It took me several days to work on this lengthy answer about yellow perch in your new pond. Hopefully you can achieve your goals for growing some nice YP in North Carolina.
Your first BIG problem as you now surmise will be locating YP in North Carolina for pond stocking. The 3 places you list may not have YP as indicated to me by the available web search information and your attempt to contact any of them does not seem promising at this point. Onley The Best Fingerlings website says they have YP, however saying is one thing and having them is another matter. Good dependable fisheries even in winter should still respond to phone calls and emails. You most importantly may not be able to even buy fingerling YP without them being shipped to you. Zetts fish farm in neighboring WA (Inwood) has YP although these fish very likely will be 1”-3” sizes best for shipment unless you drive to pick larger ones up, if they have larger ones.
Be very leery of buying 2”-3” YP in spring before June because these are graded small ones and they are mostly the slower growing runt males. By Jun-Jul new crop YP should be close to 2” long unless overcrowded. During late May or early June 1”-2” YP size would be okay to buy. I don’t advise stocking 2”-3”ers as 1 yr old fish unless you are looking for mostly males. 1 yr old females should be at least 4”-6” and sometimes well fed ones can be 6”,7”, 8” long at one yr old. Those are the ones I prefer for initial stocking. You want to start the pond population with good best growing genetics, not runt mostly 2”-3” one yr old male fish. Be cautious and sure of what you are buying. Some fish farms are not always truthful. Their profit is moving and selling fish regardless of size. They crowd fish in growing ponds to maximize numbers and not body growth. Another option is sometimes you can arrange to meet the fish delivery truck when they are making deliveries within 1-2 hours of your location.
Second Task is to get some FHM stocked as soon as you can find some available in Feb to Apr. (See Added Forage below). I think your planned amount of FHM and GSH stocker minnows is a little too high. IMO 15 total pounds is plenty of each specie (FHM – GSH 8-10lb ea/ac). Plenty to get a large amount of recruitment minnows to get the pond started as the best it can be. You will be amazed how many minnows 10lb/ac can produce by fall. If you stock them in Spring and allow them to spawn all summer it can become by late Fall several hundred of pounds of FHM.
Then you can spend all spring and summer trying to find the nearest source for some YP for a Fall stocking of YP. Even 2”-3” YP in fall are very questionable sizes for me to be stocking despite what the fish farms says about how good 2” YP in Fall or early Spring are. Growth lost the 1st year is never regained. Farms are in the business to sell as many fish as possible despite the size. By Fall the 4”-6” are the better growing individuals. I very much doubt you will find nearby 6”-8” YP as 1 yr old fish unless this is a speciality perch grow-out farm. If you locate some at least add some of these. The larger the YP that are available and stocked the better and sooner they will produce offspring and create at least a few early harvestable YP.
Do not negate starting the pond with the best available genetics from fast growing YP. YP at 4”-6” or 7” stocked in Fall will spawn the next spring and these stockers should be 8”-10” at 1 full year in your pond (2yr fish). Buying 4”-6” YP be sure to ask if they are the current year class rather than last year’s fish which would be slower growing individuals. I highly suggest using “the best available genetics from fast growing YP” as the initial genetic stock of your pond. Why stock slow growing perch to start the pond?
Third Topic. Your no desire for pellet feeding the fish will make it more of a challenge to quickly grow lots of large YP. You can grow nice perch using all natural foods, although you will just need to pay closer attention to the balance, fish densities, and size classes of the YP population as the pond ages. I have learned that pellet feeding ‘smoothes out’ the problems of fish balance, crowding, and size classes. Feeding them pellets keeps a high percentage of them growing well when even natural foods are limiting. Lack of growth is never regained despite if later those fish get adequate food to get growing again. Fish need ample food to maintain good body weight and then excess food to gain their growth potential.
In clear water fish can grow fast and can get a lot to eat, IF those fish do not have a lot of siblings also present who want to eat the same foods. Low fish density with or using natural foods equals faster growing and plumper fish. You can get a good idea of body well fed plumpness by using relative weight (RW) calculations on some of the perch. More on RW is seen below. Fewer fish eating a limited amount of food can grow pretty fast PROVIDING each one fills its belly each and every day to produce growth. Excess food = growth. The amount of excess food determines the amount of growth.
The fish who eat all natural foods I think will live longer and can ultimately still grow to large sizes same as pellet fed fish. Pellet foods contain too many carbohydrates that IMO shorten life spans for fish and people. Pellet foods are designed for fast growth not necessarily long life spans. For example - look at the big fish that grow in very clear Michigan and Canada lakes. However there are not a lot of these big fish per acre, sometimes less than 1 per acre of water. It is said that 90% of the fish live in 10% of the lake, especially for clear types of lakes. There is not many fish out in the middle of the lake’s open, off shore water. Fish orient to habitat for numerous reasons.
Thus your success when using all natural forage based foods will depend on how well you monitor and manage the numbers in the population of each species. Keeping perch from being too many will be your biggest challenge. Generally the fewer fish that are present per acre the larger they will become due to always having excess food. Always having excess food available is paramount in growing fish. A fish will grow as long as it lives as long as it daily has food to excess. Food shortages due to too many fish lead to slow growing and stunted fish.
YP have the potential to be prolific. If you let nature control the densities you may not like the results. Your goals will depend on how well you maintain / manage the balance of predator and prey numbers. See more about Management in the Fish Harvest section below.
A couple PB Forum members mentioned walleye(WE) for the pond. They are a very good management tool with YP however WHERE are you going to buy WE in NC???? Very doubtful IMO. With no WE you will probably have to resort to using HSB as the predator for YP. My second choice would be smallmouth bass that often has limited reproduction. SMB are available from Zetts and usually only in Fall if you are lucky. My experience is that HSB will work very well for controlling YP because you have full control of the number of predators. SMB can reproduce well in a pond similar to yours and quickly result in too many predators eating and competing with YP. Young SMB thrive on eating invertebrate foods needed by 3”-7” YP.
The main drawback to HSB is they will grow to big sizes and thus these bigger 26”-30” HSB will I think be focused on eating larger YP (4”-6”) and detracting from your harvest of larger YP by eating too many pre 8” perch. If numbers of 8”+ YP are low because large HSB are eating primarily 4”-6” YP, you can easily manage around this situation. Harvest all HSB larger than 16”-20” caught by anglers and periodically stock fingerling HSB to replace the large harvested HSB. HSB replacements should be 20% more numbers than the adults that were harvested. This accounts for survival loss of the young stocked HSB. Young HSB at times can be tricky to get a high survival percentage after stocking. This same HSB management also holds true for WE.
BG were mentioned in an above post. IMO - and by all means,, AVOID bluegill if you want primarily a YP fishery. RES as a low fecundity fish, a snail-parasite controller and IMO can serve as a bonus benign panfish with YP. To get good predator control of prolific BG, LMB are the best ones to use. Other predator species are marginal at best for controlling BG. Caution – if you stock RES do your best in the purchase to avoid ALL contamination by BG, HBG, green sunfish. All will cause long term havoc with a YP fishery. You can’t get these problem fish out once introduced.
Water clarity of 52” indicates relatively low pond productivity. As the pond ages the water could become even more clear towards 5ft-7ft. I do not consider 4ft3” very clear water. Very clear for me is 10+ft; see later. I help with management of some ponds and reservoirs where the Secchi disk water clarity is 12-16ft. Keep monitoring water clarity with the secchi disk every 2 -4 weeks all summer. This will help guide you about the relative density of the plankton and give a rough idea of fish density and productivity. For judging fish food abundance and fish body condition & plumpness see Fish Harvest section.
Determine the water alkalinity. Alkalinity indicates the ability of plankton to grow and the resulting fish production potential of the water. Good alkalinity is above 40mg/L (ppm) and IMO if closer to 80-100mg/L is best. This will help guide you as to how many YP the pond has the ability or has the capacity to grow. It is similar to measuring soil fertility for crops. The clearer the water is the lower the overall fertility and less crop that will be grown or produced.
Water clarity due mostly to plankton, and not due to suspended silt - muck, is a pretty good indicator of pond fertility. Good alkalinity allows good plankton to grow. Another very good method is to have the water tested by a soil test laboratory for basic chemistry and nutrients. Results will provide an indication of the productive potential of the pond that is known as trophic status. Main things to test for are: alkalinity (bicarbonate), total hardness, total phosphorus, dissolved phosphorus, and nitrate are explained in this good info link. If you want to know just alkalinity - nitrate, you can self-test it with user friendly aquarium test kits. https://fisheries.tamu.edu/files/2013/09/Understanding-Your-Fish-Pond-Water-Analysis-Report.pdf
With a water clarity of 4-5ft, I consider this pond productivity in the mesotrophic condition or range. Mesotrophic is midway between nutrient enriched (eutrophic) and nutrient poor oligotrophic. Natural fish poundage, as total carrying capacity for panfish, of oligotrophic (12+ft clarity) is around 40-50 total forage/ panfish pounds/ac. Opposite end is eutrophic (1.5-3ft clarity) that can have around 300 lbs +/-50lb/ac of forage & panfish. Mesotrophic (5-10ft clarity) has around 80 to maybe 200 panfish lbs/ac . This type of pond/lake often has perch, walleye, smallmouth as the main fishery. I estimate your Mesotrophic total panfish pounds could be around 100-160 lbs/ac.
WATER RETENTION TIME
A lake’s size, and water inflow – outflow rate determine the average length of time that water remains in a lake; aka the retention time. This is also known as residence time, flow through time, or flushing rate which means how long a drop of water moves from inlet to outlet. Another definition is how long normal inflowing water takes to fill the lake.
The longer that suspended solids and nutrients remain in the lake, the longer the nutrients can contribute to growing the plankton and fish. Generally the shorter the retention time the less fertile the pond tends to be and the fewer fish pounds that will be present or raised. If water gets flushed out before it can grow a large food chain base, this leads to lower overall productivity and fewer fish.
You mention your pond has an outflow of spring water of 170K per day from a pond volume of about 3.8 million gallons. Outflow affects the retention time of the pond. I calculate the pond water of 3.8 million gallons has a residence time of around 22 days. This is a relatively short time and it contributes to the pond having an overall lower productivity of mesotrophic status.
Due to average trophic ratio factors, the natural PREDATOR mesotrophic poundage will be around 10 to maybe 14 pounds per acre. This weight could be distributed to 12 one pound fish or two 6 pound fish / acre. Thus water clarity, trophic status, and pond residence time all have big influences on total natural pond fish production.
HARVEST AND PRODUCTIVITY
You say your homework of “the estimate of 100-150lbs of YP harvest was only based on what i have read on pond yields in other articles”.
The amount of pond fish produced and amount of harvestable fish is very similar to a harvestable crop in a garden or field. Both are based on fertility of the soil or water. For a 100-150 lb fish harvest,, my question is, what was the water clarity retention time, and fertility of those ponds having 100-150 lbs of fish harvest in the articles??? Water clarity, as a result of bottom of the food chain productivity (plankton), has a big influence on how many pounds of fish a pond is able to grow and the probable amount of edible size fish for an annual harvest. Those 100-150 harvest rates were likely from eutrophic fertile ponds with water clarity of less than 28”. Water clarity usually determines productivity.
FISH HARVEST - Over harvest can happen. Since YP larger than 9”-10” grow rather slowly in many of the US waters, excessive harvest of the largest individuals can easily result in the population getting overly skewed toward the next smaller size class 6”-7” perch. 7” YP with ample food should in the next year be 9”-10” long. Sometimes that 7” perch stays 7” and maybe only 8” long for the rest of its life. Ponds properly managed need to or should have the fish crop harvested to prevent over crowed fish mostly all at 7” long, eating too much of the available good foods. In a good balanced YP community,, one should be catching 10% - 20” of the perch as larger than 10” and some 12”-13”. If not,,,,,, there are too many perch stacked up at the 6”-7” size class. Limited amount of foods limit fish growth rates. If the crop is not harvested properly then the fish age, stay shorter, and naturally die. Improper over abundant fish density can result in stunted fish dying of old age. Improper harvest is more likely to cause poor balance of fishes and then the size class distribution is more likely to result in fewer harvestable fish. The most frequent pond occurrence is too many small fish that are not growing well.
For my thinking, the mesotrophic status puts the TOTAL forage fish and panfish at or should be around 90-110/lbs per ac. For balanced fishery management, literature and experience suggests that the harvest be around 20-30% of the available adult sized fish. For new ponds I lean more for the 15%-20% initial harvest of the total poundage to watch how the fishery responds after the first two years of harvesting. If we use 20%, this is hopefully around 20 to 32 pounds of panfish/ac (30-48lbs in 1.5ac). I think initially it is better to remove too few fish compared to too many especially if the pond is not fertilized nor pellet fed. Removing fewer allows more spawner adults to survive and create more new fish recruitment to replenish those harvested fish. As time passes and if fish monitoring occurs regularly, this should give a good indication of sizes and numbers available in the fishery. I would rather have fewer numbers of larger fish compared to too many small fish. Too many small fish can be reduced by adding more predators and manual thinning of small with with seines. and traps - see later.
Based on water conditions and relative number of YP larger than 8” - more or less can be harvested. This is where keeping good records is important for those sizes harvested and released that are caught by angling. As years pass looking at older catch & harvest records will tell the status and progress of the fishery. You can harvest more if you are seeing strong numbers of 6”-7” YP that can or should replace those harvested. Harvest fewer if fishing does not have about a 50% catch rate of at least 6”-7” YP. Good monitoring of the fishery will involve sampling by catching and measuring representatives of the perch. Notice the plumpness of the perch. After you catch several perch you will get a good idea of plump and skinny and obviously slender perch. Plump perch indicate good balance and the abundance of foods being eaten; skinny almost sunken belly perch indicate too many fish for the amount of available food. Thinning of fish numbers is then needed. Often this can be the small 3”-5” individuals by using the larger size fish traps. Last Spring caught 90 small prespawn YP overnight in one home-made trap similar to the large cylinder ktrap. https://ktraps.com/collections/all
Learn about calculating RW and usefulness from our Archives Common Q&A section. https://forums.pondboss.com/ubbthreads.php?ubb=postlist&Board=22&page=1
Performing RW of representative sizes of perch will give you a better visual idea of plump and skinny perch.
When ponds are influenced by factors that cause lower productivity, this is why pond owners often resort to fertilizing the water and or feeding pelleted foods that boost fish production to as much as four times. Other common things that could be done to naturally increase the pond’s productivity would be to increase the water retention time, add organic materials that eventually contribute to basic nutrient fertility, and increase amount of habitat. Reducing the number of “hogs (fish) feeding at the trough” always allows remaining fish to get more food.
Amount of habitat by itself to a point has been proven to increase fish productivity. The optimum amount of habitat is said to be close to 20% to 25% of the surface area. However too much habitat, such as over abundant vegetation, protects too many small fish that overwhelm the balance and small ones then stunt and adults, if present, grow SLOWER from too many mouths eating limited amounts of foods. Your river rock and some boulders depending on density are a good beginning of added habitat. More IMO is usually better. Other habitat items to increase habitat can be more large rocks - boulders in shallow 2-4ft depths, various types of woody cover, and all types of artificial structures both purchased and home-made. See Structure topic in our QA Archives. Lots of invertebrate foods live on and among the habitat structures and vegetation.
Submerged vegetation could become a big problem for your organic farm management philosophy. Clearer water in the Mesotrophic condition will tend to promote over time too much submerged plant growth in shallow and deeper water. I assume you are anti-chemical for weed control. Manual removal of plants requires lots of time and lots of work especially in water area over ½ ac. Be prepared. There are special tools for best efficient plant removal. You can use grass carp (GC) to help with plant trimming or thinning,,, but do not add enough GC to eliminate the submerged plants. Always start slow or gradually with these fish. Give them ample time to achieve their ability. You always want some submerged plants as good habitat and for submerged plants to use nutrients to compete with filamentous algae. GC do not like eating filamentous algae(FA). IMO do not resort to using koi nor Israeli (a Zetts promotional) to control FA. They do not eat any or very little FA. They are the same specie as common carp and reduce FA by making the water turbid – muddy - so FA does not get enough light for good growth. If you want murky turbid water caused by suspended silt & bottom muck use koi & Israeli. I use koi to create turbidity for water that is too clear. However tilapia absolutely love eating FA that allows tilapia to grow fast.
I would stock beneficial invertebrates when you stock the minnows or very soon after. Examples below. You want these inverts to reproduce and provide lots of abundant foods with the initial spawning minnows / shiners.
Crayfish especially those young of the year, are a very good invertebrate food or YP fisheries. 100-300 would be a good initial ‘seeding’ to get them established before or with the panfish. Crayfish at common density also help clean filamentous algae off submerged habitats. The only crayfish that I find best for pond use is the papershell crayfish (Orconectes immunis) because they stay in the pond and do not crawl out and create digging & dirt mounds. Smith Creek Fish Farm, Bliss NY have papershell for shipment. Papershell are not listed as occurring in NC however they occur in neighboring states of TN and WVA. Papershells are probably already in western NC. Northern crayfish (Orconectes virilis) is listed for NC. This crayfish grows larger than the papershell which make the northern cray a slightly lower benefit to a perch fishery. Rusty crayfish Orconectes rusticus, is considered an “invasive” aggressive species and is listed to occur in NC. I would avoid using rusty crayfish. It is best to know your crayfish basics before adding them.
Since your pond has spring fed water consider using scuds (Gammarus), and freshwater shrimp aka ghost shrimp (Palomonetes). Submerged plants are almost always required for shrimp and scuds to prosper.
Most of the larger types of beneficial scuds prefer slightly cooler water than the FW shrimp. This from the internet.: “Freshwater grass (ghost) shrimp Palaemonetes paludosus are in nearly every stream, swamp and pond in northeast NC. Just scoop through aquatic plant beds and algae with a small-mesh dipnet. You won’t find them on open sandy bottoms - they need plants or submerged leaf & branch piles. Most tributaries of the Roanoke, Chowan, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pamlico should have them. In the brackish estuaries you'll get different species (P. vulgaris and P. pugio) that won’t live long-term in freshwater.” https://goliadfarms.com/shop/gammarus-scuds/
The invertebrates noted above need at least some submerged vegetation to thrive so do NOT eliminate your underwater plants – just trim them when or as needed. Vegetation would probably be most beneficial primarily in the upper inlet area where the stream enters.
If you deal with Zetts consider stocking some of their Bull Minnows. They are a ‘top water surface oriented small fish and can add diversity to the forage fish base in a perch pond. They live longer than FHM and can grow to 5” long. 100-300 fish, if shipped, would be a good seed stocking number for this species. http://agrilife.org/fisheries2/file....-1200-Growing-Bull-Minnows-for-Bait.pdf
There are two other very good forage minnows that I suggest for an all natural forage base: satinfin shiner and bluntnose minnow. Both occur commonly in NC and they survive well and for long term periods in ponds with YP. However you cannot purchase these two species from fish farms. You have to go collect individuals from local sites, mostly streams. Any number of each species would act as starter species. Bluntnose minnows will spawn like FHM putting eggs on the underside of rocks, and any bottom oriented flat structures. They tend to survive longer in YP ponds than FHM, especially if good refuge type of habitat is present. Abundant habitat and structure also allows FHM once well established to thrive longer term in YP based ponds.
North Carolina Minnow IDshttps://ncfishes.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/NC-Minnows-and-Identification-Key.pdf
Locations of collections - maps
By clicking on the county on the map it provides stream names where they were collected. Counties have colors that indicate were most individuals were collected. https://auth1.dpr.ncparks.gov/fish/fish_list.php
Your success when using all natural forage bases will depend on how well you monitor and manage the all the fishes present. Active management always produces better fish size class distributions, and more harvestable sizes of fish compared to letting nature determine the fish densities. If you let nature control the densities you may not like the results. Your goals will depend on the correct balance of predator and prey densities and your ability to help the pond maintain lots of natural fish foods to keep fish growing well without needing pellets.
There is no charge for all this professional knowledge and experience of perch raising information. My only request is that you periodically return to this same thread and up-date us on the progress of your pond’s fishery. I am interested to see how close I come to estimating how the perch will perform in your natural forage based pond. We need to learn even more about raising yellow perch in ponds. https://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1300&context=sfcproceedings