Last week, I closed the backyard pond for the season. I always request to have my pond opened as early as possible in the spring and closed as late as possible in the fall. I always dread closing day. I can’t feed the fish during the winter and when the pond freezes over, I can’t even see them. (For those who aren’t familiar, their metabolism slows down significantly in the winter months and there is algae to eat if they need it, coating the rocks in the pond. A floating heater/de-icer keeps a hole in the ice for gases to exchange and a couple of bubbling airstones add oxygen to the water.) Maybe it sounds silly to some, but I worry about them. More so now than ever before.

I’ve had a backyard fish pond for about five years now. After some deaths in the first year, there was a population explosion. It went from around ten purchased fish to around fifty by the next year. I haven’t had to add any fish for the last few years. In fact, I was worried about there being too many fish and what would happen to the condition of my pond when all those babies (fry) matured.

This past spring was different. When the ice started to melt in late winter, I saw no signs of fish movement in the cloudy water, as I had in previous years. As the days passed and my neighbors started to inquire as to whether or not the fish were “awake” yet, I knew something was wrong. I saw no birds or wildlife showing any real interest in the pond during the winter. Perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention. There was no evidence of carnage or destruction, no fish bits or debris lying around. I was perplexed. When I asked my expert, he told me it was probably a mink.

I never gave this much thought before. I was more worried about herons than mink. The kind of wildlife I’m used to seeing in my backyard neither have the interest nor the ability to “fish” in my pond. But, apparently, mink can swim, enough to make my pond worth their while. I would later find out that due to the harsh winter and the fact that I live just a couple of blocks away from the lake, that my pond would be the equivalent of a backyard buffet. My experience was not an uncommon one. I learned at the shop where I purchase my fish and supplies, that many of us pond hobbyists had lost an awful lot of fish last winter. I was heart-broken at what I imagined was the ugly demise of my beautiful fish, most of which were hatched in my pond.

It was suggested to me that “feeder” goldfish were the way to go when re-stocking the pond this year. They are dirt cheap and if anything were to happen to them, maybe it wouldn’t be such a traumatic loss. The problem is, I’ve become attached to them, too. They ate a lot, grew a lot and became very social. They would suck on my fingers, looking for food, when I stuck my hand in the pond, and allowed me to stroke them when they swam by.

I’ve been checking online message boards on and off ever since this happened. If a mink is indeed the evil culprit, it seems I have several options, none of which really help me much right now. I’ve yet to make the phone call regarding the legalities and the resources of humanely trapping wildlife in Toronto. What I read online is confusing. I guess I’m just not “there” yet. I still can’t figure out whether placing animal urine in my backyard, in any form, actually works as a deterrent. I don’t own a large dog that I could let out in the backyard to give them a good scare. I don’t think I have the space nor the means to set up a large holding tank in my basement. I know people who move their fish inside for the winter or store them somewhere else, but I’m told that this can be pretty stressful for them. I have an irregularly-shaped pond, so an appropriate protective cover would not be easy to set up. I’m also not keen on the idea of an electric fence. There are neighbor cats that come calling from time to time. I’ve been so concerned about harsh winters, disease and making sure my winter equipment keeps working, that I never thought I’d be worrying about mink diving into my pond.

For a little while this spring, I’d considered that the dream was over. I’d wanted a backyard pond for many years and building one was a very expensive venture. I thought about having it filled in, but I’m not ready to give up just yet. I would miss the sound of the little waterfall and watching the birds bathe in it. I like these feeder goldfish, but I’d like to buy koi again, someday. I’m going to have to wait and see what happens. I still feel guilty even though I know I’ve done nothing wrong. Being a good pet parent also includes the outdoor fish. I’ve learned it is difficult to try and outsmart mother nature and the wild critters who come into my yard.

I will wait and see what next spring brings and prepare for the worst, but hope for the best, as I always do. One more year, for sure.

Stay warm,