Denis Peirce: Creating your own backyard bite |

Denis Peirce: Creating your own backyard bite

Fishing, like any other pursuit, can be enjoyed on many levels from casual to intense. 

Tom Moreno of Penn Valley has taken fishing in a direction many of us would only dream of. He has created his own fishing hole.

The story goes back to the late 1970s when Tom and his wife, Andrea, moved to their 5-acre site. Their neighboring parcel, which had a pond, came up for sale in 1992. They purchased the parcel and decided to enlarge the existing 1-acre pond to 2.5 acres. There is a lot more to establishing a thriving pond than just digging a hole and adding water plus fish.

Tom spent a lot of time researching what fish species were appropriate for the area, how to balance the populations of various species and what these fish needed for structure.

He consulted UC Davis biologists, pro bass fishermen and local pond specialist Keith Crabtree, formally with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. Another important resource has been an online pond management blog that has active members from all over the country willing to help solve problems and relate what has worked for them.

Tom’s original plan was to manage the pond primarily as a bass fishery that would be supported by bluegill and catfish for balance. In a search for another forage fish for the bass, shad were considered until it was determined that they compete directly with bluegill. The best available forage species turned out to be mosquito fish.

To maximize the bass population in a body of water, you have to factor in the territorial nature of the species. Each bass will want to dominate approximately 10 square feet of bottom. If the pond has just a smooth featureless bottom, the territory of each bass is not defined and they spend all of their time chasing each other around. 

The solution, in part, was to dig a grid pattern of trenches in the bottom forming a checkerboard of rectangular plateaus. Each plateau would provide territory for four largemouth bass, one at each corner.  Other features that were designed prior to the excavating stage were shallow benches for spawning and extra deep areas to provide cool water in the summer and relative warmth in the winter.

Ponds that are dug, planted and ignored can hold about 100 pounds of fish per acre. Active pond management can increase the total to 500 pounds or more. Tom found that sterile well water that he started with does not support the food chain that nutrient-rich NID water can. Another of the limiting factors can be dissolved oxygen in the water for the fish to breath. As water warms it holds less and less oxygen. This can lead to fish kills. 

Tom’s solution was to install an aerator, similar to a home fish tank, but upscaled for a 2.5 acre aquarium.

Another factor is a food source. Tom supplements the food chain to maximize his fish numbers and size. He has an automatic fish feeding system on a timer. When guests come over, Tom enjoys putting some food out to demonstrate how many fish are below the surface that you cannot see.

This past fall, Tom started his most recent pond experiment, the introduction of rainbow trout. Trout need cold water to make it through the summer heat in Penn Valley. Tom’s solution was to use well water pumped by his windmill to cool the pond. The cool water is piped to the bottom of the pond. If it had been put in at the surface it would be warmed by the surface layer.  We will find out this August if his plan has worked.

Not all of the ideas have succeeded. Tom has tried to establish a crawdad population. He has put in 2,000 crawdads in four different years for a total of 8,000, in an attempt to kickstart a self-sustaining population.  He used a crawdad trap to monitor the progress. At most, they lasted only two months before the fish had eaten them all.

Currently, the biggest fish in the pond is a 40-pound catfish. The bass record stands at 6 pounds and the best trout weighed in at 3 pounds. 

Tom and Andrea are now allowing catch-and-release fishing on their pond for a per day rod fee. Their goal is to cover the property taxes, fish food and NID water. They also have the house on the adjoining lot available as a vacation rental.  For more information, call Tom at 432-0555.

Denis Peirce writes a weekly fishing column for The Union and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via e-mail at

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