Fish Stocking Q & A

February 28, 2020

By Joseph Berg
Aquatic Biologist, Fisheries Specialist

We Have Answers!

Although ice covers much of Wisconsin’s water, many people are looking forward to open water thinking about stocking fish in lakes or ponds. Fish are a popular item for lake and pond clients as fishing allows for continuous fun for children and adults alike. Whether the waterbody is designed or capable of catch-and-release fishing or for eating fish, fish stockings may be necessary to ensure those goals can be met. While completing orders for numerous lake and pond clients over the years there are similarities with the types of questions Wisconsin Lake and Pond Resource sees.

When is the best time to get fish stocked?

Fish stocking is typically done in two “seasons”. Spring and fall are widely the most popular times to stock fish; why? Hatcheries stock fish according to water temperature and stress on the fish. In short, cooler water temperatures reduce stocking stress on the fish. Stockings will take place April-June for spring and September-November for fall fish stockings.

In terms of which is better (spring vs. fall), there are benefits to both times. In spring, stocked fish can grow fairly rapidly shortly after they are stocked due to readily available food and favorable warming water temperatures. Depending on the size/age of the fish you stocked, you could have spawning fish in your lake or pond the following year! If fish are stocked in fall, they are stocked at a time when diet is on a decline with falling water temperatures. Therefore, newly stocked fish may be less likely to be eaten than in spring. Hopefully, this translates into extra fish and minnows alive in spring for their respective spawning periods! Fish can be added in summer but this is less common with less-than-ideal water temperatures.

What types of fish can I get in my pond?

In Wisconsin, we have the luxury (or curse, depending on your point of view) of shorter warmer seasons so our waterbodies can often support a certain array of fish. However, as your waterbody decreases in size and volume, the more “limited” the pond can be to the fish it can support. In general, the smaller the waterbody, the faster it can warm or cool. Often, Bluegill, Largemouth Bass, and Fathead Minnows make a great combination for smaller waters. As the size of the water increases, you tend to gain the availability for fish such as Black Crappie, Yellow Perch, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, and Muskie or Northern Pike (and more).

Clients often inquire about various Trout species. Please keep in mind that trout require very high Dissolved Oxygen levels in addition to cool water temperatures. Water that reaches in the upper 60 degrees Fahrenheit range will cause some levels of stress for trout. The levels of stress will increase and lead to lack of growth/feeding and eventually death as the water temperature climbs into the upper 70’s and 80 degree Fahrenheit range. It is best to track your pond’s water temperature for a summer prior to stocking trout depending on your goals for the stocking.

Do I need any permits to stock fish?

Permitting for fish stocking is simpler than what most people would expect. Either a one-year fish stocking permit can be issued through Wisconsin DNR or a Fish Farm License that many pond-owners already own is all you need.

What is the difference between delivery or picking the fish up myself?

Delivery of fish tends to be a popular route for fish stocking. Delivery presents a more “hands–free” approach and devotes the least travel time for you. In addition, the fish are kept in as ideal conditions as possible prior to them getting stocked in your lake or pond. However, pick-up of fish is still an option even if you are up to a few hours from the hatchery you are getting fish from. Another recommendation is to keep the water cool throughout the journey. This often means keeping the fish (in the oxygenated bags likely provided) in coolers throughout transportation.

Once the fish are stocked, you are ready to enjoy. Contact a professional before or during the fish stocking process with any questions to give your fish a great home and you a great fishery!