For many people, just the act of fishing can provide relief from the stresses of everyday life. But catching fish can put food on the table, and for some, this is the best part of owning a recreational pond.
Properly managing stocking and harvesting is essential to a successful pond, according to Greg Lutz, an aquaculture scientist with the LSU AgCenter. “Following recommended stocking rates is an important first step in getting a pond started in the right direction.”
A fertile pond can produce up to 300 pounds of fish per acre per year with the majority being panfish and/or catfish, he said. For largemouth bass, harvest rates are lower -- somewhere between 30-40 pounds per acre per year.
If food production is the primary function, Lutz recommends stocking catfish. “Their diet is flexible, and their growth rate is good. Populations are a little bit easier to manage, and they are good to eat.”
Either channel catfish or blue catfish can be used for stocking a pond. Channel catfish are easier to find than blues, and they grow faster. Blue catfish grow larger. But as they age, their diets shift more toward fish, so they are in direct competition with bass.
Bream include bluegill, redear, green sunfish or other sunfish species. Bluegill are the most versatile of the bream family because they serve as good forage for bass and are excellent to eat. In a well-managed pond, they are the most commonly caught and consumed fish.
“Coppernose bluegill are some of the best panfish to stock,” Lutz said. “They are the equivalent of the Florida bass in the bream family.” He also said coppernose grow quickly and are aggressive, making them easier to catch.
For many anglers, the allure of catching a trophy bass is strong. One of the keys to growing quality bass starts with a good food base. Lutz recommends stocking bream for two reasons -- they fulfill the forage requirement for bass and are good table fare.
The size of the pond influences stocking rates. Lutz recommends not stocking bass in ponds less than one acre.
Species dictate the best time of the year to stock. Forage species such as bream should be stocked prior to bass because it is important to establish a forage population before introducing a predatory species such as bass.
Bream should be stocked in the fall with bass the following spring. Lutz recommends 1,000 bream per acre along with 100 bass per acre in fertilized ponds. The bream population can be a combination of two species such as 700 bluegill and 300 redear with bluegill in the majority. The numbers of bass and bream should be half for unfertilized ponds.
Catfish may be stocked in fall or spring but should be at least as large as any bass fingerlings. They should be stocked at the same rate as bass.
For ponds stocked with catfish only, LSU AgCenter recommendations suggest 100-200 fish per unfertilized acre, with the number doubled for a fertilized pond. If fish are going to be fed daily, a pond can sustain 300-600 fish per acre.
Crappie (sac-a-lait or white perch), flathead catfish, green sunfish, bullhead catfish, carp, buffalo or other rough fish should not be stocked in a recreational pond, Lutz said. These species will eventually overpopulate and damage fishing.
“A point just as important as the number of fish to stock is where you are getting the fish,” Lutz said. “You must buy from a licensed dealer, or you are violating the law.” The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has a list of dealers that can provide fish for stocking.
Managing the predator-prey (bass-bream) relationship requires attention, and harvest records are essential for good management. Experts recommend harvesting at somewhere between five and 10 pounds of bream for every pound of bass.
Bass grow more slowly than bream, so it is important to spread the bass harvest out over the entire fishing season to maintain a proper balance.
One common method to determine whether a pond is in balance is by the size of the fish in the pond. If most of the bream are less than 5 inches long and few small bass are present, the pond is probably overpopulated with bream, Lutz said. If only a few large bream are present and many small bass are in the pond, it is probably overpopulated with bass.
With good fishing records, pond owners can use the percentage size distribution (PSD) method. Fishers should keep track of all bass caught over 8 inches. Of those fish, any bass over 12 inches should be considered a “quality” fish.
To calculate the PSD, divide the total number of 12-inch fish by the total number of bass over 8 inches. If 10 fish over 8 inches long are caught and six are over 12 inches, the PSD is 60. A pond is considered in balance for bass if the PSD values are between 20 and 60.
For bream, quality fish are considered to be 6 inches long, and any fish over 3 inches should be included in the calculation. A balanced pond for bream should have a PSD between 50 and 80.
For more information regarding recreational pond management, visit lsuagcenter.com and type in “pond management” in the search box.