The Crappie option is the most complicated of pond stocking combinations. Crappie are a favorite of many fisherman and most pondowners wish to stock crappie in their ponds. However, crappie can be difficult to manage in small ponds due to their ability to reproduce rapidly and overpopulate. Successful crappie ponds are greater than 5 acres with abundant habitat (brushpiles) and numerous small (less than 1 pound ) largemouth bass. Black crappie do not produce as many eggs as white crappie and are therefore better suited to fishing ponds but not a great idea for small ponds.
Black crappie serve as both predator and prey because they feed on small fish and produce large numbers of offspring. Bluegill, redear sunfish and fathead minnows should be stocked as forage for black crappie. Largemouth bass should be stocked at increased numbers to control the crappie population. Black crappie handle best in cold temperatures and therefore should be stocked October through March.
A successful crappie pond must be stocked in the proper sequence to ensure the development of the predator/prey relationship. Small (1-3 inch) crappie, bluegill and redear can be stocked into new ponds during fall or spring (October –March). Black crappie will begin to spawn in April and bream will begin to spawn in May and June. Once bream spawning has occurred, small (1-3 inch) largemouth bass may be stocked during that summer or fall (May-September).
Fathead Minnows will serve as forage for the growing bream and crappie. Once bass are stocked minnows may disappear quickly. This is ok because the bass will feed on the young crappie and bream. Minnows can be stocked periodically in the spring and fall to supplement your forage population. Grass carp should also be stocked to control aquatic vegetation before it becomes a big problem.
Mature black crappie can be expected to grow 1/2 to 1 pound a year with bass staying in the 1/2 to 1 pound range to control crappie populations. Mature bluegill and redear should grow 1/4 pound per year with many younger bream staying in the 1-2 inch size range to feed the crappie. It is very important to restrict the harvest of bass in a black crappie pond. Enough bass can be removed in one day of fishing to upset the predator/prey balance required to control the black crappie population.
Hybrid crappie may be substituted for black crappie. Hybrid crappie will be easier to manage than black crappie but will require periodic restocking to maintain good fishing. Indicate when ordering whether you want black crappie or hybrid crappie. If substituting hybrid crappie for black crappie you will receive 63 hybrid crappie and 25 bass per ¼ acre instead of 38 black crappie and 38 bass per ¼ acre. The price per ¼ acre will stay the same. Crappie ponds require fertile soils to be productive. If your soil is not fertile you may want to consider a Catfish pond or Hybrid Bream pond.
The Black Crappie Pond Option is best suited for ponds bigger than 5 acres and the Hybrid Crappie Pond Option is best suited for ponds less than 2 acres. Although there are always exceptions to the rule. Successful black crappie ponds require healthy populations of 8 to 15" largemouth bass and lots of submerged habitat. Black crappie ponds can be difficult to manage and should be monitored closely to continue good fishing.
Well managed ponds not fed, fertilized or aerated should support 300 to 500 pounds of fish per acre. Fed, fertilized or aerated ponds can support 800 to 1000 pounds of fish per acre.
If you decide to feed your fish, feeding should begin when water temperatures warm in the spring and should continue through the fall until water temperatures cool. Fish should be fed daily all they will eat in 10 to 15 minutes. Ponds without aeration should be fed no more than 10-15 pounds of feed per acre per day. Aerated ponds can be fed 20 to 30 pounds per acre per day. Excessive feeding can lead to oxygen depletion and should be avoided. Black crappie ponds should be fed with a feed that has at least 38-40% protein and 8-10% fat. Fish feed should be 1/8-1/4" pellets.
Fertilization increases productivity of a pond and can help control aquatic vegetation. Water chemistry determines how effective a fertilization program will be. Ponds must have a total alkalinity of 20 ppm in order to benefit from fertilizer. If alkalinity is less than 20 ppm agricultural limestone can be added periodically to increase alkalinity. Contact your local Natural Resource Conservation Service Agent for assistance when measuring alkalinity and determining how much limestone to add. Fertilization should begin when weather warms in spring and can continue until water temperatures cool in the fall. Fertilizer should be added every 2 weeks until visibility is less than 2 feet, then as needed only when visibility increases beyond 2 feet. Excessive fertilization can cause oxygen depletion and fish kills and should be avoided. Ponds with muddy water or aquatic vegetation should not be fertilized. Fed ponds will require less fertilizer.
Aeration improves the carrying capacity of ponds and helps mix pond water to prevent turnovers and fish kills. A variety of aerators are available ranging from ornamental fountains and windmills to air compressors and paddlewheels. The most important aspect of aeration for fishing ponds is mixing of pond water, which can be accomplished with fountains or air compressors, to prevent turnovers . Pond owners wanting serious fish production may consider paddlewheels. Solar powered systems are available for remote locations without electricity.
Fish Habitat Improvement
Stake beds, brush piles, and Christmas trees can be sunk throughout the pond to provide submerged habitat. To avoid overpopulation of channel catfish, old tires, milk cans and buckets should not be added to encourage spawning.
Largemouth bass and black crappie require protection during their fish two years in the pond to ensure they successfully spawn and produce the next generation of fish. For the first 2 years after stocking a minimum length limit of 15 inches on bass and 12 inches on crappie should be enforced and the harvest of bass bigger than 15 inches and crappie bigger than 12 inches should be limited. This ensures bass grow to 15 inches and smaller bass are present to control crappie and bluegill populations. After the second year, the 15" minimum should remain for bass and a slot limit should be enforced for crappie, harvesting crappie between 10 and 12" while releasing crappie less than 10" and greater than 12".
Bluegill and redear sunfish will reach catchable sizes after 2 years and a reverse slot limit should be enforced to maintain a healthy population. Bluegill and redear smaller than 6 inches and bigger than 8 inches should be returned to the pond and only 6 to 8 inch fish should be harvested. This slot limit ensures that bluegill and redear populations continue to grow into catchable sizes and trophy bream are present to maintain a spawning population.
After 2 years harvest 20 pounds per acre per year of Largemouth bass over 15 inches (about 10 fish per acre), 30 pounds per acre per year of Crappie between 10 and 12 inches (about 30 fish per acre), and 40 pounds per acre per year of Bluegill and Redear between 6 and 8 inches (about 80 fish per acre).
Monitoring Fish Populations
Fish populations are always in a state of flux requiring constant monitoring to maintain quality fishing. Two common methods are shoreline seining and angler catch records. Seining is done June through September with a small mesh minnow seine along the shoreline. Several samples should be made and the number and kind of baby fish caught recorded. Angler catch records should be maintained year round keeping track of how many, what size and what kind of fish are being caught. Anglers should record every fish they catch even if they release them.
Based on the results of this sampling you should be able to determine the health of your fish population and if any corrective management is necessary.
If your catch records show all bass are over 12 inches, all crappie are less than 6 inches, all bluegill are over 6 inches and your seine samples show few 1-2 inch bass, crappie and bluegill and an abundance of 3 to 5 inch crappie, then you have a crappie crowded population. If you want to take corrective action to restore a balanced population you may stock 20 6 to 10 inch bass per acre, stop all bass harvest for one year, reduce bluegill harvest by 1/2 and harvest 200 pounds of 5 to 6 inch crappie per acre.
If your catch records show all bass are over 12 inches, all crappie are over 6 inches and all bluegill are less than 6 inches and your seine samples show few 1-2 inch bass, crappie, bluegill and bluegill and an abundance of 3 to 5 inch bluegill, then you have a bluegill crowded population. This can be good if you are managing for big bass because the abundance of 3 to 5 inch bluegill not only feeds bass, it reduces bass reproduction because the bluegill eat most of the bass eggs and fry produced each year. If you want to take corrective action to restore a balanced population you may stock 20 6 to 10 inch bass per acre, stop all bass harvest for one year, reduce crappie harvest by 1/2 and harvest 200 pounds of 5 to 6 inch bluegill per acre.
If your catch records show all bass are 12 to 15 inches, crappie and bluegill range in size averaging 4 to 6 inches and larger and your seine samples show many 1-2 inch bass, crappie and bluegill and with some 3 to 5 inch crappie and bluegill, then you have a balanced population. This can be good if you are managing for quality fishing. To maintain this balance release all 12 to 15 inch bass and harvest 10 to 12 inch crappie and 6 to 8 inch bluegill. Remove 20 pounds of bass per acre per year, 30 pounds of crappie per acre per year and 40 pounds of bluegill per acre per year.
If your catch records show all bass are less than12 inches and all crappie and bluegill are over 6 inches and your seine samples show few 1-2 inch bass and many 1 to 2 inch crappie and bluegill and no 3 to 5 inch crappie and bluegill, then you have a bass crowded population. This can be good if you are managing for big crappie or bluegill because the abundance of bass consumes most of the crappie and bluegill produced each year making more food available for the largest crappie and bluegill. If you want to take corrective action to restore a balanced population you may harvest 50 pounds of 8 to 12 inch bass per acre and reduce crappie and bluegill harvest by half.
If you are serious about managing your fish population you should have a professional management company conduct an electrofishing survey of your pond or lake.