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-sized. 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 ideal situation to have. But if you want larger bass, you have a problem. The pond has too many bass for the amount of food present, so they all grow very slowly and die before reaching a larger size. If you don't harvest the bass in a pond after they are 2 years old, it is almost certain to become bass-crowded leading to slow growth rates.
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 means more food for those that survive. These bream will get so big that the bass cannot feed on them. These are the hand-sized bream. Bream can spawn up to five times each summer and fall, usually around a full moon. Therefore, 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 pond owner 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.
All bass harvested should be 14 inches long or less.
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.
Usually 2 - 3 years and in some cases longer, if you don't meet the harvest rates that are recommended.
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.
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).
Assume you have a 5 acre pond and you want to 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.
You can stock up to 1,000 fathead minnows (NOT shiners!) per acre early next year (February - March). 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 management firms recommend stocking threadfin shad which don't grow over about 6 inches in length. To maintain bass weights, 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. Therefore, your bream population may be negatively impacted. You can buy catfish food to lessen this impact and 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