Managing Fish Habitat in Shallow Areas of a Pond

By Pond King
habitat in pond

While habitat availability is important no matter the size of the body of water, managing habitat levels in shallow ponds or lakes with vast expanses of shallow areas presents its own challenges. This is a situation that Pond King fisheries biologists have faced several times when making habitat recommendations with customers. 

Consider All Areas of the Pond When Planning Fish Habitat Improvement

One important thing to always remember, is no lake or pond ever stays the same. The ecosystem is ever changing. Due to the natural aging process of ponds and lakes, their average water depth decreases and the amount of shallow water areas increases. Many factors contribute to the continual shallowing of ponds. Soil erosion depositing sediment due to rain and other factors, vegetation growth and die off are contributing reasons for a pond getting shallower. 

Knowing the key areas to improve your pond’s habitat is crucial to proper pond management. You can’t just place a brush pile in any spot on a lake and expect it to be a “honey hole.” There are nuances and subtleties to cover and habitat that entice fish to utilize each type of structure available. 

Additionally, because of the soil strata or where the pond is constructed, there may be a deep channel running down the lake or a deep pool by the dam, but the rest of the fishery is 5-6’ or less. 

Regardless, these areas are still utilized by your predator species and need to be included in habitat improvement efforts.

Manage Aquatic Vegetation for Forage and Predator Species

One aspect that cannot be overlooked on pond management is the presence of aquatic vegetation in these shallow areas. Depending on the clarity of the pond, sunlight can easily reach the pond floor in these regions. This contributes to submergent vegetation growth in these areas.

While all species of vegetation can provide excellent forms of habitat for both bass and forage species, maintaining desired densities and abundance are critical to maintaining balance between predator, prey populations. 

Some common beneficial aquatic plants include:

  • American Water Willow (shoreline emergent vegetation)
  • Duck Potato (shoreline emergent vegetation)
  • American Pondweed (submerged vegetation)

Avoid an Out of Balance Pond Ecosystem with Properly Planned and Complex Habitat 

Habitat complexity is key to a sustainable forage population in order to give these species an area of refuge. Tightly woven aquatic vegetation has small openings for your Bluegill to swim through that your Bass can’t quite navigate as easily. 


Help! My Pond Has A Lot of Vegetation and Forage But My Bass are Still Small!

Ponds with this type of scenario are confusing when only the population count data and relative weights are considered. 

Most often the reason why is an extremely high density of preferred and smaller size class Bluegill exist for forage in the pond, but the rate of growth for Bass over 10” are all underperforming. 

Simply put, the Bass just aren’t able to access the abundance of forage resources due to the abundance of vegetation.

Recommended Types of Aquatic Vegetation for Predator Fish Sustainability

If you are going to have the bulk of fish habitat in areas provided by aquatic vegetation, the key is to have a mixture of varying complexity within the vegetation. Some areas that are less complex, allowing your Bass to easily navigate and ambush forage outside of the complex refuges is desirable to promote beneficial predator, prey interactions. 

Dense vs Sparse Vegetation

Aquatic Plants that Bass Can Efficiently Use for Predation of Bluegill and Forage Fish

These are all types of aquatic vegetation that Bass can efficiently utilize when managed correctly.

Properly managed vegetation is crucial to not allowing these plants to completely overtake a region of your fishery.

Small Pond Vegetation for Largemouth Bass 
  • American Pondweed
  • Eel Grass
  • Water Willow
  • Managed areas of Coontail 

Controlling the vegetation to small, managed mats with holes cut out of the middle, or channels running throughout are excellent options to make the best out of what nature provides for you.

Supplementing Natural and Artificial Habitat is Necessary for Different Life Stages of Fish

Aquatic vegetation is an adequate option for these areas of the pond, but it is only available to your fry and juvenile fish for a short portion of the year and large predators still need hard structural cover, such as rock piles, brush piles or artificial habitat, to feed efficiently. 

Larger fish need larger openings in the habitat to ambush prey. This is where ensuring you have some sort of hard structural cover that is available all year long is key. 

As Bass begin their pre-spawn movements, aquatic vegetation hasn’t become established yet and these hard structures are there and ready to be utilized. 

Structures such as hinge cut trees that extend from the bank out to the middle of the pond are excellent, multifaceted habitat additions. The canopy of the tree provides a tightly woven, complex cover for small baitfish and juvenile gamefish, whereas the trunk and branches provide more open cover for larger predators. 


Year Round Fish Cover Helps Protect Fish From Avian Predators

Having year-round forms of habitat within your fishery also helps to limit the amount of predation your pond has to endure due to migrating, piscivorous birds during the late fall and winter months. 

When all of the aquatic vegetation is gone and your forage species are schooling to conserve energy, these avian predators can decimate your pond. 

Having Some Fish Structure Just Above the Surface of the Water Can Be a Good Thing

When it comes to habitat improvement efforts in these regions of your pond or lake, having any portion of the newly installed structure above the surface of the water seems to limit its efficiency. While yes, there is a small volume of water that is not able to be utilized, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Reasons for Hard Cover in Small Ponds and Lakes

Easily Find Fish Attractor Habitat By Visually Scanning the Surface

One reason is you know exactly where that fish attractor is located without having to search for it on your sonar. It also allows all species to move vertically throughout the entire available water column that structure occupies. 

Heat Retention for Colder Water Temperatures

Because of the density of these types of structures, they retain more heat than open areas of the water and are able to absorb more solar radiation. This at least gives you a starting point while you are trying to locate fish when water temperatures are lower than ideal.

Habitat is Needed for Forage and Predator Fish

Managing habitat in shallow portions of your ponds not only benefits the sustainability of your forage base, but also needs to be managed for your predator species.

Fish Habitat for Juvenile and Forage Fish

While most of the artificial structures, like the Honey Hole Grass or Honey Hole Shrub, are designed for shallow water depths and to promote the health and survival of your forage population, there also needs to be habitat that predator fish can utilize

Fish Habitat Options for Predator Fish

Artificial structures such as the Honey Hole Brush and Honey Hole Tree are excellent options for predator fish. These fish habitats are more open in their limb placement for larger predators to utilize and their smaller stature limits the amount of habitat that is potentially exposed out of the water. 

brush with fish

With the Honey Hole Brush’s design, it has a float installed in the top portion, so if it’s installed in a shallow area of the pond, it’s okay. It will lay diagonally if not completely submerged under water. This will give the appearance of a leaning, submerged tree and maximizes the amount of usable area of fish habitat.

Trust Pond King for All Your Private Lake’s Fish Habitat Needs

Having a well-managed mixture of both soft, complex, aquatic vegetation and hard structural cover will provide both protection from predators and usable habitat throughout the entire year. The team at Pond King can help you decide what types and how much fish habitat you need for your pond. Call or contact us with questions about professional pond management.

We’ll see y’all down at the pond!

Tags: Down at the Pond, Pond Management

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