Managing for trophy bass fishing is always a goal toward the top of the list for many pond owners, and why shouldn't it be? Knowing you can go down to your private pond and have a decent chance to catch that bass-of-a-lifetime is an awesome feeling! But managing a fishery for trophy bass can also be very challenging. Growing a bass trophy into double-digit sizes is no easy task, and requires a lot of time, effort and pond management. It is easy to make mistakes along the way, especially when you are trying to implement management plans on an already established lake. Here is a look at some common mistakes to avoid when your pond management goals include trophy bass production.
Not Considering the Size of your Lake
Lake size is important in trophy pond management. It is much more difficult to produce a double digit bass in a 1-2 acre lake as opposed to a 5+ acre lake. Larger bodies of water support a larger biomass of fish. Smaller lakes are much more disposed to overcrowding and increased intraspecific competition which slows predator growth and becomes taxing on the forage populations. Larger lakes, capable of supporting large populations of predators, are better able to support fluctuations in population density. Additionally, not all bass are capable of reaching the 10 lb mark.
It takes the proper genetic composition and efficiency as a predator for an individual bass to achieve this goal. Within a larger population, the odds of an individual with both of these traits are significantly increased as opposed to within smaller populations. When building your own lake, it is recommended to build the largest lake your budget and watershed will allow to maximize growth potential.
Failure to conduct an annual bass harvest is one of the most common mistakes in lake management. Catch and release has long been taught as the primary method for improving fisheries, however only employing catch and release practices lead to an overpopulation of bass. An ecosystem can only support a certain amount of predators in order to be sustainable for all species within the community. Overpopulation of predators increases intraspecific competition and decreases growth rates as less forage is available per individual predator. These increased predation rates on forage species, in many instances, are not sustainable and a significant decline in available forage will follow.
In order to prevent the overpopulation of bass, an annual harvest of 10-20 lbs. of bass 14” and under is recommended per year. This harvest allows the larger fish to continue to grow while thinning out the more aggressive smaller size classes in order to reduce competition for resources. If an overabundance of bass is suspected, collecting a population sample through an electrofishing survey is the best option to determine the proper selective harvest to correct the balance within the population.
Too Many Predator Species
As we mentioned before, an ecosystem can only support a certain amount of predators. As the number of predator species increases, the population size of each species must decrease. As an example, if a lake can support 100 lbs. of predators the composition could be all of one species or 33 lbs. of 3 separate predator species. The more predator species the greater the likelihood of increased interspecific competition. In lakes managed for trophy bass, it is recommended that no other predators be stocked with them. This allows for a larger bass population and limited competition between predator species. Removal of all undesirable species is recommended. These species include but are not limited to: Green Sunfish, Bullhead/other Catfish, Crappie, and Gar.
Not Supplementing F1 Genetics
F1 largemouth bass are well known for their hybrid heterosis/hybrid vigor. These first generation crosses exhibit the improved growth of the Florida strain parent coupled with the cold weather tolerance of their northern strain parent, and makes them ideal for stocking inside many trophy bass fisheries.
The bass pond management mistakes happen when additional F1 juveniles are not stocked every 4-6 years. Subsequent generations of F1 fish (F2, F3, F4, etc.) begin to experience diminished hybrid heterosis. Supplementing abundance of Florida strain alleles within the gene pool through additional stockings of F1 bass will aid in boosting the effects of hybrid heterosis within the population.
Fertilizing your lake (>2 acres) is a critical step in pond and lake management in Texas. The application of fertilizer increases available nutrients for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are primary producers and the foundation of the aquatic food chain. By inducing a bloom of phytoplankton you feed the entire ecosystem from the bottom up. Fertilized lakes are able to support a great crop of fish and facilitate better growth in all species.
Fertilizing also aids in the control of water clarity. Blooms of phytoplankton create a green tint in the water that aids in reducing light penetration. The mistake of not fertilizing often results in nuisance aquatic vegetation as a result of increased water clarity. A secondary mistake associated with not fertilizing is not capitalizing on the full potential of the lake. Without the supplemental nutrients to boost the phytoplankton, there is less available forage for forage species and in turn less forage for predators.
Establishing practices within your pond and lake management plan that address these often forgotten/overlooked aspects will greatly benefit your fishery and get you well on your way to growing a true trophy bass.
Check out our other blogs on trophy bass management to ensure you are implementing all the steps in proper management.
If you have any questions about your lake management and want to ensure you are not making any of these common mistakes feel free to email me at email@example.com.