What Happens to My Fish in the Winter?

Probably the number one question a prospective pond owner will ask is “what happens to to my fish in the winter? The quick answer is “not much”, but there is a little more to it than that. Truth is they really just slow down, some will say they hibernate, others will say that they go dormant, but it is more of a torpid state. Their body temperature is regulated by their surroundings, so as temperatures drop, so does their activity. On the coldest of days you will see them sitting on the bottom of the pond with their fins tucked in. If they could talk they would simply say they are waiting on spring.

“Should I do anything for my fish?”,absolutely, but it’s probably not what you are thinking. Your fish are tough and can handle the elements on their own very well. But they do need you to help out in a minimal way.

Feeding FishFirst thing is to feed them a good quality high fiber fall/spring fish food. Your fish do not handle food the way we do. They continually graze and eat to fill the pipeline. When temperatures drop, that food is stuck there to decay and cause issues in your fish. They can not empty their digestive tract after temperatures have dropped. Feeding should be stopped when water temperatures reach 55 degrees. Keep an eye on the weather, quit feeding at the 60 degree mark to be safe. If you live areas of the country that get big swings in temperature as fall approches, use your best judgement erroring on the side of caution.

Next thing to consider is your fish really need is consistency. They can handle the lower temps but they really need it to be consistent. Make sure your pond is at the very least 2 feet deep. This will give them a safe zone to be in for the winter. The warmest water is the deepest and should not be disturbed. If you have a waterfall make sure that where it enters the pond is somewhat shallow. If the waterfall drops into the deepest section of the pond it will “mix” cooler water into the “safe” zone your fish are living in. Leaving your waterfall running in winter is fine to do as long as that cooler water is being pulled from the surface zone (using a pond skimmer) and being returned to the surface zone. Big temperature swings in your pond will stress your fish and lead to health issues.

Hole In IceLastly, is to make sure there is an open hole in the surface of the pond. If you live in the colder climates, your ponds surface may freeze over completely. Even though our finned friends are not breathing as much as they normally do, they are still breathing. If the surface is completely covered in ice, harmful gasses can not escape and the pond can not re oxygenate as it normally does. Use a small pump or and air system to keep a hole open in the ice. Place the small pump on the upper shelf of the pond pointed to the surface. It should “bubble” above the surface. If you elect to use an air system (preferred), Place the air stones on the upper shelf of the pond. Both ways will help in keeping a hole in the ice. But do not put either the airstone or pump down in the safe zone. That would mix the warm water your fish are enjoying with the rest of the pond, thus leading to health issues.

If you follow these simple ideas this winter your fish will do great and be ready for spring. As mentioned before, no feeding at 55 degrees and below. As spring starts to show, be sure temperatures are consistent before you start feeding again.

Enjoy your pond this winter!


About the Author:
Sean is the Regional Sales Manager for the Southeast for Atlantic Water Gardens. Fish Geek and water feature enthusiast, Sean has managed one of the largest aquarium stores in the Southeast while running his own pond maintenance company.SEAN BELL

Sean is the Regional Sales Manager for the Southeast for Atlantic Water Gardens. Fish Geek and water feature enthusiast, Sean has managed one of the largest aquarium stores in the Southeast while running his own pond maintenance company. When it comes to water features, Sean is your guy!

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