The days when ponds were simply watering holes in the pasture have changed. While still critical to livestock producers, ponds have now also become a centerpiece in the landscape and lifestyle of a generation of rural homeowners. Whether for aesthetics, family recreation or fantastic fishing, ponds are both a good investment and a lasting legacy.

Bob Lusk has led the way in fashioning a new industry that has sprung up around managing the  roughly six million private waters that have sprung up across the U.S.. “Thirty years ago the only management practice was to spray a herbicide on the runaway vegetation that threatened many ponds and hope the fish were growing, but today’s landowners dream of much more, and they  can have it if their pond is properly designed and managed,” says Lusk, a lake management consultant and editor of Pond Boss magazine (

There are eight ponds on the 12-acre homestead near Whitesboro, Texas, that Lusk shares with wife Debbie. One just off their home’s stone patio is primarily designed for swimming and as a quiet place to read a good book. Nearby, a 1/2-acre ‘meat’ pond is pumped full and equipped with a fish feeder to support a heavy population of catfish that end up as fillets in the freezer. It also provides an easy ‘first catch’ for young visitors. Two ponds—which can be double-cropped—­serve as hatcheries and others are used for research and experimentation.

“Each pond is different and that’s part of the fun­—trying to get your body of water to match your vision and expectations. In today’s world ponds are built with a purpose,” says Lusk

Lusk has traveled the country helping people design, build, stock and manage private lakes and ponds for livestock watering, irrigation, swimming, fishing and aesthetic appeal. “Actual pond design is largely based on the site and what’s needed to impound water and release the excess in an orderly fashion,” says Lusk.”Then, you can sculpt the inside of the pond to match the purpose.”

This backyard swimming pond is one of the eight ponds Bob and Debbie Lusk manage on their Whitesboro, Texas, homestead.

Fishing ponds. “We get the most requests for  fishing ponds, ” says Lusk, also a fisheries biologist. “You need different habitat designs for different sizes and species of fish and you not only need to provide habitat your favorite game fish favors, but also what the species that is their food supply needs.”

This approach to providing diverse habitat is shown in the pond at left (also detailed in the sketch above) that Lusk designed for neighbor Jim Swanson. “Pick-up sized areas of pea gravel near the shoreline provide spawning beds and these are  near shallow areas where native aquatic plants can flourish. This vegetation grows in water less than three feet deep and provides protection for newly hatched fish. Crevices in the rip-rap that protects the shoreline also provides safe habitat,” says Lusk.

The meandering outline of the pond provides more shoreline as well as aesthetic appeal and the peninsula is an ideal site for family gatherings. Piles of cedar trees and brush are scattered in deeper water to provide habitat for larger fish. “Most people know you need this structure, but often only put it in one small area. I want some sort of habitat covering at least 25% of the floor of the lake,” says Lusk.

Three fishing docks—equipped with feeders—are spaced on one shoreline. “One feeder is used for every three to four acres of water. Feeding fish speeds their development, but ideally you only want to use it to supplement the natural food supply.”

While Bob Lusk’s passion is designing and managing fishing ponds across the country, he also enjoys time spent at home with children and grandchildren who come to enjoy the water.

Most of the lake is dug at the standard 3/1 slope that minimizes erosive wave action. However, two 12-foot wide ‘flats’ at 4 and 8-foot depths were built into the right shoreline. Trees removed from the basin of the pond were installed in 12 to 15 feet of water off the deeper ledge to provide ‘loafing’ areas for fish within casting range of the fishing docks. “We dug the 30-foot tall oak and elm trees out with a back hoe, stockpiled them and then placed them at a 45 degree angle pointing towards deeper water. The branches hold up well underwater and give large bass a place to hang out while moving up and down as the temperature changes,” says Lusk.

Swimming ponds. A pond just off the Lusk’s stone patio is designed for safe family fun — the  bottom is a smooth bowl except for underwater fish habitat installed at one end. “There are steps along the shoreline by the patio to get in and out of the water and a 12-foot-wide flat area four feet deep for safe wading. The water is 12 feet deep off the dock for diving,” says Lusk.

The maximum depth of the swimming pond is about 20 feet. “The optimum depth for a pond depends on the rainfall and evaporation rate in the area. A depth of 15 to 18 feet seems about right for most situations, but you certainly don’t want a pond to dry up and destroy the life cycle.”

“A pond needs to be sized to its watershed, not leak, and have a supply of clean water. Then, you  add habitat, aeration, the right fish and a harvesting plan until the pond meets its purpose,” says Lusk. 

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