Jan. 15 2015 08:16 AM

One of the unfortunate realities of pond ownership is that there are critters out there that like to dine on one’s fish without the benefit of a chef’s efforts. Most pond owners quickly realize that they now have complete ecosystems in their yard.

There is a food chain, and critters that are part of that chain are going to want to partake of this brand-new free buffet that’s been provided for them, if they can. However, there are several ways to protect a client’s fish, and I will touch on some of them in this article.

The point is, when pond customers want to protect their fish, and almost all of them do, they need experts to consult with, and places to purchase the products they’ll need to do the job. That’s where you should come in. 

Hopefully, this article will give you some suggestions that you’ll find useful. The great thing is, these products and services will not only serve your customers’ legitimate— even dire—needs, but also, you’ll profit from the additional sales. There are three main threat vectors for pond fish: airborne, terres- trially-traveling and water-submersible predators. I’m primarily going to cover the airborne predators in this article. Airborne threats include the number-one ranked fish killer for the small pond owner, the Great Blue Heron.

Along with that predator come the smaller Grey Heron and several other species of heron and owls also will prey on fish, from once egret. Some varieties of hawks and in a while, to constantly.

For example, the Barred Owl almost exclusively lives on aquatic life. Fish, frogs, crayfish, salamanders and more all are on this little guy’s preferred-fare list. Even though Barred Owls are only about the size of a pigeon, they can successfully strike, catch, and remove small fish from up to a foot of water depth.

I bring up the hawks and owls for a reason. Many pond owners will snatch-and-grab, because it happens never see one of these do a fly-by so quickly. In the case of owls, it usually happens in the dark. The only thing I’ve seen that provides pond fish 100- percent protection from these guys is covering 100 percent of their areas with a net.

There are options other than nets, and I’ll touch on some of them; but if you really want to stop airborne predators in their tracks, nets are a sure-fire way to go.

Cosmetics do come into play here. Many people won’t want to compromise the aesthetics of their water features with nets. That’s where the other, less cosmetically intrusive, but more limitedly-successful products should be considered.

There are many different types and styles of nets, made out of a wide variety of materials. One of the cheapest, yet most effective ones I’ve found for small ponds is monofilament bird netting, sold in 14-foot by 14-foot and 5-foot by 100-foot rolls. They traditionally come with one-and-a-half by one-and-a-half-inch mesh.

The fabric of these nets is very thin, so there isn’t a huge visibility issue. They’ll protect the fish, and also help tremendously with leaf drop. However, they’ll do little to nothing to protect against pine needles.

One thing I don’t like about the one-and-a-half-inch mesh, however, is that it can be deadly to harmless snakes and small- to medium-sized lizards. It happens when the netting is taken off the pond and left in a loose wad next to it.

The creatures get caught in the mesh and die a slow death, many times eaten alive by ants. Dispose of or store discarded or not-in-use netting responsibly. Please! The netting won’t catch venomous snakes, as they have a different head configuration.

These nets are delicate, and may only last a year or so. Be prepared for tearing, due to UV decay of the monofilament after just a few months.

Heavier-duty nets are available in various mesh sizes. These nets are a better fit for larger ponds that a 14- foot by 14-foot net won’t cover. I like the one-inch by one-inch mesh on the heavier ones. You can still see the fish reasonably well, and it’ll also do an excellent job of stopping large leaves. It’s a double-plus benefit in exchange for putting up with some loss of aesthetics.

The supplier I use for this style of netting offers the option of ordering nets custom-made to any size and shape I wish. They come with medium-strength rope woven along the perimeters to assist in staking or holding the net tight.

This netting comes with a price tag. However, due to its ability to be tailored to a specific pond, as well as its life expectancy of more than ten years, many clients are willing to pay it. I’ve yet to hear a customer complain about the cost once they have the net on the pond, doing its job.

Another often-overlooked type of netting is what I call “shade tarp.” Its primary purpose is to cool ponds and sitting areas, but it can do double-duty against predators.

You can order shade tarps in varying shade percentages, starting at 45 percent and increasing in ten-percent increments up to 95 percent.

Obviously, the higher the shade percentage, the tighter the mesh. I use the 45-percent shade tarp in many applications, from netting ponds to top-covering arbors or pergolas. It’s very effective in stopping pine needles as well.

The downside to a shade tarp, even a 45-percent one, is that a customer’s fish-viewing pleasure will definitely be heavily compromised if the tarp is stretched just above water level.

On the flip side, shade tarps are even more customizable than the one-inch-by-one-inch netting. These nets come with double-stitched edges and grommets. You can specify how many grommets you want and where they should be placed.

You might think of other options for using shade tarps that I’m only touching on here. As with all net types, you may use a multitude of different methods to secure them. From laying rocks randomly around the edges, to using landscape-fabric stakes, tent stakes or spikes, there is only your imagination to limit how you’ll secure them in place.

You definitely want your netting to be pulled tight. This limits the visibility of the net, and will also keep any debris or leaves from getting water soaked and pulling the net lower and lower, causing additional problems.

There are many other products out there to deter, scare or intimidate airborne predators, such as plastic decoys of heron or owls. These are most effective when moved around daily, or at least periodically, to more realistically mimic the activities of the real thing.

Motion sensors for controlling sprinklers, commonly called “scarecrows,” have worked for some customers, but not others. Made of plastic, they can’t be used in below freezing temperatures. The water itself isn’t the deterrent; it’s the sudden burst of water that startles the animals into leaving the area quickly.

They’ve been used effectively on deer and other grazers of garden foliage. They also almost always hit pond-maintenance people in the face with a cold spritz when a customer forgets to shut them off!

Gazing balls, hanging wind chimes, glittery tinsel hangings, suspended mirrors, and even fireworks are some of the other things people have used to scare away predators. Fishing line run around and over a pond is another commonly-used deterrent. Floating decoy alligators, or just floating decoy alligator heads have been promoted as having some effect, even in climates where alligators aren’t found. Some of these look so realistic they’ll even startle unwanted human visitors to a pond.

I’m sure I’ve missed several other oft-used deterrents in this list. However, I hope I’ve imparted some knowledge of the surest and most successful measures I know of for protecting fish. When all else fails, properly and tastefully applied net ting will work.

I’ve threatened for years to have t- shirts made up, and hand them out to my customers with fish ponds. The t-shirts would say, “My fish will be so happy, once I get it all figured out.” The sad fact is, without the constant death of these creatures, the business of selling pond and aquarium fish wouldn’t be nearly as large as it is.

Fish die in numbers each year that would stagger the imagination of any kitty or puppy lover, if they perished in the same proportions. I’m talking millions and millions of dead fish every year. But a lot of these deaths are preventable, using some of the techniques I’ve mentioned here.

I hope those of you who stuck it out to this point found something of worth in this article. Thank you for your patience, and have a happy and profitable New Year.