Fee and Lease Pond Fishing Profile

Daniel Burden, Program Coordinator International & Special Projects, Extension Value-added Agriculture Project and AgMRC, Iowa State University, djburden@iastate.edu.

Reviewed July 2014.


On the water, there are no cars, no rush hour and no deadlines–just a chance to relax. Whether in conjunction with a rural bed and breakfast operation, a hunting lease venture or as the backdrop for a retreat center, rural wedding or business meeting, a pond is a focal point for natural beauty and human relaxation. This water resource is more than just a novel piece of landscape, it is one of the great overlooked revenue generators for agricultural landowners.

Many landowners across the dock on a lakeUnited States have turned their farm pond or ponds into a resource that is quite attractive to different consumer demographics. These ponds are stocked and managed to provide fee-fishing opportunities to parents who wish to have a quality experience with their young children, professionals who wish to get away with business clients, families interested in an interesting alternative to a traditional reunion and as a local environmental educational resource for primary school educators.

For-fee fishing operations fall into two categories: fee fishing, where an hourly or day rate is accessed the user, and lease fishing, where a seasonal or yearly user fee is accessed, usually for exclusive rights to the resource. Some operations specialize in trophy fish, where the user has an opportunity to fish, perhaps in perfect solitude, for an exceptional animal in a retreat-like private setting. Others are catch-and-release or catch-and-keep operations that cater to families and novices with limited fishing experience.

Today, this type of private fishing retreat serves a role, the role of alleviating the strain of population pressure on public resources. They may offer an alternative to crowded situations or reduce the need to travel great distances to indulge in a quality outdoor experience. These operations also are playing an important role in the development of young and first-time outdoor people, increasingly women. In a somewhat more controlled environment, experience can be gained and skills can be mastered before attempting more challenging outdoor situations. Some operations offer Youth in the Outdoors, Becoming an Outdoor Woman and similar outdoor education and outdoor experience programs free or at reduced-fee prices to these program sponsors. In turn, this acts as a friendly introduction to the facility and stimulates word-of-mouth advertising and repeat customers.

Americans born in the last century experienced traditional open access to most public and private lands and associate a wild "freedom" with a day in the field. Although the thought of hunting or fishing on a "preserve" or a "game farm" is anathema to many, particularly working-class hunters and fishermen who are traditionally unwilling to pay for access to the sport, this attitude is changing. Private land is increasingly difficult to access, and public land is increasingly congested due to burgeoning urban encroachment and rural housing development.

In the United States, our wealth of public-land and public-access fishing opportunities has reinforced a public perception that fish are a free resource and that access to the sport also should be free. The reality is that our public fishing resources are supported by state and federal tax dollars and voluntary contributions through various check-off programs, as well as the private fund-raising activities and lobbying efforts of sportsperson interest groups.

In Europe, for-fee fishing is nothing new; most fishing access is actually through some sort of a "trespass-fee" permit system. Europe and most of the rest of the world has always had some sort of managed hunting or fishing, and it is a respected part of their cultural traditions. For centuries, hunting and fishing on private estates where game managers policed the grounds, managed habitat and supplemented game populations was only available to the elite. Hunts or access to fishing were (and still are) conducted under the control of a ghillie, JaegerMeister "hunt-master," river warden or similar professional guide. In most parts of the world, access by individuals for hunting or fishing only is available on a for-fee and by-arrangement basis and on private property.

Today, most users have no problem paying for an opportunity to participate in an outdoor activity that they see as a quality, managed operation likely to contribute to a positive experience for them and their families. Users tend to understand that a private body of water requires stocking, personnel support and related management, and perhaps such energy and infrastructural inputs as filtration systems and weed control programs.

Planning the Operation

Ponds naturally exist or are constructed for reasons that may include flood control, recreation, livestock watering or irrigation. The aquaculture and aesthetic enjoyment values of these resources constitute a solid profit center unrecognized by most landowners. If properly managed, they can provide angling opportunities and aesthetic experiences as good as, or in many cases better than, public waters.

Ponds also may be a way tfisho remediate damaged areas of a farm or ranch. For example, an active program In Missouri converts old strip mine pits and quarries into water-oriented recreation resources. These man-made features impound about 9,000 surface acres of water in the state. Most of these pits have the potential of producing many hours of quality fishing, as well as enjoyment for the landowner and potential income as a fee-fishing resource. Several publications are available from Missouri Extension Service that discuss the special issues associated with reclaiming and managing these areas.

One of the most underrated aspects of the fishing experience is that it provides something for everyone. It constitutes a great chance to be with other people or to simply spend some time away from the pressures of everyday life. Ask any person about some fishing experience that they have had and most will get a wistful look in their eye and then begin to tell a story of laying down a perfect cast to a rising trout, dropping a dry fly on a still pond or some crazy thing that happened with a friend or loved one while out on the boat working the "big water" for the "big one!"

Fishing is a great way to spend time with family and friends and create memories that will last a lifetime. It is a great outdoors activity that one can enjoy close to home or it can be the reason for an out-of-state or international vacation. Fishing is a wildly popular sport that cuts across generational, gender, age and affluence lines. A recent study in Wisconsin cited sport fishing as a 2.3 billion dollar industry that directly supports more than 26,000 jobs and generates $100 million in state tax revenue to help pay for natural resource management and protection programs, as well as critical services that range from primary school education programs and health care for the elderly.

Fee and Lease Fishing

Fee fishing allows pond owners to supply fishing opportunities to the increasing number of anglers frustrated by crowded public areas and to simultaneously use an under-utilized resource for economic gain. The two basic types of fee fishing are long-term leasing, and daily or hourly use fees (day leasing). Long-term leases involve exclusive fishing rights to a private pond or lake that can be leased on a long-term basis to an individual or group. Daily or hourly use fees (day leasing) usually are associated with operations that also rent equipment, sell food or offer meeting or retreat facilities.

Increasingly, rural retreats are convenient places where school, youth, outdoor, church and other groups can conduct functions as well as participate in an outdoor experience. Fee fishing operators have a ready-made rural retreat option for presenting a "nature tourism" experience that centers on pond life and associated wildlife.

Like any tourism experience, people do not come just to hunt, fish or ride a horse or tractor; they come to have fun and relax. The operator is in the hospitality business. A general rule of thumb is that if you take care of your customers, you will succeed. A 1992 study published by the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center discussed how in a survey of lease-fishing contracts, sport fisheries emphasizing trophy fish received considerable publicity, yet angler responses placed trophy fishing far down on the list of motivations to undertake the experience.

Pond management for fee fishing is a type of aquaculture, and aquaculture has some similarities to traditional row crop farming. The pond owner is attempting to grow a crop within a limited amount of space. This presents some problems, perhaps dealing with weather-related stress, battling weeds or undesirable fish species. Any farmer's crop production is limited by available acreage and quality and care of the land. Similarly, fish production is limited by the size, structure and food availability of a pond. In technical terminology, this is defined as the pond's natural carrying capacity. This capacity can be positively enhanced with supplemental food and aeration; and negatively affected by excess nutrients, algal growth, lack of dissolved oxygen or lack of feed.

Sometimes the pond must serve multiple uses, and some management alternatives, for example, plant control, supplemental aeration or filtration, often are expensive. The pond owner may not always be able to select the optimal strategy for optimal fish management. However, there usually is a fishery development and revenue generation strategy that can be developed to make the best out of a particularly challenging management situation.

Owners may have a wide variety of reasons for building or owning a pond; however, an important first step is developing some management goals. Begin by listing what you want to develop, then list the pros and cons of each goal. Review these and see if what you want to do is realistic. Test the ideas by running them past friends, relatives and impartial third parties including county, state or federal extension outreach professionals. The latter are particularly important if any state or federal funding or set-aside programs are involved in the new use plan.

The importance of establishing objectives for the projected uses of a given pond cannot be overemphasized. The first and most important step for proper pond management is to choose the primary use objective and understand the limitations that this may place on other agricultural or recreational uses of the resource. For example, small ponds today are commonly used to aesthetically enhance the landscape, but their relatively simple construction may not provide the best facilities for other activities like swimming, boating and fishing.

Careful consideration of use compatibilities and priorities are essential when planning any agricultural operation. If dealing with an existing pond, develop a two-focus appraisal that describes the pond as it currently exists and one that reflects the resource's potential with infrastructural improvements. This planning should be realistic. For example, if the water quality is unacceptable for a cold- and clear-water species of trout, it would be pointless to spend a great deal of time developing a plan for that type of venture. Develop a plan that reflects the entire fishing experience: this includes the game species but also includes amenities or services that create a certain guaranteed experience and present a certain level of return to both the operator and the client.

Take a moment to look at these factors with respect to their limitations and impact on available operating resources. This will tend to force you to develop objectives and plans that are realistic and comfortable to accomplish. All in all, this should result in easier pond management, less costly operations and more satisfying, rewarding experiences for your clients.

Ponds are frequently used in several ways to satisfy more than one agricultural or recreational objective. This too is something that needs to be included in a business or management plan. For example, having water available in the pond for fishing usually does not conflict with other uses such as swimming. When different uses seem to be at odds, assign priorities to the objectives and usually a decision will present itself. For example, the objective of providing for fishing may conflict directly with the objective of having water available for irrigation or fire suppression. If irrigation may lower the water level to a point where the fish population is endangered, then the manager must consider an alternative water source or have a recovery strategy planned for the fishery. Sometimes prior planning and sound management will eliminate or at least reduce these conflicts.

Take the time to develop a business plan and be sure to incorporate some cost-activity data from publicly available literature as well as consultations with area fisheries extension professionals. These individuals can help you become familiar with the type of advantages or disadvantages associated with particular species and assist with identifying other regional aquaculture, soil and water specialists who may be of assistance. If appropriate, the local USDA-NSRC professionals can discuss beneficial soil and water conservation programs and funding assistance.

Be forewarned however. A survey of some operators has revealed occasional difficulties coordinating with different entities of the state and county governments. Some operators have mentioned that they do not feel that their local agency representatives are very supportive when it comes to helping farmers implement nontraditional agricultural businesses on their farm. Sometimes state and county requirements are inconsistent with respect to lodging- or food-related issues. Patience and clear communications can go a long way toward alleviating these types of problems.

Whenever possible, find a way to ask your customers what they liked about their stay and what could be improved. Consider special audiences; they could necessitate special preparations but including handicapped-access fishing and opportunities for the elderly could pay dividends. This carries over to consideration of what species to stock. Some operations specialize in trophy or highly desirable species (trout or large bass). While this will work for some clients, it may discourage others. It may be wise to consider some easy-to-catch species that can provide a fun experience to a range of anglers.

What makes a successful business?

Most fee-fishing pond or lease operators state that a necessary first step to establishing this type of business is to perform a self-examination that realistically examines how this enterprise fits into the landowner’s goals and life style. Then one should try to imagine the worst-case scenario for start-up, operating costs and time commitment. Next, examine all available environmental, human and financial resources. Is the water resource adequate? What is the need for re-stocking? Is the existing infrastructure sound for the enterprise or is there a need for improvements, for example, parking or toilet facilities? Are there low-cost, easy improvements that would enhance the operation?

Finally, conduct research. This research should include contacting the applicable NRCS, university Extension and state university or regional aquaculture specialists. Talk to others who offer this type of service, and go to trade and value-added agriculture seminars. You may already have met some of these individuals when preparing your business plan. Be sure to talk with your insurance agent. Most operations have at least a $1 million liability policy, and this usually covers the overall farming operation. This easily can include the pond operation, because for insurance purposes, aquaculture is considered a part of agriculture. Usually these umbrella liability policies are relatively low cost.

It is very important to be realistic in one's expectations and the use of existing resources. Build and learn; no one ever devises a perfect business plan at the outset of a new venture. Keep good records and use them to determine what does and does not work and how to adapt to problems that you encounter.

Most operators have similar advice on running this type of business. A common view of successful guides and agritourism operators is that people need to enjoy themselves in a supportive environment. Do not put pressure on people. Give them freedom to enjoy the activity, and try to be helpful and avoid being judgmental. A good rule is "When dealing with the public, keep your cool." As an operator, it is a fact of day-to-day business that some clients will be more enjoyable to deal with than others.

There are also differences between the expectations of male and female clients. The ways in which men and women communicate are different. Appreciate this and always try to assist clients, particularly female clients, in a manner that is non-threatening, reassuring and helps them make the most of their experience. They should always feel valued and welcome; your customers are your guests. A lot of potential problems with clients can be circumvented by clear signage, well-thought-out permission or lease forms (with clear waiver of liability statements) and a few words of introduction and encouragement.

Everything previously discussed is especially true for foreign and minority clients. These individuals may be undertaking this new experience with some trepidation, and a few extra words of encouragement and a little extra attention may be needed to help them understand the activity and your needs and expectations as their host.

Success, measured in the form of a harvested animal, is not always possible with most outdoor pursuits. It is a good idea to convey this to your clients, especially children. Success in an outdoor pursuit is having a fun, relaxing experience and perhaps an educational one. Many of today's children are under pressure to meet adult expectations at school, on the athletic field and at home. Children need a chance to just let go and enjoy the wonder of the outdoors. Making children aware of the fact that they are welcome, that there are interesting things to learn and that they may even catch a few fish is an icebreaker with new and young clients.

Most people remember their first fishing trip. In most cases the people, particularly if they are "outdoor people," had a very positive experience that involved seeing animals and spending positive time with adults. Unfortunately, a great many others have less positive memories, perhaps because a parent spent the day yelling about something that went wrong or the terrible weather or the poorly planned outing. Most parents do not realize that when they take children fishing, the most important objective for that day is for the child to have a positive, educational and fun experience. The "fun experience" usually has less to do with accomplishing something than it does with the positive attention from and interaction with a parent or grandparent that is outside the usual family situation.

Parents who take a child fishing and proprietors of fee-fishing enterprises need to realize that children need a lot of attention. This takes a number of forms: tending the child's line, making sure the child has sunscreen and is properly clothed, fed and hydrated. Parents may need to set aside any notion of doing anything for themselves other than spending a few quality hours with their child. Unfortunately, this is lost on some parents, and a helpful reminder from the operator may be needed. Patience is a critical element in any discourse.

All adults need to recognize that there will be problems with tangled lines and lost fish. Consider that children have a short attention span. If the fish are not biting, do not hold the child hostage to the activity. Parents should have alternatives, perhaps a visit to a play area or time out for a story, for children with short attention spans. A shaded area with benches is nice for some parent-child quality time, a nap or perhaps to get a cranky, overheated child out of the sun. Encourage parents to pack a cooler with sandwiches, some cookies and water. Discourage carbonated soda-type beverages; the carbonation and sugar increase bodily water loss (dehydration). Plain water or more natural fruit juice beverages are better personal hydration alternatives. Sports drinks are good, but they can be salt and electrolyte "heavy" and are best supplemented with water. If a child or adult on a fishing trip begins to get listless or irritable or complains of a headache, they likely have dehydration. Healthy, happy clients are more likely to become repeat clients.

It may be helpful to create a brochure or list of recommendations for people coming with children. This is easy to incorporate as a "helpful hints" page attached to a liability statement. It also may be helpful to include a written map with instructions regarding safe and hazardous areas. For example, if there are areas with deep or swift water, steep banks, dams or uneven footing, it is good to set this in writing for the visitor. Set boundaries and explain them.

Most operations will not want children swimming or playing in the ponds, but this will be lost on some parents. State this in the liability statement or day-use contract. If a canoe or rowboat is available as a service or rental, proper safety equipment is required and some initial supervision may be needed. If fishing gear is provided, cane poles and closed-face reels are good choices for children. If bait is to be provided onsite, worms are a simple option. Encourage but do not force children to bait their own hooks. Some children are very sensitive and may have no concept of predator-prey life-and-death relationships. One option is to have new anglers fish or practice with plastic worms and similar baits; eventually, they will get used to the idea of rigging their own gear. If gear is provided to adult clients, for example, fly-fishing equipment at a trout pond, a monetary deposit and an equipment lease agreement that covers replacement cost could be considered as part of the liability statement or day-use contract.

What constitutes an acceptable "restroom area" is an important issue and needs to be addressed. If an adult, child or elderly person needs to answer the call of nature, the answer usually may need to be a prompt response. Porta-potty-type outdoor restrooms or similar units are affordable and can be conveniently located near access roads and parking areas. It is important to stress proper outdoor ethics. Most outdoor programs state that any human waste should be kept at least 200 feet from natural water resources. Public fishing areas present their own challenges. Encourage parents to bring plastic zip-lock bags along to pack out baby wipes, tissues and similar paper products rather than dump them in the porta-potty. Be sure to have onsite or accessible trash containers.

How do you acquire and manage your clients?

Once you have a resource that you can open to the public, many states and counties have free Internet and print agritourism resources. These include "things to do" and "what's happening" types of sites and publications. Identify local resources and see if you can get your operation listed. Sport-fishing-related Web sites are one potential resource. Many of these sites list "blog-type" reports on state or regional fishing activities. They usually have free or for-pay advertising to support their Web-related services. Similarly, many communities and chambers of commerce have local sites with free advertising.

These are good resources because they tend to cater to community groups that may be looking for local activities for their members. Consider listing with one of these sites as a convenient way to reach an audience interested in your service. Also, it may be worthwhile to request that other local operators, for example, area game farms who offer bird hunting or similar sporting ventures, add a link to your operation. If you have a Web site, offer them a link to their business on your site. Offer to make tier promotional materials available at your business, and encourage them to do the same with your materials.

When clients patronize your business, always have a guest book to get names for future mailings and other communications; a computer-based client address list with e-mail addresses is a great resource for "season opener" and "end-of-season" specials. An e-mail address list makes promotional mailings quick, easy and inexpensive.

On Web sites, promotional fliers and signage, most operations clearly state the hours of operation and any restrictions on guest activity. For example, one operation lists that they are open 7 days a week during their operational season, there is no state license requirement, tackle can be furnished on request, a picnic area is available, and groups are welcome. They also stress that they are a wheelchair-accessible facility with a wheelchair-accessible fishing area.

Most operations make a point to stress that they are no-pet facilities. This is a good point and an important consideration. Dogs relieve themselves where children may play, impose themselves on other clients and may bother livestock, nesting birds and other animals. In addition, it is nearly impossible to keep retrievers, pointers and other water-loving dogs out of the water, where they present a annoyance to clients fishing.

Many operations cater to groups and have facilities for meetings and social gatherings. For example, one operation advertises "Company Fishing Parties," "Family Fishing Parties" and "Church Youth Group Outings." For these events, they have a waterfront-access brick and cedar "Hospitality Room" and a 30 foot by 40 foot day-use building that includes a kitchen area equipped with a stove, refrigerator and microwave. Weather permitting, an outside area is dedicated to social exchange, barbecue and dining. This operation requires a $50 to $100 per hour cleaning deposit depending on the size of the group and the complexity of the function. Some functions, for example, weddings, may require additional supervision and logistical support, extra electrical services, parking, portable toilets and similar considerations.

Additional amenities impose additional maintenance and labor considerations: fishing tackle, boats and motors, guide services, casting instruction (for example, fly-fishing clinics), meals or lodging. Some other aspects of client management are simple common-sense considerations like maintaining neat, clean water side areas, grounds and restroom facilities. Again, the operator is marketing a pleasant outdoor experience, not an excursion to the local litter-filled quarry. Some operators take a page from fishing tournaments and outdoor events where prizes are awarded. Especially popular with children and groups, these promotions involve fin-tagging some fish. Individuals catching a tagged fish can claim a prize (usually a $10 to $25 cash prize, gift certificate, fishing equipment or similar gift item).

There are many examples of successful fee-fishing operations on the Internet, and a quick survey of these should help an operator price their fish. For example, one operation prices trout at $0.50 for 6- to 7-inch fish on their most public ponds but prices 12- to 24-inch (6-pound) fish from a secluded pond starting at $20.

Another operation in Maryland illustrates how one alternative enterprise can stimulate another and perhaps another. This venture involves a family farm that has been a family operation since 1878. The farm has 30 acres in woodlands and over 100 in orchards and raspberries. The traditional agricultural operation involved peaches, apples and raspberries. It now includes a very successful fee-fishing operation for trout that centers on two catch-and-release, fee-fishing ponds. To augment revenue from the fee-fishing venture, the operators also rent fishing rods and sell bait, sodas, candy bars and other prepackaged foods.

The operation went on to initiate tent camping and evening-activity options for groups interested in fishing all evening or having a campfire or similar evening activity. These options seemed to increase the interest and activity of certain user groups, including senior citizen, YMCA, church, and special-education organizations and programs. In turn, they led to an option to provide prepared barbeque lunches and dinners. A farm-based craft business, previously unrelated to the fishing venture, began to see increasing activity due to the groups drawn to the pond operation and expanding range of activities associated with it. This led to an expansion of that business into another craft product line that has proven quite successful. As a result, the success of the craft product led to creation of a Web site for marketing the products, which in turn created an opportunity for a web presence for the fishing operation. Both operations then stimulated media interest and generated press coverage for the overall operation in craft and farm magazines, and in the local print media.

In another operation, the interest in fee fishing began by necessity when crop income was lost due to unusually cold weather. The owner/operators surveyed ways to make any farm resource create or bring in additional income. A one-acre pond created in the 1950s and fed year-round by a 55° spring was perfect for trout, so a fee-fishing enterprise seemed feasible.

The owners transitioned into the operation by doing their own production research, which consisted of reading magazines and research reports, and talking to other aquaculture entrepreneurs. They also received a lot of technical assistance from the University of Maryland's Alternative Enterprise Program. These operators decided to raise catfish, trout and bass, and later added bluegills and crappies. As the business grew, they expanded with another half-acre pond and an open-air market and enclosed roadside stand. These additions supported the original in-season fruit, berry and vegetable business. Additionally, other products including soda and prepackaged snacks, eggs, milk, baked goods and farm-produced craft items are now marketed to on-farm fishing clients and passersby. The roadside stand is the initial contact point for meeting clients, and the location for equipment rental and selling bait.

This business never had a formal business plan. Ideas were discussed over breakfast, then tested and implemented. All financing was internal from existing farm income sources. This informal plan required small incremental expansion steps so if something went wrong, the financial cost could be absorbed without jeopardizing other farm operations. Most of the marketing for the business has been word-of-mouth with only some limited print advertising in the local paper. Recently a brochure was developed and produced for placement in nearby interstate highway visitor centers. With respect to the sophistication of their marketing effort, one of the owners remarked, "Taking pictures of people fishing and sending them to the newspaper is the best free advertisement. Local newspapers are always looking for stories about people."

The Pond as Educational Resource

It is not a great idea to mix clients exploring the pond with clients trying to catch fish. However, if the schedule or logistics permit, development of an outdoor education activity packet for children or school groups can be another activity center for the enterprise. This activity can be a wet, muddy one but incredible fun for all involved. In this activity, agritourism becomes nature tourism.

Ponds are amazing ecosystems full of plants and animals that live in or near the water. Printed resource material is a great asset. Handouts in the form of "Did you know?" briefing packets or observation checklists or set up as a game for children can be great engagement tools. A checklist or activity card that lists common birds, turtles, frogs and plants are fun for children; however, remember that this is an educational activity that develops their observational skills as well as their understanding of the environment. Be sure to include something about each creature or its relationship to the pond that you want the child to recognize. For example, the mud around a pond often reveals the tracks of many animals that either live within or visit the pond. All of these animals need the water, but perhaps for different reasons. Some, like deer, come to drink the water. Others, like birds and turtles, are here to hunt for food or find sheltered nesting sites. A "matching" game card that shows the track, picture of the animal and its role in the pond ecosystem could be a fun teaching tool. Another that begins to describe what biologists call "trophic relationships" (who eats who and who lives where) could be a similar matching game that describes the ecological dynamics of the pond. This could be plankton to insect nymph to little fish, crayfish or tadpole; little fish, nymph or tadpole to fish; fish or crayfish to bird (kingfisher or egret) or mammal (raccoon). Do not be afraid to introduce some adult terminology like "trophic relationship." Even small children who see the example and use their net and strainer to catch a pan full of wriggly little monsters can easily grasp what some adults may consider an overly complex concept.

Children and many adults investigating pond life will find fascinating creatures. For example, all of the aquatic insects have adaptations and unique structures for breathing and filter feeding or catching prey. These organisms are a great source of information on physiology and behavior. Snails are readily available; examine the shell and foot. By using slime from the foot, snails can move all over the pond. To breathe, pond snails rise to the water surface and pull oxygen into a special sac. Many kinds of frogs lay their eggs in ponds and the eggs hatch into tadpoles. As tadpoles grow, they eat algae and decomposing plant material. Crayfish hide around rocks and sand during the day and are most active at night. (Like the raccoon, this is a great example of a nocturnal animal.) Crayfish nibble on plants and eat some animals they find. Like many aquatic insects and fish, they have very good camouflage and can be tricky to spot in the water. Water bugs include water boatmen and backswimmers. They are fun to watch swimming, but children need to be cautioned. These insects have piercing mouthparts for injecting digestive juices into their prey and then sucking the digested material from the prey, like using a straw to drink a milkshake. If carelessly handled, these creatures can inflict a harmless but very painful bite. Water striders look like skating spiders but are insects that stay above the water by exploiting the surface tension of the liquid with specially adapted feet. Giant water bugs can be 1 to 2 inches long. Late in the summer you can find some with eggs glued to their backs. Various snakes live around ponds; most are specialized for particular prey. These are just a few examples of the numerous creatures that children can examine.

Consider a pre-arranged "Guide Kit" that is ready to go for these sorts of groups. The kit would include what the adult leader needs (wading shoes or mud boots, field guides and other printed resources, scoops and dip nets) and things for use by individual or small groups of children (buckets, pans or handout materials). Shallow storage tubs, buckets or dishpans are better for viewing the small swimming and crawling creatures if they are white or light colored. Plastic bags and rubber bands to make temporary "viewing cells" for passing around or for watching the little critters could also be included. Disposable white plastic spoons are helpful to move the animals around without having to touch them. Bait shops, sporting goods stores and pet supply centers often sell fine-mesh nets, fish food and similar supplies. Several large magnifying glasses are essential for seeing the tiny legs, tails, gills and other specialized parts used by these little water animals.

Legal Considerations for Farm Pond Fishing

State licensing requirements vary a great deal. In some states all fishing regulations may apply. In others size or fish count may not, but in order to legally transport, the client may have to show a note from the landowner or a state-issued transport tag. The state of New York is a typical case. The following paragraphs are taken almost word-for-word from a New York Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) Web site:

Prior to stocking fish in your pond, the landowner must obtain a "Farm Pond Fish License" from the New York DEC. This license allows the licensee, his immediate family, and his employees to take fish at any time, in any size, in any number, and in any manner as stipulated in his license. The farm fish pond license also serves as a stocking permit, eliminating the need to obtain a separate DEC stocking permit (not present in most states). The stocking permit usually is required to stock fish into any New York waters. The Farm Fish Pond License is free and is good for five years. You can obtain an application for the license from a DEC Regional Office.

From this point on, the pond owners should be aware that the laws governing fishing require all persons 16 years of age and older to have a valid state fishing license except citizen-resident landowners and lessees or members of their immediate families actually occupying and cultivating farm lands when fishing on such lands. This means that guests or friends of the pond owner must have a license to fish the pond even though it is privately owned. Laws pertaining to seasons, size limits, and daily take also apply to the owners of private fish ponds; however, they are negated if a farm fish pond is licensed by a Farm Pond Fish License.

This may be just the beginning for the pond owner, particularly if the operator is interested in branching out into other aquaculture or hospitality areas. In this example, DEC has separate licensing and permit requirements for bait-fish production, commercial fishing (harvest of particular species with nets or other devices), farm fish pond permit (for fish "cultivation"), fishing preserve (for man-made ponds that are "wholly contained" on the property of the applicant), hatchery permit (for rearing and propagation of certain species). Triploid grass carp, lake sturgeon and piranhas all have their own highly restrictive licensing. Any enterprise that includes lodging, preparation and sale of food, and many other activities requires inspection and licensing. Again, these requirements differ from state to state.

Pond owners may also be responsible for the well-being of habitats downstream of their property. For example, if an excessive rotenone treatment is applied during a pond renovation and it causes a fish kill downstream, the owner is liable for replacement costs associated with the cleanup. Determining if threatened or endangered species live in your area is extremely important. Warm water (or no water) released from a pond could, in extreme circumstances, endanger a sensitive aquatic animal. If a pond-related stream is in a watershed known to support the spawning of anadromous fish (shad, herring), the owner may be required to take particular precautions with respect to fish passage and pond-fish segregation.

Developed May 2007 and reviewed July 2014.