Myths are what happens when we make an observation that may be true in one instance, but quickly leads to trouble and frustration when we attempt to employ the observation elsewhere. It doesn't help that there are forces out there that perpetuate myths because there is a profit to be made. It is not our purpose to point fingers, only to shed light on some of these misconceptions in order to help our clients attain the finest aquatic habitat possible. We believe that most myths are actually perpetuated by well meaning, yet uninformed advisors such as neighbors, "experts" from internet forums, and fishing pals. This brings us back to the axiom that free advice is worth every cent you paid for it.
Probably the most damaging misconception we hear of is the idea of using bottom-feeding scavengers to keep a pond clear and clean. These would be fish such as carp, bullhead, some catfishes, and grass carp in a few cases. In most every instance these fish will be a major problem for your pond. While they will slightly reduce the organic load in pond sediments, the price is huge. These fish root in the sediments, which releases suspended sediment and nutrients that will cloud/muddy the water, promote algae growth, release toxins that naturally get sealed into the sediments, and reduce oxygen levels during critical times of the year. If you need to reduce the depth of the organic layer (muck) in the bottom of your pond, there are much easier ways to accomplish this without introducing undesirable fish or spending a small fortune on chemicals, or commercial bacteria that already exist in your pond! You may need to look into a design that pulls nutrients from your pond, or have aeration built in. Aeration itself can cause problems if it disturbs bottom sediments. Well designed lakes and ponds will not need the added expense of aeration.
There is an interesting axiom we call a part-time myth. Many of the major publications on pond construction recommend creating steep sided ponds in order to minimize aquatic pond plants and keep them from taking over a lake or pond. While this is a good idea in poorly designed ponds, it is a myth in ponds and lakes designed by our biologists. Shallow vegetated zones actually help produce some very large trophy size fish in ponds and lakes as long as the designer possesses intricate knowledge of aquatic ecology.
We see statements over and over by "internet experts" who claim earthen bottom ponds are trouble.To the contrary, we have developed proprietary techniques that produce earthen bottom ponds that are more clear than expensive synthetic lined ponds, while requiring much less maintenance. Even our clear water swimming ponds are earthen ponds. To be more accurate, these people might say they don't know how to build a clear pond without a plastic pond liner; we do it daily. As is our philosophy, we work with the natural environment to achieve our goals; this includes the natural clay used in most of our designs.
Maybe the least intuitive of the major myths is the fish hatchery versus natural pond environment way of managing habitat. While it is true your fish were most likely bred in a hatchery, this is where the similarity ends with respect to the way you manage your pond or lake. Some people, who claim to be Biologists, manage ponds and lakes just as if they were a hatchery. They usually end up spending too much money and fight the natural environment every step of the way. Methods that work in a controlled environment like a fish hatchery don't translate very well to a much more complex wild type of habitat. In our experience, we use some of the principles learned from hatchery examples, but we modified them for use in the wild. To be fair, you can't expect a person who has worked their whole life in a hatchery to be able to plan and design a wild habitat for you. However, they will be able to design a very nice fish hatchery if this is what you want.
If you are talking with Biologists who want to inject things like bacteria into your lake, it is our opinion that they do not understand the complete picture of how an aquatic habitat functions. We have come in behind people who use these methods, to redesign the habitat to function properly. Consequently our clients saved money and ended up with a better habitat.
Visit our in-depth Trout Ponds: design & Construction on our Trout Pond page
What about these hatchery bred "super trout" like the Donaldson trout? During the mid 1900s Dr. Lauren Donaldson developed a rainbow trout specifically for the food fish industry who raise their fish entirely on fish farms and hatcheries. The result was the Donaldson trout, or more accurately, the Donaldson strain of rainbow trout. These fish have performed wonderfully in fish farms around the world. Again, these are trout farms and not wild habitats in farm ponds. There are differences in wild versus hatchery environments that do not require a Biologist to understand.
If you hear someone calling themselves a Fishery Biologist extolling the qualities of a Donaldson trout for wild habitat situations, we suggest you ask them why Donaldson trout are suppose to be such wonderful fish for wild environments. In the wild, Donaldson trout rarely compete with fish that have been selected for wild habitats for as long as trout have been on the planet. We tend to question the qualifications of Biologists who promote fish in habitats where a wild type fish is better suited. Of course it may just be that they sell Donaldson trout from their hatchery. This poses the question: are they Biologists, or are they a fish hatchery posing as Biologists? On the other hand, if you are simply looking for a quick fix to get larger fish into a poorly designed pond or lake, an inexpensive hatchery fish will fill this need. Just don't expect a great deal of performance, longevity or quality from them, unless your lake has become a hatchery via supplemental feeding.
A quality lake produces plenty of forage for fish. You should never have to repeatedly stock your lake with any sort of forage fish etc. Of course if the trout hatchery supplying your lake sells forage fish, they will probably suggest you plant your lake with forage fish.
There are a few myths that are so ingrained that they approach legend status. One of the best examples of this is the "Kamloops" trout. The history of this discussion could span several pages. For now, we will condense the story. Kamloops is actually a small city in the interior of British Columbia. There are numerous small lakes in the area that were barren of fish before the mid 1800s. Early pioneers stocked trout into these lakes and ponds from surrounding waters. The first generations of these fish grew to Herculean proportions. Eighteen to twenty pound fish were reported from legendary lakes such as Paul Lake. Now that's a huge rainbow trout for any size pond! After the standing stock of prey species was trimmed down by the first fish, the size of the "Kamloops" trout dwindled to the size of the rest of their rainbow trout cousins. The analogy here is like the first starving man to the banquet hall. There is an abundance of food, but the stove can only cook so much.
There actually are a couple stocks of rainbow trout in the interior of British Columbia that deserve the status of the Kamloops name, however these fish are rare. The Gerrard stock of rainbow trout which reside in Kootenay Lake are probably the most well known of these fish. They evolved in deep lakes of glacial origin with cold, clear water and kokanee as their prey species. These fish can grow to huge sizes: over 30 pounds in places such as such as Kootenay Lake in B.C. and Lake Pend Oreille,Idaho. Does this sound like your pond??? If this isn't exactly an accurate description of your pond, then Gerrards are not the stock of trout for you.
"But the guy at the hatchery told me my fish are Kamloops trout!" If that's what brand he wants to call them then they are. The Kamloops name may be the most abused name in trout history. Even if these fish were of a stock like the Gerrard stock, they have been in hatcheries for so many generations that they have lost their potential for top performance in wild habitats like your trout ponds. If the "Kamloops" in your local hatchery are spawning at two and three years of age, then they are the same fish as most all hatchery stocks of trout. There are a few stocks of trout from hatcheries that will perform better for your local waters. Where you are located will dictate which of these stocks is best for your lake. Be careful about being sold on the latest super trout developed in a hatchery. These fish were actually developed FOR the hatchery. If they do well in a hatchery, chances are they won't do as well in the wild. There is an entirely different set of traits that allow fish to perform in wild trout habitat instead of a hatchery.
Now before beating down the door of the local trout hatchery, think for a moment. The hatchery owner probably bought these fish eggs from someone else. He doesn't have a high tech genetics lab to figure out the exact origins of the stock of trout he is selling. His customers probably pleaded with him to stock Kamloops trout in the first place. The suppliers are just giving the public what they asked for.
"But I have heard of huge steelhead coming from Kamloops trout". "Huge" is a relative term. There are some very large steelhead that inhabit rivers in Northern British Columbia. Are your Kamloops coming from these genetic stocks? In a word, no! A client came to us recently and told us there were some very large Kamloops steelhead somewhere on the east coast. He said these fish got up to eight pounds. We pointed out that if those fish would have been winter steelhead stocks then they would be over twelve pounds in size. Rainbow trout of the interior of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest are of the redband group ( Oncorhynchus mykiss gairdneri ). They are summer run steelhead. Winter run steelhead are coastal rainbow trout ( Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus ) that spend an additional six months at sea, which allows them to attain larger sizes. An eight pound steelhead is a nice fish in most peoples' experience, so you can see how the myths perpetuate.
So how do you get the best trout for your pond? You have to know the history of these fish and ask your local hatchery the correct questions.
My non-native plants and animals won't escape my pond - or will they? Many people believe the natural environment is safe from the non-native plants and fish they stock in their ponds, as long as there is no direct connection between the waters. This is a very dangerous thought which is currently damaging our wild habitats, native plants and animals. Entire lakes have been ruined by thoughtless introductions of plants such as water hyacinth and parrots feather.
The companion misconception is the idea that warmer climate plants will never invade cooler areas because they die in winter. We are personally seeing vegetation such as parrots feather invading areas that were previously thought to be too cold for this plant. Plants adjust and evolve faster than we are prepared for. The result is a huge problem where there wasn't one a few years ago. There is a wide variety of native plants and fish that will thrive in your habitat. Please be careful when talking to someone selling fish and plants. They may have no idea if the plant is native or an invader.
Many people do not believe their fish can escape if there is no direct aquatic connection from their fish ponds to natural waters. It is amazing how fish can fly in the egg form when tucked into the feathers of a duck. There are also times when herons or osprey catch your fish and lose them in flight. There are numerous examples where undesirable fish become established in a river, then within several years these fish appear in most of the ponds within a couple miles of that river. It is difficult to imagine these dispersal mechanisms, but they exist. Please avoid contributing to this problem.
We have worked for people who have brought irresponsible land owners to court because of activities that ruined our clients' waters. Be aware in this age of litigation that you may be held responsible for such simple acts as planting invasive eurasian milfoil or parrots feather in your garden pond and having it escape over the fence to someone's valuable lake. This is a case of what you don't know may hurt you. The plants you stock in your pond disperse the same way the fish do, but much faster! Here is an interesting page describing the spread of parrots feather sold by unknowing or uncaring pond "professionals" in North Carolina. People who invest in quality lake construction are prone to protect their waters.
Look through our INVASIVE AQUATIC SPECIES page for more indepth information regarding North American invasive aquatic plants and animals. Pay attention to the nationwide list we are building.
While on this subject, there are several plants that many people consider native which are actually invaders. Some of these damage native populations of plants, while others are more benign.
Watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) invaded from Europe over a hundred years ago. While it isn't the most dangerous plant on the continent, it has displaced native vegetation. If you are interested in this plant from an aesthetic perspective, the irony is there are much more attractive native plants that fit this niche.
Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus) is in a similar situation as watercress. Again there are more attractive native Iris which can be found at a qualified nursery.
Water mint (Mentha aquatica) is an invader that again probably hasn't done much damage. There are numerous native mints that are better choices.
If you are interested in native species for your water, we suggest starting with the USDA Plant Database for information and photos. After finding the vegetation you desire, we suggest contacting a fully qualified nursery who know which plants are native, which plants will work best on your site, and will be able to suggest additional species. Qualified nurseries which meet our expectations as true professionals, instead of hobbyist turned "professional", can be found on our Resources Page.
Miscellaneous Pond & Fish Myths
This is a minor point for most people, but it can be significant for those who want trophy size fish: Fins on hatchery fish are mostly worn down by other fish nipping on them. The walls of concrete raceways are not damaging most of the hatchery fish you are buying. For some reason this concrete raceway idea is widespread. If you come across someone trying to blame the walls of ponds or raceways, you might ask about this. Chances are they haven't closely observed what is actually happening to their fish.
When fish are crowded, they stress and become aggressive. The response is to nip at each other's fins. The construction of their habitat is not a significant factor, crowding stress is. Fish with enough fins nipped away will eventually die. This can be used to an advantage when purchasing fish from a hatchery. Select the fish with the best fins. These will be the stronger fish. If the fish get a healthy start to life in the hatchery, they will live longer and grow larger in your pond. They will also look much better in your lake, providing the water is clear enough to see them.
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