees, we start to hear this question a lot, especially from folks who stocked their pond during the preceding spring. Rest assured, just because you can't see your fish doesn't mean they are dead. But don't take my word for it; let me explain why you aren't seeing them.

Where Fish Go During Winter Months

Texas-Pond-in-WinterFish are cold-blooded, which means their environment regulates their body temperature. When the water temperature in your pond decreases, so does the fish's body temperature. Additionally, water temperature is positively correlated to the fish's metabolism; when water temperatures decrease, so does their metabolism. They become less active, requiring far less caloric intake to survive throughout the winter. So, they just aren't moving around much. 

Not only are the fish sluggish, but they are also hanging out where it's warmest. If your pond is ten or more feet deep, that probably means they are at the deepest point, taking advantage of geothermal heat. If it warms up a bit, and there's a place where the sun can heat the water a couple of degrees, you may see some activity there. But mostly, the fish will suspend or hold tight to cover that can radiate heat, such as any habitat that extends above the surface, dock floats, rock banks, standing timber/stumps, or laydowns. They will also seek areas close to a well or spring that expels warmer water. If you hope to see your fish during the winter months, these are the best places to look. 

Why Don't I See My Fish During the Summer?

Bluegill-n-Crappie-on-GrassSince fish are cold-blooded, they seek comfortable environments. So in the summertime, and especially in Texas, when it gets hot, the fish go deep. The fish do that because the deeper water is cooler and can support a higher oxygen concentration (mg/L), creating a less stressful environment for them. It is also known to support a greater zooplankton density during the day, which is a primary food source for many prey species. You can learn more about the seasonal migration of fish through the water column in our blog post about "Fish Habitat Basics."

Other Methods for Assessing Your Fish Population

A key aspect of pond management is assessing your fish population. To make informed decisions about what your fishery needs, at the very least, you need to know:

  • Which species are in your pond?
  • How healthy are those fish?
  • What is the ratio of game to bait fish? 

While visual observation is the easiest method for evaluating the fish population in your pond or lake, it is also the least reliable for several reasons. 

  • All of your data will be estimated and skewed by the distortion of viewing the subjects through the water.
  • There is no way to know what percent of the population you are viewing.
  • You cannot tell which subjects you have already recorded.

There are several other methods of observation that we featured in our blog post "Monitor the Forage Population in Your Fishery." While that blog post focuses on forage fish, you can use the same techniques to assess all fish species in your lake. Of all the different methods, the most accurate is an electrofishing survey. During an electrofishing survey, the fish are stunned using low electrical current levels. Then, our biologists work quickly to measure and count the fish, taking small samples from all across your pond or lake. The biologist record and then analyze the data to prepare comprehensive, custom reports to help you reach your fishery goals.

Spawning-Shad-1Fish are most active in shallow water during the spring months when the water temperature is around 60 degrees. The fish will be visible as they are getting ready to spawn and are in the shallows for an extended period. Beware: even though you can visually observe the fish at this time, it is not a reliable way to assess the population. 

The next time you are down at the pond, and you don't see any activity in the water, don't worry! Unless you see carcasses along your shoreline; your fish are there. They're probably just too deep for you to see them. If you have any questions or want to learn more about electrofishing surveys, shoot us an email at askapro@pondking.com. We'll be glad to help you out!

See y'all down at the pond!

Tags: Pond Management

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