The trophy bass pond utilizes the same predator/prey relationship as the bass pond package. However the ratio of predator to prey has been altered to create a slightly crowded bluegill population which will reduce bass reproduction ultimately limiting the number of bass in the pond or lake. Bluegill (coppernose or native) and redear sunfish (shellcracker) form the base of the food chain spawning several times throughout the spring and summer providing adequate forage to grow big bass. Largemouth Bass control the bluegill and redear population by feeding on small and intermediate sized bream allowing larger bluegill to reach catchable size. Redear sunfish also eat snails eliminating grubs from your pond.
A successful trophy bass pond must be stocked in the proper sequence to ensure the development of the predator/prey relationship. Small (1-3 inch) bluegill and redear can be stocked into new ponds during fall or spring (September –April). They 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-June). As the bass feed on the young bluegill they will grow rapidly reaching 2 to 3 pounds by the following April at which time they will begin to spawn.
Fathead minnows should be stocked with the bluegill and redear to serve as forage for the growing bream. Once bass are stocked minnows will disappear quickly. This is ok because the bass will feed on the young bream. Minnows, shiners and shad can be stocked periodically in the spring and fall to supplement your forage population. Grass carp should also be stocked in fall or spring to control aquatic vegetation before it becomes a big problem.
Mature Largemouth Bass can be expected to grow 1 to 2 pounds a year with younger bass staying in the 1/4 to 1/2 pound range to control bream populations. Mature bluegill and redear should grow 1/4 pound per year with many younger bream staying in the 2-4 inch size range to feed the bass. Bass ponds require fertile soils to be productive. If your soil is not very fertile you may want to consider the Catfish pond or the Hybrid Bream pond.
Hybrid bream are not good forage for largemouth bass and will breed with other bluegill and redear producing inbred fish that do not grow. DO NOT stock regular hybrid bream in trophy bass ponds (see hybrid bream option)! Southern Specklebelly Sunfish are a fun and safe addition to a Trophy Bass Pond but will not produce the forage required to grow big bass.
Properly stocked trophy bass ponds may take a few years to mature but can provide good fishing for generations with proper management. Unfortunately many pond owners are not willing to wait for good fishing and make the mistake of stocking large bass in new ponds to provide instant fishing. Ponds stocked in this manner rarely ever produce good fishing and require expensive corrective management to repair.
While advanced fingerling and adult bass are available for sale, these sizes are to be used for corrective/supplemental stocking of existing ponds and should not be used as a short cut to fishing in new ponds. The reason for this is fairly simple. Largemouth bass must eat 5 pounds of forage to gain 1 pound of weight. While 5 pounds of forage does not seem like a lot, we have to remember that this is 5 pounds of live fish caught and eaten. In order to catch 5 pounds of forage a bass might need 100 pounds of forage to hunt successfully. Developing this wide forage base requires time. An average pond at maturity may only hold 300 pounds of forage per acre and only support 50 pounds of bass per acre. Stocking advanced fingerling or adult bass into new ponds before the forage base has had time to develop is only a shortcut to poor fishing.
The first key to growing trophy bass fishing is stocking small bass as the forage bass widens. This ensures rapid growth of your bass and an optimum predator/prey relationship to limit bass reproduction. The second key to growing trophy bass is to limit bass numbers through harvest. Because the greatest obstacle to growing trophy bass is too many bass, it is important to harvest 40 pounds of 12 to 15 inch bass per acre per year from your pond after year one.
The Trophy Bass Ponds Option is not a good fit for every pond.
A few notes on Trophy Bass Pond Management:
The Trophy Bass Pond Option is best suited for ponds bigger than 1 acre, although there are always exceptions to the rule.
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. Bass/Bluegill ponds should be fed with a feed that has at least 40% protein and 10% fat. Fish feed should be 1/8", 3/16" or 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. New research has shown that bass in ponds with structure exert less energy chasing prey than bass in ponds without structure.
Trophy bass will require protection due to the low density of bass this option seeks to create. A reverse slot limit should be enforced, releasing 8-12" and 15"+ bass while harvesting 25 pounds of 12-15" bass per acre per year until a large portion of the original bass stocked have reached 20 inches. At that time the harvestable slot size should be extended to 10-20 inches, and all bass over 20 inches should be released.
Bluegill and redear sunfish will reach catchable sizes after 2 years and a reverse slot limit should be enforced to maintain a healthy population. All bluegill and redear smaller than 6 inches and most bigger than 8 inches should be returned to the pond. The majority of bluegill and redear harvested should be in the 6 to 8 inch range. 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. Harvest 100 pounds of bluegill and redear per acre per year.
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 and all bluegill are less than 6 inches and your seine samples show few 1-2 inch bass 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 and harvest 200 pounds of 5 to 6 inch bluegill per acre.
If your catch records show all bass are 12 to 15 inches and bluegill range in size averaging 4 to 6 inches and larger and your seine samples show many 1-2 inch bass and bluegill and with some 3 to 5 inch 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 6 to 8 inch bluegill. Remove 25 pounds of bass per acre per year and 100 pounds of bluegill per acre per year.
If your catch records show all bass are less than12 inches and all bluegill are over 6 inches and your seine samples show few 1-2 inch bass and many 1 to 2 inch bluegill and no 3 to 5 inch bluegill, then you have a bass crowded population. This can be good if you are managing for big bluegill because the abundance of bass consumes most of the bluegill produced each year making more food available for the largest 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 bluegill harvest by half (50 pounds per acre).
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.