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Grow big bass in little ponds
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Largemouth bass are one of the most popular sport fish in Mississippi, and many anglers chase these beasts on the Magnolia State’s medium to large reservoirs every day.
With a little help from the pond owner, though, smaller bodies of water -- one acre and larger -- can also produce trophy bass consistently.
Growing big bass requires consistent, careful management. It is critical to follow water quality, fertilization, aquatic weed control and fish management programs recommended by fisheries experts, including those with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
The secret to growing big bass is through their stomachs! A lightly managed bass and bream pond occasionally can produce a big bass, but you can increase your success by increasing the food available to each bass.
This can be accomplished by first increasing prey production, which requires managing water chemistry and fertility.
Check if the lake needs agricultural limestone and consider implementing a fertilization program. Trophy bass ponds can benefit from a properly conducted and maintained fertilization program. Fertilizing can double or triple the pounds of fish per acre, which can be manipulated to produce bigger bass.
Next, add new prey species or supplement prey.
Threadfin shad are excellent forage fish for largemouth bass and provide abundant prey year after year. Threadfin shad are cold sensitive and will die when water temperatures fall below 36 degrees. If this occurs, threadfin shad will need to be restocked the following spring. Threadfin shad may compete some with bream, so they should only be stocked in ponds where trophy bass is the management objective.
Purchase threadfin shad only from licensed distributors to ensure proper species identification. Shad should never be collected from the wild, because it is very difficult to distinguish threadfin shad from gizzard shad. Gizzard shad grow too big for bass to eat, can overpopulate a pond, and will compete with other prey species.
Finally, manage bass size structure and abundance by removing small bass.
Producing big bass requires a commitment to proper harvest of bass. The biggest mistake made in bass management is catch and release of all bass. Small bass need to be harvested to allow for fast growth of intermediate size bass.
Beginning in year three of the management program, harvest 15 to 20 pounds of bass that are less than 13 inches per acre each year. This reduces competition with remaining bass and provides more food for those that remain.
Additionally, remove 5 to 10 pounds of bass that are 13 to 16 inches per acre each year. Release all bass over 16 inches, unless they are harvested as a trophy. Harvest bream as desired.
Following these recommendations, you can greatly improve your success at growing big bass in little ponds. Catching them is up to you! For more information, request MSU Extension Publication 1428, Managing Mississippi Farm Ponds & Small Lakes, from your county Extension office.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.