Thursday, July 23, 2009
Growing big bass in little ponds
By Dr. Wes Neal
Largemouth bass are one of the most popular sport fish in Mississippi, and many anglers chase these beasts on Magnolia State’s medium to large reservoirs every day. However, little waters (one acre and larger) can produce trophy bass consistently with a little help from the pond owner.
Growing big bass consistently requires careful management. It is critical to follow water quality, fertilization, aquatic weed control, and fish management programs recommended by MSU Extension. The secret to big bass is through their stomach! A lightly managed bass and bream pond occasionally can produce a big bass, but you can increase your success by increasing food available to each bass. This can be accomplished in three steps:
Increase prey production by managing water chemistry and fertility.
Add new prey species or supplement prey.
Manage bass size structure and abundance through removal of small bass.
Prey production can be increased through proper water chemistry and pond fertilization. Check to see if the lake needs agricultural limestone and consider implementing a fertilization program. Trophy bass ponds can benefit from a properly conducted and maintained fertilization program, as fertilizing can double or triple the pounds of fish per acre, which can be manipulated to produce bigger bass.
Two additional prey species are commonly recommended for supplemental prey in Mississippi bass ponds. These are fathead minnows and threadfin shad. Fathead minnow are good prey for bass and have no negative impacts on the pond community. However, these fish are quickly eliminated from Mississippi ponds by bass predation and must be restocked often. They are also less tolerant of hot summer temperatures, so it is best to stock this species fall to spring, when water temperatures are cooler. Stock at least 2-3 pounds of minnows per acre as needed.
Threadfin shad are excellent forage fish for largemouth bass and provide abundant prey year after year. Threadfin shad are cold sensitive, and will die when water temperatures fall below 36°C. This may occasionally result in threadfin shad die-offs in northern Mississippi during the coldest winters. Threadfin shad will need to be restocked the following spring. Threadfin shad may compete some with bream, so they should only be stocked in ponds where trophy bass is the management objective.
Threadfin shad should only be purchased from licensed distributors to ensure proper species identification. Shad should never be collected from the wild, because it is very difficult to distinguish threadfin shad from gizzard shad! Gizzard shad should not be stocked in ponds because they tend to grow too big for bass to eat; they can overpopulate, and will compete with other prey species.
Producing big bass requires a commitment to proper harvest of bass. The biggest mistake made in bass management is catch and release of all bass. Small bass need to be harvested to allow for fast growth of intermediate size bass.
Bass should not be harvested during the first two years following stocking, but beginning in year three, harvest 15-20 pounds of bass per acre each year that are less than 12 inches. Removal of these small bass reduces competition with remaining bass, providing more food for those that remain. Also, remove 5 to 10 pounds of bass per acre that are 12 to 15 inches each year. Release all bass over 15 inches unless they are harvested as a trophy. Harvest bream as desired.
Following these recommendations, you can greatly improve your success at growing big bass in little ponds. Catching them is up to you!
For more information, request Publication 1428 Managing Mississippi Farm Ponds and Small Lakes from your county Extension office.
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