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Small Bass Issues

Currently, the most common problem Fisheries Biologists encounter in Mississippi farm ponds is an abundance of small bass from 8-14 inches. A few large bass are usually present and the bream are hand-size -- really nice. Catch rates of small bass are high and body condition is usually poor. They appear skinny and have shallow or inverted bellies. They may have large heads and small bodies. If you are a bream angler this is the idea situation to have. If you want larger bass, you have a problem. The problem is there are too many bass for the amount of food present, so they all grow very slowly and die after 6-7 years before reaching a good weight. If you don't harvest the bass in a pond after they are 2 years old it is almost certain to become bass-crowded with slow growth rates.


The Solution

Provide more food for the largemouth bass. There are two ways to do this. Feed them or reduce their numbers so each fish will have more food to eat. Catch and release is a wonderful thing, unless you want to grow big bass in your pond. Contrary to popular belief, only a few good female bass are necessary to provide enough young bass to restock a pond each year. Bass are very efficient predators and in bass-crowded ponds the young bass will eat up the vast majority of the bream that are produced each year. Low bream densities mean more food for those that survive. These bream will get so big the bass cannot feed on them. These are the hand-sized bream. Bream can spawn up to 5 times each summer and fall, usually around a full moon. So, plenty of young are produced for the bass to eat but since the bass numbers are so high, they all grow too slowly to satisfy the desires of most pond owners.

The easiest and cheapest solution is to harvest your young bass under 14 inches. How much harvest is necessary? More than you think. Example: 12 acre pond in Madison County, with severely overcrowded bass fished by one family. The pondowner desired to catch larger bass on a more frequent basis. He removed 2,000 bass over 3 years and then began to see some improvements in his catch rates of larger bass. That is a harvest rate of 55 bass per acre per year!!! He also started seeing more intermediate size bream ---- 3-5 inch fish.


Bass Harvest Recommendations to Correct Bass Crowded Situations:

  • For fertilized ponds 20-35 pounds per acre per year.
  • For unfertilized ponds 7-15 pounds per acre per year.

 

Sizes of Bass to Harvest

All bass harvested should be 14 inches long or less.

 

Best Time of Year to Harvest

Try to remove all the bass in a short time period in the early spring (March-April). As the fish become harder to catch, change the bait or lure that you are using until the catch rate with it decreases. Then, change your bait or lure again.

 

How Long Will it Take to Correct A Bass-Crowded Situation?

Usually 2-3 years and in some cases longer if you don't meet the harvest rates that are recommended.

 

Bass Harvest Rates Once You Achieve A Balanced Fish Population
(Bass are NOT Crowded)

  • For fertilized ponds 10-24 pounds per acre per year.
  • For unfertilized ponds 3-10 pounds per acre per year.

 

How Many Bass Do You Need to Remove?

  • It all depends on their size and weight.
  • Most people overestimate the length and weight of fish they catch. Here's a guide:
  • 8.0 inch bass in top shape weigh 1/4 pound on average
  • 9.0 inch bass in top shape weigh 1/3 pound on average
  • 10.0 inch bass in top shape weigh 1/2 pound on average
  • 11.0 inch bass in top shape weigh 0.68 pounds on average
  • 12.0 inch bass in top shape weigh 0.90 pounds on average
  • 13.0 inch bass in top shape weigh 1.16 pound on average
  • 14.0 inch bass in top shape weigh 1.47 pounds on average
  • 15.0 inch bass in top shape weigh 1.83 pounds on average

Remember these are the average weights nationwide for fish in top condition. Bass in overcrowded ponds will weigh less, since they are in poor condition.

Another way of determining how many bass to remove would be to catch and weigh at least 10 bass from your pond that are under 14 inches and use that average weight to guide your harvest. Divide the average weight into your harvest rate(per acre) and this is the number of bass you need to remove per acre per year.


Figuring amount of bass harvest for a fertilized 1 acre pond

Assume top condition and these would be the minimum harvest rates to correct overcrowding. Assume you are removing 12 inch bass, to harvest 20 pounds per acre per year you need to remove 22 (12 inch) bass per acre per year (20 pounds divided by 0.90 pounds per bass = 22 bass). To harvest 35 pounds per acre per year you need to remove 39 bass per acre per year (35 pounds divided by 0.90 pounds per bass = 39 bass).


Figuring amount of bass harvest for a fertilized 5 acre pond

Assume you have a 5 acre pond ----- take out 110 - 195 bass per year. Let's say you can catch 4 fish per hour. That's 27.5-49 hours of fishing. If you fish the pond for 2 hours at a time that's 14-25 fishing trips in a year. My advice is to get your buddies to fish the pond with you with the understanding that they must remove the size fish you specify. It is best to harvest these fish as quickly and as early in the spring that you can so the ones that remain will have an entire growing season with more food.


Stocking Fathead Minnows to Provide More Food

You can stock up to 1000 per acre fathead minnows (NOT shiners!) early (Feb-Mar) next year. They'll reproduce and add 20 - 25% to fish production, but they have to be restocked annually. Bass bite like crazy shortly after they're stocked; it's a good time to do some serious harvesting with small minnow imitating lures.

Now if you don't have the time to accomplish these harvest levels, the only option you have is to buy food for your bass. Private pond mangement firms recommend stocking threadfin shad which don't grow to over about 6 inches in length. To maintain bass weigths, our hatcheries stock 5 pounds of forage for every pond of bass. To put one pound of growth on bass, we need to provide 8 pounds of forage for each pound of bass. Water temperatures that occur with really cold winters in Mississippi may kill your threadfin shad. Threadfin shad are filter feeders and will compete with all your young fish and bream for food. So, your bream population may be negatively impacted and you can buy catfish food to lessen this impact to help their growth. My question is "Why do you want to raise more pounds of fish that you are not going to harvest?" The only reason would be to increase your chance of catching larger bass on a more frequent basis.


Dennis Riecke & Keith Meals
MDWFP Fisheries Biologists

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