My husband and I have a fish pond in our front yard, this got me to thinking about fish ponds in the 19th century. There are 13th century fish ponds in Hawaii but those are far older than what our 19th century ancestors would have used. Below is a description about putting in a fish pond taken from The Complete Angler:©1875
Doctor Lebault, the learned Frenchman, in his large discourse of Maison Rustique, gives this direction for
Of Fish-ponds. making of fish-ponds. I shall refer you to him, to read it at large : but I think I shall contract it, and yet make it
He adviseth, that when you have drained the ground, and made the earth firm where the head of the pond must be, that you must then, in that place, drive in two or three rows of oak or elm piles, which should be scorched in the fire, or half burnt, before they be driven into the earth ; for being thus used, it preserves them much longer from rotting. And having done so, lay fagots or bavins of smaller wood betwixt them : and then earth betwixt and above them : and then, having first very well rammed them and the earth, use another pile in like manner as the first were : and note, that the second pile is to be of or about the height that you intend to make your sluice or floodgate, or the vent that you intend shall convey the overflowings of your pond in any flood that shall endanger the breaking of your pond-dam.
Then he advises, that you plant willows or owlers, about it, or both : and then cast in bavins, in some places not far from the side, and in the most sandy places, for fish both to spawn upon, and to defend them and the young fry from the many fish, and also from vermin, that lie at watch to destroy them, especially the spawn of the Carp and Tench, when 'tis left to the mercy of ducks or vermin.
He, and Dubravius, and all others advise that you make choice of such a place for your pond, that it may be refreshed with a little rill, or with rain water, running or falling into it; by which fish are more inclined both to breed, and are also refreshed and fed the better, and do prove to be of a much sweeter and more pleasant taste.
To which end it is observed, that such pools as be large and have most gravel, and shallows where fish may sport themselves, do afford fish of the purest taste. And note, that in all pools it is best for fish to have some retiring-place; as, namely, hollow banks, or shelves, or roots of trees, to keep them from danger, and, when they think fit, from the extreme heat of summer; as also from the extremity of cold in winter. And note, that if many trees be growing about your pond, the leaves thereof falling into the water, make it nauseous to the fish, and the fish to be so to the eater of it.
'Tis noted, that the Tench and Eel love mud : and the Carp loves gravelly ground, and in the hot months to feed on grass. You are to cleanse your pond, if you intend either profit or pleasure, once every three or four years, especially some ponds, and then let it lie dry six or twelve months, both to kill the waterweeds, as water-lilies, candocks, reate, and bulrushes, that breed there; and also that, as these die for want of water, so grass may grow in the pond's bottom, which Carps will eat greedily in all the hot months, if the pond be clean. The letting your pond dry, and sowing oats in the bottom is also good, for the fish feed the faster; and being sometimes let dry, you may observe what kind of fish either increases or thrives best in that water; for they differ much, both in their breeding and feeding.
Lebault also advises, that if your ponds be not very large and roomy, that you often feed your fish by throwing into them chippings of bread, curds, grains, or the entrails of chickens or of any fowl or beast that you kill to feed yourselves; for these afford fish a great relief. He says that frogs and ducks do much harm, and devour both the spawn and the young fry of all fish, especially of the Carp ; and I have, besides experience, many testimonies of it. But Lebault allows water-frogs to be good meat, especially in some months, if they be fat : but you are to note that he is a Frenchman ; and we English will hardly believe him, though we know frogs are usually eaten in his country : however he advises to destroy them and kingfishers out of your ponds. And he advises not to suffer much shooting at wildfowl; for that, he says, affrightens, and harms, and destroys the fish.
Note, that Carps and Tench thrive and breed best when no other fish is put with them into the same pond ; for all other fish devour their spawn, or at least the greatest part of it. And note, that clods of grass thrown into any pond feed any Carps in summer ; and that garden-earth and parsley thrown into a pond recovers and refreshes the sick fish. And note, that when you store your pond, you are to put into it two or three melters for one spawner, if you put them into a breeding-pond ; but if into a nurse-pond, or feeding-pond, in which they will not breed, then no care is to be taken whether there be most male or female Carps.
It is observed that the best ponds to breed Carps are those that be stony or sandy, and are warm, and free from wind; and that are not deep, but have willow-trees and grass on their sides, over which the water does sometimes flow : and note, that Carps do more usually breed in marl-pits, or pits that have clean clay bottoms ; or in new ponds, or ponds that lie dry a winter season, than in old ponds that be full of mud and weeds.*