Barry W. Smith | Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine
Most of us do not think about our ponds during the winter. There just seems to be too many distractions; college football, deer hunting, migratory birds… all of those activities and more come to mind during the late fall and winter, but not our ponds. We are not going to think about fishing until the first week of warm weather during February or March, so, is there a potential problem with that?
There are a number of activities that we should consider doing in the fall and winter months to winterize our pounds in order to enhance our spring fishing success as well as improve the esthetics of our ponds.
Clear the Pond Dam
Late fall and winter, before the ground becomes saturated with winter rains, is an excellent time to bush-hog the backside of the dam. Ponds that are constructed properly, with a gentle slope on the back of the dam, can be safely mowed with a tractor. This will not only make the dam more aesthetically pleasing, but will also eliminate those small bushes and trees that if left undisturbed will become established on the back of the dam. Dams that have been neglected will often develop trees whose roots may eventually grow into the core of the dam. This invites future problems as the trees or roots die, resulting in small leaks that can eventually become larger. Briars, bushes and thick mats of grass may create habitat for undesirable residents, such as snakes.
Many older ponds, and even new ponds that are not constructed properly, will have such a steep slope on the back of the dam that it would be unsafe to mow with a tractor. In these situations, clearing brush and small trees by hand may be the best option. Piling the brush and then burning the backside of the dam is a great alternative to mowing. Be careful to follow necessary precautions before burning, so as not to create a wildfire. Burn permits are often required prior to burning, so contact your state forestry department before proceeding.
Above: Pond dams should be constructed with a gentle slope on the backside so that the area can be safely mowed with a tractor.
Below: Fire can be a good alternative to mowing pond dams and bank areas. Create fire lanes and have help before burning to avoid creating wildfires.
Mowing pond banks allows for easier and safer access for anglers. Clean pond banks also decrease habitat for snakes. Although most water snakes are harmless, the fewer snakes around the pond the less likelihood of a water moccasin. None of us wants the possibility of that encounter when our kids or grandkids are roaming the pond banks. Burning is also an option to clear pond banks—be sure to have proper fire lanes and exercise common sense in any burning effort. Always alert proper authorities and never attempt to burn even a small area alone…you can never have too much help once a fire starts. Burning, along with mowing, is best done after all of the grasses and other plants have stopped their growth, during the late fall or winter. This will result in a cleaner pond area during the spring and make bank fishing much easier.
This is a good time to inspect your piers and replace any rotten boards so you will be ready for the first spring fishing trip. Weathered boards will often crack and splinter, creating potential problems for anglers of all ages. It seems easier to concentrate on these types of maintenance and repairs during the winter rather than on a fishing trip when the fish are really biting. Be prepared, and carry the necessary tools and replacement boards to get your pier in safe repair for the first outing of the spring.
If you are not feeding during the winter, be sure to inspect your feeder and set the timer to feed for a few seconds each day. First, inspect the feed hopper and clean out any old feed. Look for areas of potential leaks. You may notice moldy pellets that are stuck to a seam or the viewing glass. This is an indication of moisture in the hopper, and these areas should be sealed with silicone.
Check the area of the feed distribution fan, sometimes feed will accumulate in the area below the fan and build up until it jams the fan. A coat hanger or long screwdriver are handy tools to dislodge the old feed and clear the fan area. Spin the fan with your finger to ensure that it rotates freely.
Clean the solar panel with a damp cloth; this will often remove a season’s worth of dust and grime that can block sunlight and affect the efficiency of the panel to maintain a charge on the battery. With an electrical tester, such as a multimeter, you can easily check the voltage output of the solar panel. The panel should show 13 to 14 volts to properly charge a 12-volt battery. Inspect the wires and connectors from the solar panel, and the main electrical leads from the battery. Replace any corroded connectors or frayed wires. Most feeder batteries will operate for a year or longer with proper charging from the solar panel.
Operating the feeder for even a few seconds each day during the winter will help prevent rust from developing on the motor shaft and the motor from binding—some feeders have two motors. Running the motors also discourages field mice from building nests inside the feed chute. This can result in a major problem and the feeder will have to be completely disassembled…not an easy task for most pond owners.
We recommend that you feed a sinking pellet once daily during the winter; it benefits the growth and health of your fish.
Narrow trails crossing the dam, usually near the area of the drainpipe, are signs that otters are visiting your pond. If they are feeding on your fish, there will be piles of otter scat containing fish bones and scales. This is a sure sign of four legged poachers. Otters are primarily nocturnal feeders, so do not expect to see them in your lake when you drive up in the middle of the day. Our best advice if otter sign is prevalent…call a professional trapper.
It really does not take much time to winterize your pond and it is time well invested. If you hunt or have other fall and winter outdoor hobbies, you are probably there many times anyhow. Make your pond a priority during the winter and perform the tasks we have outlined in this article. When spring comes, you and your guests will be glad you did.