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-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
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
- 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
(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
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
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.
Stocking Fathead Minnows to Provide More Food
You can stock up to 1,000 fathead minnows (NOT shiners!) per
acre early next year (February - Narch). 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
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 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. 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