Raising Trophy Bass

The Steps for Raising Trophy Bass
By Dan Suttle, Suttle Fish Farm

 Balanced Fish Population


A balanced fish population whether it is in a new pond or an existing pond is a must. A lake or pond out of balance cannot be managed to its full potential. If you are unsure of your pond fish population, seek help. There is help available. Many states have fish biologists trained especially to conduct fish population studies. In some cases this service is free, contact your state Fish and Wildlife Service or your Natural Resources & Soil Conservationists Service (NRCS) or your county agent. They will know whom to contact and can tell you all about it.  Get to know these people they can pull experts out of the woodwork for any problem you might have. State universities are another good source. In other words get professional help. Don’t go by a person who fishing a lot or like to fish. These folks have good intentions but they really don’t know. One way to determine if your fish population is out of balance is called the “catch test”--if you are not catching all sizes of different species, then you probably have an out of balanced pond or lake. If you are catching all of one size fish, then you probably have a population problem. If your bream get to one size and seem to stop growing, you have a population problem. The best way to have a balanced population is to stock in correct proportions to start with. There are proper stocking rates.


 Proper Stocking Procedures

 New lakes or ponds are an excellent starting point for being able to stock at the proper ratios, at the proper time and in the correct manner. The correct manner involves knowing that you should stock the lake or pond with small fish approximately two inches in length.  This will assure that your fish will grow off together and one species of fish will not get a jump over another. Do not go out and catch some fish from another pond and put them in your new pond. This is the worst thing that you could do to cause an imbalanced fish population. You will be going down hill from that point on and will eventually have to start all over. Do in right the fist time!  Now let’s talk about rates. The proper rate to stock Bream to Bass is ten to one. Bass ponds should also be stocked with fathead minnows. Bass love them!  The time to stock bream and fathead minnows is when the water temp is 60? or lower.  November through March is the proper time.  Bass should be added the following May, June, July after your bream has spawned or reproduced at least twice. Under no circumstances should you stock hybrid bluegill in a bass pond for trophy bass. Yes, hybrid bluegill does spawn. They are not sterile as many think. True, they are mostly male but they convert back to the green sunfish. The green sunfish are not desirable to have in ponds. Most biologists consider the green sunfish as a non-essential fish and should be eliminated.  Stocking rates refer to the amount of fish that should be stocked in a surface acre of the pond or lake. Ponds or lakes that are 5 feet or 50 feet deep will be stocked the same.  Depth of the pond does not determine the stocking rate. Only consider the surface acre. A surface acre is approximately 210 feet by 210 feet. For one surface acre, stock 1000 bream, preferable Coppernose 80% with Shellcracker (Redear Sunfish) 20%. Native Bluegill is okay but they do not get as large as coppernose bluegill. Fathead minnows should be stocked at 1000 to an acre up to 5000 per lake.  If you desire to have catfish, 50 –100 per acre is acceptable. White perch, Black crappie should not be stock in small ponds or lakes because they over-populate.  I have seen too many ponds ruined with white perch or Black crappie in then. I can’t stress this enough.  These ponds just don’t have enough fishing pressure required for these fish.


 Types of Bass

There are three kinds of bass that most people stock, the Florida Largemouth Bass, the Northern Largemouth Bass and the Florida Hybrid Bass. The Florida Largemouth Bass obtains the biggest size of them all. This bass holds the world record at a whopping 22 pounds 4 oz! This makes this bass the most desirable bass that the true bass fisherman wants to stock.  Numerous states are raising the Florida Largemouth Bass for stocking in their lakes and rivers. Some say these bass are little harder to catch but there’s nothing like catching a 13lb and up bass. It’s worth the wait in fishing! The Northern Largemouth Bass is a fine fish. They just don’t get big enough. A seven or eight pounder is considered large for these Bass. Now the advantage here is the theory that this bass is easier to catch. So you have to decide if you want easy to catch or do you want a bass to take home to show the folks? The Florida Hybrid Bass, Florida F1 bass, and the Northern Hybrid Bass are all the same fish. The Florida Hybrid is a cross between the Florida Largemouth Bass and a Northern Largemouth Bass. The Florida Hybrid Bass is second in demand for stocking. Now keep in mind that the Florida Hybrid doesn’t get as big as the Florida but an excellent Bass to stock. Now that you know the different types of Bass, lets get started with some tips on raising really big Bass. In order to raise large bass, you have to make it easy for the bass to get their food. The less energy that the bass has to exert to obtain something to eat, the more weight the bass will put on. Bass are cannibalistic and will eat almost anything that moves. The primary food source for the bass is the bluegill, bream or small minnows. Bream & minnows must be stocked in abundant numbers for your bass to have an adequate food supply. All sizes of bream are necessary for the bass consumption. The bass gains more weight by eating one four inch bream than ten two-inch bream. Ten of the smaller fish causes the bass to have to exert more energy to obtain that food. Therefore, nice size bream are desirable to produce a trophy bass.


 Water Quality

The very first consideration in pond management is your water quality. Having a water analysis is a smart move. One water test consists of many parts. Your alkalinity should be over 51 (parts per million) ppm, hardness should be at least 12ppm with 21 being excellent, and pH should be between 6.5 and 7.5. You should have you chloride & nitrates check and have a six to one ratio of chlorides to nitrates. If you are feeding real heavy, have your ammonia checked. Any traces of ammonia found in a water analysis are not acceptable. Liming will correct most of these problems. Not liming a pond is a sure way to have a pond with lots of problems. Fish farmers or fish biologists should be able to conduct a water analysis with accuracy. Contact your local soil conservationists or your county agent for the amount of lime required for your area. 


Fertilization

A fertilizing program should be implemented and followed religiously. There are only five times that you do not fertilize your pond:
 (1) when your pond water is muddy, (2) your water temperature is below 60 degrees, (3) you have aquatic vegetation problems, (4) when your fish population is out of control or (5) when water is running out the spillway.  You ONLY fertilize scale fishponds not pure catfish ponds. It is better not to fertilize than to half way fertilize or to fertilize improperly. A good fertilizing program will add two to three times more fish to your pond than a non-managed pond. So you can see how important a management program is. There are different types of fertilizer that can be used mainly granule or liquid. All of them are good and have advantages and disadvantages. Liquid fertilizer will have to be diluted because it is heavier than water and will go to the bottom and will not do you any good. Granule fertilizers will have to be kept off of your mud so that the water can utilize the fertilizer and not your mud. For every three to five surface acres, you will need a fertilizing platform or designated area. A fertilizing program will start at the beginning of spring when the water temperature reaches above 60 degrees and you can stop in the fall when the water temperature cools to below 60 degrees. You will fertilize approximately every 21 days. The best way to tell if your pond needs fertilize is a visual test---can you see further than 18 inches in your pond? If so fertilizing is needed. If you are still unsure if it’s time to fertilize, try this show & tell test: Tack an aluminum pie pan on the end of a broom handle, submerse it in the water 18 inches deep, if you can see the pan, you need to fertilize. Be careful not to over fertilize. Different types of fertilizer require different amounts of fertilizer.  Normally liquid fertilizer requires about one gallon per surface acre. Granule fertilizer such as 20-25-0, 16-25-0 requires application of about 40 pounds per surface acre. 18-46-0 and 0-46-0 requires the application of approximately 18 pounds per surface acre. Liquid usually is 13-38-0, 10-34-0. You might like to experiment with the different types to determine your personal preference. There are many other fertilizer mixtures, we have only discussed a few. 
A fertilized pond will increase fish production two to three times. The fertilizer is a food source and so an infertile pond will not provide the food that a fertilized pond will. If you want fish---FERTILIZE.


 Feeding Program

Designing a feeding program is an essential part of pond management to have trophy size fish. A small pellet feed called fingerling catfish feed is recommended. This feed is over 35% protein with all the vitamins and minerals needed for the health of your fish. Feeding about four-pounds per acre per day is all your bream need to grow to a nice size. Your Bass will not consume this feed but consume the bream that consume the feed. Your return is bigger bream and bigger bass. Studies have shown that this feed will excellerate the growth rate of the bream and make so your bream will reproduce more.  This feeding process will provide more feed for your bass to become that trophy size that you are looking for. There are numerous fish feeders on the market. As time is precious for all of us, I highly recommend a fish feeder to provide continuity of your feeding program.


 Catch and Release Program

A harvesting plan is an integral part of the overall management program.  An unfertilized pond produces no more than 40 pounds of harvestable bream (about 120 fish) and 10 pounds of harvestable bass (eight to ten fish) per surface acre per year. First, do not begin fishing until June of the year following stocking of largemouth bass fingerlings. This allows bass to spawn once before fishing begins. Second, remove only fish that you plan to eat until the second year after stocking. Third, a pond should be fished and fished heavily for food, recreation, and for the sport of fishing starting the third year. For Trophy Bass, release the largest bass back to the lake for growth.  Fourth, a harvest program should include both bass and bream.  For every bass harvested, take out three bream. This will prevent overcrowding which is associated with an overabundance of small bream. This also maintains the proper ratio of bass to bream. Fifth, you should know the warning signs of a pond or lake that is getting out of balance. The warning signs are, (1) fish are not growing,  (2) all fish caught are very large or small, (3) you are not catching all size of both species of fish.


Weed Control

Dense aquatic weed growth, especially submersed rooted plants, uses nutrients and reduces food available for fish. Aquatic weeds results in excessive numbers of small bream and a stunted population. If aquatic weeds are abundant, use of control measures must be implemented. You only have two choices;  grass carp, the biological way or chemicals. 


Winter Drawdown

Winter drawdown helps control mildly overcrowded bream populations. Drawdowns are particularly effective in unfertilized ponds because they force small fishes away from protected shoreline areas, making them available to predators. Lower the water level so that at least one-third but not more than one-half of the surface areas is exposed. This should be done in November until February. Use this method only with ponds that have sufficient water sources to refill up by spring. Do not lower water in the spring or summer because this increases the chances of dissolved oxygen depletion. 


Annual plan for Trophy fish

1. Fishing, fishing, fishing is the best way to spot problems.
2. A fertilizing program should be implemented and followed religiously year in and year out.
3. Implementation of a feeding program is an essential part of pond management in order to have trophy size fish.
4. Having a pond water analysis is a essential part of pond management
5. A harvesting plan is an integral part of the overall management program.
6 All work and no play will make Dan a dull boy and Linda a very dull girl. Have fun and enjoy your pond.
7. All ponds and lakes must be managed to be productive and provide good fishing and food. All this takes time and effort, but the rewards are great outdoor recreation, fun and great food.  Fun for the whole family, young and old. I can still remember my daddy taken me fishing for the first time. God bless his heart. I love you Daddy. 
Dan Suttle 
 
 

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   Developed By: Dan Suttle 
                     Last Update: 12-26-2000 
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