Turn a Bog into a Fish Pond

Turn a Bog into a Fish Pond

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  1. When I moved into my new home in Northern California, I was told that the property had an artesian spring that ran through the yard year-round, which was a big selling point for me. Being the trusting type, I moved in without first having a look at this stream and rather than finding a sparkling brook meandering through my yard filled with tiny but delicious trout, I discovered a wide mud bog extending from one end of the sloped yard to the other.

    My first impulse was to find the renter and exchange a few justified angry words with the man, but I abandoned that thought quickly because I had nowhere else to live and the man looked like he could split logs by looking at them tersely. My second inclination was to write a brusque letter to the local housing authority, but I decided against that because I was the new guy in town, the renter was a lifelong resident of the area and he still looked like the kind of man who could down a grizzly bear with a few unkind words. My next impulse was to fall on the ground, kick and scream and throw a full-fledged tantrum, but I thought that might seem unbecoming for a man of thirty. Besides, it would have accomplished nothing other than to make my new neighbors avoid me more than they already did. So, finally, I decided to take care of the problem myself.

    My solution wouldn’t help those living on high-end real estate who wish to build a fancy stone- or cement-lined fishpond, but if you have a natural spring running through your yard that turns into a patch of mud in places and want a more natural look, this might be the plan for you.


     The first thing I did was to go to my local grain & feed store and buy six huge bags of rice hulls. The bags held somewhere between ten and twelve gallons of rice hulls, but were light enough to carry. I placed those in the yard, armed myself with a shovel and heavy rake and set about mixing all of the rice hulls in with the copious quantities of mud (at least the top two to three feet of mud). This was a big, dirty job, backbreaking labor and took me all day to accomplish.

    While mixing the hulls and mud, I created a narrow channel for the water—that did come from an artesian well and ran continuously at barely more than a trickle. Once the mud and rice hulls were thoroughly mixed, the hulls absorbed the water in the mud and, over several days, the mud hardened.


     I wasn’t satisfied with having an insignificant brook running through my yard, so I spent the next several days carving out a series of small fish ponds about five feet away from the temporary channel. I dug each about three to four feet deep, varying in length from a few feet to a dozen, some a couple feet across and others four or five feet wide. Because the yard sloped gradually, I was able to create waterfalls linking the ponds by creating tiers between them, which meant more digging and relocating dirt, fortifying the embankments with stones and using large flat stones at the exit points of the ponds for the water to flow over and cascade into the next pond.


     The most difficult part of the job was to find the right stones, because I needed several to do the job (between seventy and a hundred). I lined the banks of the ponds with these stones as well, to prevent erosion. The last step was to re-divert the temporary channel into the first of the ponds and then fill in the channel. In the end, I had a lovely series of ponds and tiny waterfalls that I spent many hours every week enjoying.

    Initially, I stocked the ponds with goldfish, but because I lived in raccoon and kingfisher territory, they didn’t last long. In the end, I wound up dumping trout I had caught in a nearby lake into the ponds and they thrived. When I created the ponds, I didn’t realize that the mud from which I made them contained millions—perhaps billions—of tiny freshwater shrimplike crustaceans called scuds that the trout just loved. I never had to feed them, but on occasion, I would go to the local pet store and by a hundred “feeder” goldfish for them.


     You see, when you have a dirt-lined pond, trout are virtually invisible (of course, you can increase the visibility of dark-toned fish by lining your ponds with light colored stones, but after rain storms, muddy runoff will obscure the stones and keeping them clean is a hassle; a better solution if you want visible fish is to stock your ponds with coy); but you can track their activity by dumping a bunch of goldfish in with them and then watch the goldfish disappear one at a time, and rather quickly.

    Rather than consider that my behavior in this regard was sadistic, I prefer to think that I was keeping my trout happy. As it was, I never heard a complaint from them.

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