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Aquatic pests: Strategies to combat pond vermin.

by Joe Cadieux on March 06, 2023

Pond Vermin: Aquatic / Semi-Aquatic Nuisances and Proven Strategies on How to Deal with Them


Once upon a time….. You dreamed of constructing a pond.  You’ve gone through the effort and expense of designing and building that pond (or water garden), or maybe you have moved into a new property that has one already installed.  This wonderful resource is supposed to be a worry-free asset for you and your family for years and years and years. By and large, you are correct. Ponds are awesome! They do require a fair amount of maintenance that most new ponders do not anticipate, but they are quite the boon to backyard leisure-time. 


Alas, Mother Nature, being the fickle creature she is, has other plans for you.  


Invariably, you wanted a pond because there are other water resources nearby (e.g. a lake, marsh, river, etc), and you wanted a tiny piece of that joy for your very own.  Well, those established aquatic habitats are home to some flora and fauna that can be a real pain in the tuchas/hind-er/derriere/patoot (and for the kids at home…… 🍑  , or according to my father, where my brain is kept).


These critters and volunteer noxious weeds can ruin your day and create difficult maintenance issues for the life of your pond. The key to keeping your koi pond or large landscape pond beautiful is a little bit of vigilance.  For tips on weed control, please see my article on Common Pond Weeds and tips for Control.


The four- and two-legged visitors to your pond, be it a small backyard koi sanctuary or a 1-acre natural pond, can be a welcome sign of biodiversity and natural beauty.  




The trespassing punks that swing by for a snack or to move in forever sullying your serene haven with their evil, lurking presences and punch-able faces….


When the vile creatures of the land and sky come to violate your pond (or the residents of said pond), it’ll be up to you as stalwart pond protectors to defend our pristine pelagic environs from the piscivore and pescetarian predators of plants and protozoa. This of course precisely means you, the proud pond manager. 


Muskrats (and other tunneling creatures):


Native muskrats, gophers, ground squirrels, and other rodents can have a large impact on your shoreline. Vermin which tunnel through banks and foundering berms which can lead to costly repairs or twisted ankles. Muskrats show up on the landscape to eat the succulent aquatic plants that inhabit your pond. They stick around because they LOVE the tender roots of turf grass. If your lawn approaches the water, know that it will an unavoidable temptation for muskrats and other tunneling rodents.


If you know that these animals are going to be a problem, the simple answers are: 

  • protect your shoreline. 
  • remove the offending critters.


Protecting the shoreline is easy but can be expensive. The best single action a landowner can take to fortify the shoreline is rip rap.  Rip rap is simply stone installed slightly below and above the normal waterline of your pond. This is rarely a cheap and easy project, and it is 100% effective at protecting the landscape from tunneling a-holes..er.. muskrats. Rip rap has other positive benefits as well. Piled stones are great habitat for an assortment of beneficial aquatic species, and it looks nice as well. 




Option 2 when attempting to deny the shoreline to our subterranean denizens is fencing.  Cheaper than a stone rip rap, simply lie a 4-6ft fence on the shoreline where half of the fence is below the water line and the other half is covering 2-3ft above the waterline.  Lay it down flat and use stones/bricks or landscape staples to keep the fencing in contact with the soil.  Grass and other aquatic plants will grow right through the fence, and within a month or so it will be completely concealed from view. 


2in steel fence is what I use, but chicken wire will work as well. Fencing is not easy to install this way, it will not want to lie flat and stick down. Have plenty of temporary weights, rocks, and ground staples handy to help keep it in place.  The fencing will not want to follow the natural contours of your shoreline.  The time spent installing this barrier will protect your shoreline for years. I use 4ft or 6ft tal  – 12 gauge wire fence.  It is strong, narrow gapped, and will stick around under the turf for many years of solid protection. 


The third option for control is trapping the critters either lethally or in a box trap.  Box traps are mostly ineffective as muskrats will rarely enter a trap of that style. Yes,  there are accounts of successfully using box traps to capture muskrats alive; I just haven’t had a lot of success doing so.


Body traps and colony traps.  This strategy is easy and effective but lethal (unless the colony trap is above water) to the animals in question.  Simply place these traps at the entrances to the warrens (tunnels) or along underwater runs/trails that are actively being used and wait. Be sure to stake them down so you don’t lose your traps. Removing enough individuals from the resource can mitigate damage to shorelines. This will be an ongoing process, as new trespassers will appear on your landscape. The grip traps are also effective against mink and weasels.  There are other traps on the market that may work just as well. However, these styles are the easiest for me to deploy and are pretty effective at nabbing the fury invaders. 



Colony trap with one-way door             Grip/Grab Trap with bait holder



The tips and tricks, hard won by years of being cold and wet (SOOOO wet), are difficult to relay in a forum such as this. I hope this gives you ideas to help you defend your pond.  


Confucius says “Hard work in preparation pays dividends in future work not needed.”(Or something to that effect…perhaps)


Please comment on the article here or reach out with strategies that have worked for you. Check back soon for more fun from the water’s edge. 




 📷: http://houzz.com/photos/8998234/shoreline-rip-rap-traditional-landscape-minneapolis | https://gulfsidedocks.com/rip-rap/ | https://www.australianretainingwalls.com.au/projects/rock-retaining-walls/ | https://www.livetrap.com/index.php?dispatch=products.view&product_id=29878 | https://www.wildlifecontrolsupplies.com/animal/WCSBCM.html