Choosing the Right Forage Fish for Raising Trophy Bass

By Ethan Stokes
coppernose bluegill forage fish

When it comes to choosing the proper forage species for your Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) there are several options depending on how intensely you want to manage your fishery.  

You can easily manage forage by stocking the proper densities of forage species so that a sustainable population will be established. This will provide sufficient available forage to be conducive for normal growth rates.  

More intensive management involving additional forage species can effectively increase bass growth rates when combined with a variety of forage bases. Each species that bass feed on can provide differing nutrition value

Top Forage for Raising Trophy Texas Bass 

Giant bass on small ponds and lakes aren’t usually there by accident. Ample harvest of smaller, competitive bass, along with a dense population of forage, helps a bass reach trophy size. 

Here are some of the top forage suggestions for optimum bass growth: 

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) and Golden Shiners (Notemigonus crysoleucas)

A combination of Bluegill and golden shiners are great forage for bass and should be considered for all lakes looking to produce a large yield of bass.  

Stocking golden shiners with bluegill takes some of the predation pressure off of the bluegill allowing a greater number to reach maturity and therefore contribute to recruitment in subsequent spawning seasons.

Allowing a greater number of bluegill to reach a mature size the more successful that population will be in becoming established and sustainable.  

These species are the foundation of the majority of private bass fisheries and are often successful in producing large healthy largemouth bass by just allowing time for the fish to grow.  

Supplemental feeding of bluegill can also be implemented to increase bluegill growth and reproduction to further the sustainability of forage for the bass. 

Mozambique Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus)

Mozambique Tilapia are a great additional species to stock in your pond for two reasons. 

One reason being that they are an alternative forage for your largemouth.  

These fish reach maturity quickly and spawn every 3-4 weeks during the summer. The high reproductive rate ensures an abundance of forage throughout the warmer months. This abundance also takes some predation pressure off your bluegill population which is especially important if the lake is experiencing a decrease in bluegill broodstock density. 

The second reason is that they provide a valuable ecological service as they consume filamentous algae and other plant matter.  

Tilapia are the primary biological control for excessive filamentous algae growth in lakes and ponds.  

*Tilapia will have to be restocked every year due to mortality when water temperatures decrease below 55 degrees (this combats rapid reproduction and prevents overcrowding).

The species discussed above are the most common for ponds and lakes with management plans for largemouth bass. Pond King biologists have seen very good success rates by implementing these forage fishes to supplement very successful bass fisheries.  

These however, are not the only options for supplemental bass forage.  

Boost Your Bass’ Growth with Supplemental Forage

For pond owners looking to manage their fishery a little more intensely, these next few forage species may well be worth consideration. 

Threadfin Shad (Dorosoma pentenese) and Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum)

Shad are a very common prey item for all species of bass and are often the primary forage in major reservoirs across Texas.  

Shad are an open water (pelagic) fish and are best suited for larger lakes and ponds often greater than 5 acres. Smaller ponds often lack the depth and open water to sustain a population of shad.  

Shad exhibit high winter mortality rates so deeper thermal refuges are needed to increase survival throughout the winter.  

Why Shad are Good Forage for Bass

Threadfin and Gizzard shad are both soft rayed fishes which means they do not have spiny dorsal or anal fins that can get lodged in a predator's mouth.  

Soft rayed fishes require less energy to digest than spiny rayed fishes such as bluegill and tilapia, resulting in greater net energy.  

While both species provide greater net energy for bass, threadfin and gizzard shad do have some differences.  

Major Differences Between Threadfin and Gizzard Shad

Besides morphological differences threadfin and gizzard shad differ in where they typically are found in the water column and in how hardy they are. 

Gizzard shad are the larger of the two species and can grow up to 5 inches in their first year, and up to 18 inches long as full grown adults. They are also often found associated with the bottom of the lake or pond more so than threadfin shad.  

Threadfin shad are smaller with a max size of around 6 inches and are most often found in large schools near the surface in open water.  

Threadfin are however less hardy and are more susceptible to winter mortality, but do spend a longer portion of their life in size ranges where they are still available forage for bass.  

Due to the extremely fast growth and reproductive rates in gizzard shad, they are not recommended for stocking in smaller fisheries, however they can often be found in lakes and ponds with connected creeks or nearby large lakes.  

When managing lakes with large gizzard shad, netting and removing these large individuals is recommended when possible to reduce draining of resources as these individuals are too large to be consumed.  

Threadfin Shad are the recommended species to be stocked as they remain within available forage size classes, and do not carry the risk of becoming drains on resources.  


*Threadfin Shad (Left) and Gizzard Shad (Right)


Adding crayfish to your pond is a great way to add some weight to your bass fast.  

Crayfish have high concentrations of protein and fat that aid in rapid bass growth.  

Bass often key on crayfish in late winter, early spring to build energy as they are feeding up preparing to spawn.  

Challenges for Establishing a Resident Crayfish Population

Crayfish however can be difficult to establish in a pond that already has a good bass population.  

Most ponds have a few crayfish in them, but stocking them to create sufficient population is largely dependent upon available habitat for crayfish to evade immediate predation. Grass flats or rip rap are excellent habitats to induce successful crayfish survival.


* White River Crayfish (Left) and Red Swamp Crayfish (Right)

Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Rainbow trout are excellent meals for large bass.  

They are high in protein and fat similar to crawfish and are a great way to help your bass grow throughout the winter months.  

Trout are slow methodical swimmers and make easy meals for largemouth bass.  Bait size trout are often in the 6 inch range, but don’t be discouraged by their size. Largemouth can safely eat forage ⅓ - ½ of their body length. It doesn’t take as big of a bass to eat a trout as you may think.  

Trout often die when sustained water temps reach around 75 degrees. Trout, like tilapia, have to be restocked every year due to mortality from water temperatures. This means that many fish in your lake's population can use this available forage for winter growth.

Trout can be stocked in virtually any size pond without issue. The larger trout can also provide fun angling opportunities for the family in the winter. 

Contact Pond King for Forage Fish Stocking and Trophy Bass Growth

There are many possible forage species to consider when your goal is to raise trophy largemouth bass, hopefully this background information helps to educate a little on each.  

The fisheries biologists at Pond King are ready to answer your questions on stocking densities, benefits of one stocking plan over another, or forage suitability for a small body of water. Contact us or call the shop to talk to one of our pond management experts.  

We will do our best to get you set up to achieve your management goals. 

We’ll see y’all down at the pond!

Tags: Down at the Pond, Fish and Fishing, Pond Management

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