Gimme Shelter

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Some shelters on the top of a ridge between two deeper sections.
For the last few years, my mother in law, Deb, has been slowly reclaiming her substantial property.  Even before she had started this process, she already had a large swath of green flat lawn in her back yard.  But this lawn backed up to a line of woods which stretched back a long ways.  The lot is 1,867 feet in depth and at least half of it if not more was woods.  I use the word “woods” loosely as it mostly resembled more a spider’s web labyrinth of brush, thorn bushes, and dead trees, resulting in an unnavigable and essentially unusable but large portion of her property.  Hidden among this was a small pond that hadn’t seen daylight in years, although despite leading several safaris back into those woods when my nephew was young, I had never actually stumbled upon it.  It wasn’t until the last year or so when she started the earnest task of clearing all of the brush that the pond was finally revealed.  Brush was uprooted, dead trees were felled and their stumps ground down, and slowly a beautiful park-like environment emerged, complete with a frolicking family of deer.

A family of deer investigating the progress of the new pond.
Early on in this transformation, Deb had mentioned that she eventually wanted to dig out the pond and stock it with fish.  The existing pond was no more than 10 inches deep and its only fauna were a large population of frogs and Deb’s pet ducks.  It was little more than a watering hole and considering this, I definitely had my doubts that it would eventually be deepened and expanded considering the vast amount of work it would require.  I should have known this already from being part of her family the last decade or so, but NEVER DOUBT DEB.  If she wants to do something, she’s going to do it and this pond was no exception, because she’s awesome.

I stopped over her house one night to drop off some of my daughter’s old clothes for her to help iron so we could sell them, and she told me the news.  She had hired my wife’s cousin to dig out the pond and he was coming that weekend to start it.  I was floored and of course my mind was racing with the prospect of having a private pond to stock with fish that we could fish any time we wanted with no pressure from other anglers.  Not only that, but we had been camping several times on the property after the brush had been cleared so I fully expect to spend long weekends back there in the near future.  The pond would be 10 feet at its deepest with varying tiered depth changes throughout to provide great fish habitat.

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Spawning beds throughout the shallows.
Deb tasked me with managing the fish population and maintaining the health of the pond overall.  Thankfully, I happened to have a friend, Mike Durkalec, who is the fisheries biologist for the Cleveland Metroparks and he was exceedingly gracious in answering my questions and providing resources.  Last weekend, I spent the afternoon building structures to attract and shelter the fish once it’s all filled in and stocked.  I tried very hard to create an environment that supports both predator and prey species as well as the aquatic insects that are the foundation of the food chain.  Hopefully by the end of next year we’ll have a fully functioning ecosystem.


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Rubble piles near depth changes
I really wanted to focus on three main things.  1) Structure for both large fish and small fish.  2)Plenty of spawning beds.  The pond’s bottom is hard clay so I wanted to make sure there were plenty of gravel spawning beds to allow the stocked fish to reproduce.  3) Surfaces for aquatic insects to attach their eggs to.  These insects tend to like the flat undersides of various materials.


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Large shelf structure at the base of a steep drop off.
Some stipulation: Deb was very articulate though that she wants the kids in the family to be able to swim in parts of the pond as well, so any structures I built would have to keep that in mind.  This meant no branches that little feet could get caught on and no sharp rocks in the shallow areas.  Anything like that had to go into the 8′ and 10′ sections.  While it was tempting to put branches into the deep section, I decided to stay away from it.  My reasoning for this was that should a hook get snagged on such a branch, dragging the branch up even a little could damage the nearby stone structures that I had worked so hard to build.


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Each of these structures provides a double service.  Shelter for the fish and a protected flat underside surface for aquatic insects to attach their eggs.
For most of the stone structures, I used Gorilla Glue.  If you’re not familiar, it’s a cheap product but is super strong and expands to fill gaps.  Best of all, it uses water to cure and is waterproof when it’s set.  I had been worried that any structures I built would be subject to shifting soils or other forces that could knock them over without us ever knowing it.  While not foolproof, using this expanding waterproof glue gave me a little piece of mind that the structures could withstand a little jostling.

It will take plenty of time to see how this little fishery develops, but it really helps having a resource like Mike who understands the biology and behavior of the fish we plan to stock.  It’ll take some work initially, but I’m hoping that if we do this the right way, we’ll have a self sustaining ecosystem for years to come, with large fish, small fish, and insects all thriving without out-competing each other.





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