If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you love to fish. And, if you love to fish, there’s an even better chance that you have dreamt of walking out your back door, rod in hand, to cast your line — and your cares — into your very own backyard fishing pond.
But, is it feasible? Is it legal? Can you afford it? Where do you even begin to tackle such a monumental undertaking? Moreover, what if you have a disability that makes fishing trickier than if you didn’t have a physical impairment? From site analysis and preparation to permits and pricing, there is a long list of factors you must consider before you decide to fish or cut bait.
One of the first (and most encouraging) steps you can take in the process of planning a backyard fishing oasis is to read the accounts of other fishing enthusiasts who have taken on the project and completed it. With one online search, you’ll come across success stories from every area of the country, every type of fisherman, and every budget. You’ll likely step away motivated and ready to start digging.
While it’s true that a backyard pond is a home improvement project that is well within reach for many homeowners, it can’t be accomplished with hard work alone. There are plenty of other factors to consider as you determine whether your backyard is right for a fishing pond, starting with these:
- Land – A pond can range in size from less than an acre to 20 acres or more. Of course, the ideal patch of ground will get 5-6 hours of sunlight every day and will have enough room for the pond itself as well as a bank to fish from and some surrounding vegetation. Technically, you can make a pond work on virtually any swath of land you own.
- Soil – When it comes to holding water, clay is the only soil for the job. More porous soil will let water drain. If your soil is lacking, you can have clay hauled in, but it will significantly increase your cost. You can have your soil tested by your local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a division of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
- Water – In addition to filling your pond initially, you’ll need enough of a watershed to fill the pond when it rains. An area of five acres of land per one acre of water is recommended.
- Design – The size, shape, and depth of your pond are essential to keeping fish healthy. Fish need places to rest, feed, travel, and spawn, so you may want to include channels, slopes, and other below-surface features. In cooler climates, they also need to be able to winter over safely, which means a depth at least one foot below the frost point. Nurseries and landscaping companies are great resources for pond design questions.
- Maintenance – Common issues for fish ponds are algae growth and water level management. Keep in mind that bigger ponds self-regulate better than smaller ones. That’s why most experts suggest making your pond as big as possible.
- Safety – A pond is a liability, especially if children or animals are living on the property. In addition to a fence surrounding the property, you’ll likely be required to include a method that will allow anyone who might fall into the pond to get out, like a sloped bank or anchored mat. This is especially important for people with mobility issues.
Due to the safety concerns surrounding bodies of water and potential environmental impact, ponds are highly-regulated by local, state, and federal governments. Your homeowner’s insurance will likely have something to say about the addition of a pond on your property.
- Permits – You should acquire permits during the site selection and construction phase of your project. Depending on the location of your pond and its proximity to public lands, existing bodies of water, or protected areas, you may need to acquire them from local, state, and/or federal government entities.
- Chemical usage – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulate the use of chemicals.
- Fish and wildlife – When stocking your pond, you must follow regulations set by the state, usually the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Some exotic species require permits, and others are prohibited. You will also need to contact the state agency before you take action against predatory species.
- Liability – In addition to taking measures to ensure your human-made body of water is reasonably safe, you are required to plan and control drainage so that runoff containing chemicals or trash does not contaminate other waters.
- Insurance – Artificial ponds are considered “attractive nuisances” that make it more likely for people to enter your property and experience harm. Contact your homeowner’s insurance provider early in the planning process to ensure you’re covered and to see how the addition will impact your insurance rates.
One of the biggest questions you likely have is how much all of this will cost. Installing a standard pond costs between $1,500 and $9,000. Generally speaking, you should budget between $3,000 and $5,000 per acre to build and stock your pond, including permits. Your exact cost will depend on factors like size, terrain, features, fish, and fees.
- Size – Excavation will be your biggest investment, but the price per acre goes down as the pond gets bigger. Budget $3,000 to $5,000 per acre, up to 20 acres. If you’re planning a pond bigger than 20 acres, expect prices to drop to $2,000 per acre.
- Terrain – The per-acre costs above include soil with ample clay content to hold water. If you have to haul in soil, prices can increase to $10,000 per acre.
- Features – Features like varying depths, vegetation, channels, pathways, and sloping banks make it easier for fish to navigate your pond, but they also increase your cost. Paved walkways and fishing piers improve accessibility for people with disabilities if you have the budget.
- Fish – Combined, bass, and baitfish will cost you about $500 per acre. Other types of fish or accompanying wildlife will vary significantly in price.
- Fees – Permit prices will vary depending on where you live, but you’ll typically pay more for permits in protected areas.
- Installation – Whether you hire a pond installation contractor or manage the subcontractors yourself will impact your overall costs as well. Just remember that you can save a lot of money down the road by ensuring the job is done well from the start, so if you choose to do it yourself, do your research.
These costs do not include the ongoing maintenance of the pond, like water replacement, algae management, and fish food.
If you love to fish, and you also happen to have a disability, the good news about a backyard fishing pond is that it eliminates a lot of the challenges that come along with your favorite pastime. There’s no traveling to the water, no hauling your gear across town, and no limits to when or how often you can head out for a quick cast.
The even better news is that there is nothing you have to do any differently to make your pond accessible. There are, however, a few features you can add for convenience.
- Pathways leading to and around your pond will make it easier for you to navigate the uncertain terrain, especially during wet weather. The cost to install a pathway varies. Pathways should be at least 48 inches wide to accommodate a wheelchair. You can use flat rock or pavers to create a flat, sturdy path that blends naturally with the landscape, or you can hire a professional to pave them.
- Piers will allow you to get closer to the water without wading in or braving a soggy shoreline. Your structure should have a weight limit that will accommodate a wheelchair, and it should be at least 8-feet wide for safety and maneuverability.
- Storage shed: You should always wear a life jacket when in or around the water. For this reason, you should consider keeping this important piece of safety equipment on site. You can install a waterproof lock box or a small storage shed on the property to keep them close at hand. That way, if you forget yours at home, you won’t be tempted to fish without one. As a bonus, you can store the rest of your equipment there to prevent from having to haul it with you each time you want to fish.
Have you thought about bringing your favorite pastime to your property but felt that it was too expensive or too far-fetched, to get your rod and reel ready? With careful planning and preparation — and approximately the same amount of money as a nice bass boat — your dream can hold water.
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