Common Pond Fishes

Common Pond Fishes

Many fish species can be found in Kansas ponds, but only a few lend themselves to effective management for sport fishing purposes. The most common species stocked in ponds are the largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish. Other species that can be used for specific management objectives include fathead minnows, crappie, black bullhead, redear sunfish, and gizzard shad. Green sunfish and carp are also often found in ponds. A brief description of these species’ life histories and some information on additional species follows.

Largemouth Bass

The largemouth bass is a large predatory fish that belongs to the sunfish family. It is one of three kinds of black bass found in Kansas, the others being the smallmouth and spotted or Kentucky bass. The largemouth is greenish colored on the back with a white belly and a dark band along its side. Its mouth is large with the upper jaw extending beyond the eye when the mouth is closed. This feature and coloration set the largemouth apart from the other two basses. This fish will eat anything it can get into its mouth. Common food items include insects, crayfish, frogs, and small fish. In the southern United States, largemouth bass commonly attain weights of over 10 pounds, but anything over 7 pounds is considered a trophy in Kansas. Largemouth will spawn after reaching a size of about 10 inches. This usually corresponds to an age of one or two years. Spawning occurs during spring when water temperatures reach 60-70°F. The male makes a large saucer-shaped nest on the bottom in shallow water by fanning an area free of debris with his tail. The female deposits eggs in the nest, and the male fertilizes them. The male protects the eggs as best he can from predation and maintains good water quality by fanning with his tail. If the male bass is removed, the eggs will die. He guards the eggs until they hatch and the young are large enough to swim and find food. This takes about 1-2 weeks.


The bluegill is a deep-bodied sunfish with a small mouth. With an increase in size, the fish changes from a silver lavender color to greenish brown, with an orange or yellow breast. All sizes of bluegills possess a blue-black gill cover flap. Bluegills feed primarily on insects. Bluegills typically mature at a length of 3-5 inches. They should reach a length of 6-8 inches, but larger fish can be produced if properly managed. Fingerling bluegills stocked in the fall will spawn the next summer. Bluegills spawn from May to the beginning of September with a peak in June. The male makes a saucer-shaped nest on the bottom in shallow water like the bass and guards the eggs and young. The bluegill’s ability to spawn so prolifically makes it a good food fish for bass.

Channel Catfish

The channel catfish is a native stream fish with a deeply forked tail, gray back, white belly, and 8 barbels around the mouth. Young fish have some black spots, but these are lost with maturity. The channel catfish’s diet consists mainly of invertebrates and small fish. Channels grow rapidly if enough food is available and often exceed 5 pounds. They spawn in early summer when the water temperature reaches 70-75°F. The male makes a nest in a hole in the bank, under a log, or next to any material that will provide protection for the young. The male also guards the eggs and young fish. Male channel catfish develop a bluish color, which often causes them to be misidentified as blue catfish. The anal fin of a blue catfish has 30 or more rays while channel catfish have 24-29 rays.

Fathead Minnow

The fathead minnow is a common baitfish and is also stocked in ponds to accelerate initial bass growth rates. It is a dull silvery color and reaches a length of 2-3 inches. Fatheads feed on small invertebrates and plant material and are hardy and prolific spawners. Spawning occurs all summer. Eggs are deposited on rocks or other objects.

Gizzard Shad

The gizzard shad is a member of the herring family. It is silvery colored and has a sharp, saw-like ridge on its belly. It is the primary food for large predatory fishes in large reservoirs. It feeds on microscopic plants and animals and can produce high numbers of young. Shad spawn from spring to summer by randomly scattering eggs in shallow water.


There are two kinds of crappie, the black and the white. The black crappie prefers clear water and has seven to eight dorsal spines and black spots scattered randomly over its body. The white crappie is slimmer than the black, has five or six dorsal spines, and its spots tend to form vertical bars on it sides. In turbid water, white crappie usually predominate. Both kinds feed on invertebrates and small fish. Their reproduction is similar to that of the bass and bluegill. The minimum length at maturity is 6-7 inches. They tend to overpopulate if there is not enough predation on the young. In combination with larger numbers of bass, they grow rapidly and often reach lengths of 10-12 inches.

Green Sunfish

The green sunfish is often incorrectly called a perch. It is a member of the sunfish family along with the black basses, bluegill, and crappie. It is greenish in color and has a mediumsized mouth. It feeds on a variety of small animals and seldom grows over 6-7 inches in length. Green sunfish are common in small streams and often get into ponds by swimming over spillways. They can be a nuisance in a pond if bass are not abundant. Green sunfish reproduction is similar to that of bass and bluegill.

Redear Sunfish

The redear or “shellcracker” sunfish is a native of the southern United States. It has been stocked in place of or in combination with bluegills because it grows larger than the bluegill and does not have a high reproductive potential. Redear do not typically overpopulate like other sunfish and, in fact, do not provide enough prey for largemouth bass. Use of redear as only a sport fish in combination with largemouth bass works well as long as bluegills are also present to serve as the primary prey. A mixed stocking of two-thirds bluegills and one-third redear can add variety to a pond. Redear feed primarily on bottom organisms, particularly snails, and require clear, deep water with abundant aquatic vegetation. Their commercial availability in Kansas is limited.

Hybrid Sunfish

The three sunfishes previously described, along with some others, have all been hybridized with each other in an effort to produce offspring that do not overpopulate, grow larger than either species, and are easy to catch. Hybrid sunfish fill these requirements, but parental species (consisting of only males of one species and only females of the other) need to be stocked about every 4-5 years to maintain hybrid population numbers. Hybrid sunfish also provide too little prey to support desirable largemouth bass populations.

Black Bullhead

This bullhead is a common catfish of small sluggish streams. Its back is gray or black, and its belly is yellow or white. The tail is not forked but slightly indented. It feeds on a variety of small animals and seldom gets over 15 inches long. Bullheads often gain access to a pond by swimming over the spillway. This species quickly becomes overpopulated if the pond is muddy or low on bass numbers. Reproduction is similar to that of the channel catfish. After hatching, young bullheads will travel in a compact school accompanied by one or more adults.


The carp is a large member of the minnow family. It feeds on bottom organisms and tends to stir up the mud and is thus undesirable in ponds if sight-feeding fish are desired. Carp usually get into ponds when they are seined from creeks for bait and released or lost in the impoundment. A well-established bass population will control this species, but overpopulation problems can result if the pond is already muddy or few bass are present.

Other Species

Northern pike, walleye, flathead catfish, and trout are desired by some pond owners. While they do not cause problems in ponds, they are not particularly well suited to the pond environment. They do not reproduce adequately in ponds to maintain their own numbers; they are costly to stock, difficult to obtain, and a pond cannot support many of them. Northern pike and walleye may be part of the stocking combination in large watershed structures as long as the owner realizes that he will probably need to supplementally stock them every few years to maintain them in his impoundment. Walleye should not be stocked where bluegills are the only prey fish. Gizzard shad should be present if walleye are desired. The flathead catfish is often stocked into ponds as a trophy or predator fish. While the flathead eats primarily fish, it will not control bluegills as well as a properly managed largemouth bass population. Flatheads should therefore not be stocked in place of bass. Few Kansas ponds are capable of supporting trout yearround. Trout require water temperatures below 70°F along with a high oxygen content. These conditions do not occur simultaneously in most Kansas ponds during summer months.