Keeping Your Pond Fish Safe From Predators

Let’s face it, some fish are just good eat’n, but if you’re a pond owner, these probably aren’t the words you want to hear.

I like a good salmon filet as much as anyone but I have to admit I almost feel violated when I have something eating, or trying to eat my pond fish.  I guess it’s all part of survival, and I’m all for that, just don’t dine on my dime if you’re wildlife.

Recent calls and emails suggest, as they do every year, that pond owners sometimes have issues with critters of all kinds causing problems in their ponds.  One of the most horrific issues is some type of predator preying on your fish.

These intruders can come in many forms.  Some are raccoons, some are feral, or even tame cats, and others come from the sky like herons or egrets.  Life as a fish can get pretty risky with these folks around.

As pond owners, we need to take fish safety, as well as health, into consideration and with a bit of planning and preparation, you can often keep your fish safe and secure regardless of who show’s up for dinner.

Now all this plotting and planning goes out the window if you’re trying to protect a salmon from a grizzly bear, but that’s another story.

When it comes to pond fish, and planning out a pond for protection, depth can be a real asset.  Often ponds that are 3 feet deep and more will provide a deterrence to birds such as herons since they can only work best in shallower water.  Raccoons also like to work around the shoreline but not in any depth.

In particular, a pond owner that can offer a landscape of protection with things such as overhanging rocks and surface plants can provide cover and shielding to fish.  Given a bit of time and practice the fish will get very good at using these things when they are needed.  Other underwater hiding places can be created by using small crates, boxes, or wire tubes.  Putting anything between your fish and the diner is a good thing.

Other topics often arise when you hear or read about protecting your fish.  Concerning herons and other birds, it’s been noted that having a heron decoy can work to dissuade other birds from coming into the pond, since herons are generally solitary creatures.  This may work from time to time, but it’s not always a failsafe solution.  One tip is to be sure to move this decoy around from time to time to keep other birds from getting used to the static setup.

You may have seen, or used another type of decoy such as the fake alligator.  The premise behind this is that many of these wading birds will spend the winter in the swamps and bayous in the southern U.S. .  Here they may come in contact with a gator or two and in fact, some of these birds end up as food themselves since alligators find them appetizing.  This doesn’t sound like such a great dinner date, but this can make some of the birds wary of anything that even looks close to the likes of an alligator, so these types of decoys may have some merit.  Now if you run into a bird that’s never seen an alligator, I’m not sure how well they would work.

The particular brand that gets mentioned a lot is Gator Guard which is a floating head with reflective eyes.  Since the head floats freely in the pond is changes position and does resemble a live gator.  If nothing else, this might get the neighbors talking in a place like Iowa!

One sure-fire solution to predatory birds is the pond netting which is sold through many pond supply stores.  This can provide a very protective solution and isn’t a bad option to use during migratory periods such as the spring and the fall.  Also in the fall, it can help in collecting a lot of leaf debris that might normally end up in the pond. 

The one drawback to netting is that it can be a pain to work with in terms of installing it or working around it while you wait for the threat to pass.  It is inconvenient but it’s certainly a low cost option to keeping birds away.  Most of these feathered moochers are generally opportunistic and when you make life a little harder for them, they’ll look someplace else for the easy meal.

For any mammals smaller than grizzle bears, much smaller thankfully, there are other solutions that may help.  Some marketed solutions involve high frequency sound emissions, but to our knowledge these have not proven very successful. 

One tool that we use from time to time around ponds, or even small gardens or bird feeders is called the Scarecrow.  This motion activated device sprays a series of high pressure jets of water at any would-be intruder and can make their visit an unpleasant one.

Be advised that most of the wildlife is likely protected either by state or federal regulations and it is illegal to harm or kill them.  In regards to animals like raccoons you may be able to legally relocate them with live trapping but it might be best to find out any state regulations from wildlife officials before doing so.

All in all there is no one, single solution that may work against different types of predators.  The best defense is really in the design of the pond.  Again, a pond with a depth of 3 feet or greater will be a huge deterrent and your odds improve if the pond has steep sides with no shelves or steps that provide better fishing opportunities.  Making it harder to even get at the fish in any way shape or form is probably the best way to go if it’s feasible for you to do so.