Stocking Strategies for Sportfish Ponds (>1 Acre)
Before stocking any species of fish, submitting a water sample to the A&M soils, water, and forage testing lab is necessary. Submitting a water sample can be done by following the sample submission directions at http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/. A routine analysis of the water will tell if there is any water quality issues and if a pond is suitable for restocking and sustaining sportfish. If tests results indicate the water is acceptable for fish, restocking desired sportfish will be the next step. To determine if your water test results are suitable for fish, please see EWF-017 Understanding Water Quality Reports for Your Pond at http://fisheries.tamu.edu/pond-management/water-quality/.
The proper stocking ratio is 10 prey fish (typically sunfish) for every predatory fish. Prey fish tend to be smaller species in the sunfish family and include bluegill (http://fisheries.tamu.edu/pond-management/species/bluegill/), redear sunfish (http://fisheries.tamu.edu/pond-management/species/redear-sunfish/), warmouth, and less often longear sunfish, redbreast sunfish, or pumpkinseed (never green sunfish). Other prey species that are also sometimes stocked for specific situations such as growing trophy-sized largemouth bass, include threadfin shad and tilapia, but these species are not recommended for most smaller (> 1 acre) recreational ponds or ponds that will not be intensively managed.
There must be a predator in the pond or the sunfish can overpopulate, consume all the available food, stunt, starve, and there will rarely be any harvestable-sized bluegill to catch. Typical predatory fish in ponds include largemouth bass (http://fisheries.tamu.edu/pond-management/species/largemouth-bass/), blue catfish (http://fisheries.tamu.edu/pond-management/species/blue-catfish/), or channel catfish (http://fisheries.tamu.edu/pond-management/species/channel-catfish/). Largemouth bass are typically not recommended for ponds smaller than 1 acre, because intense management is required in small ponds to prevent them from overpopulating. Newer species that have gained a foothold for stocking as sportfish in ponds are hybrid striped bass and chain pickerel. Hybrid striped bass (http://fisheries.tamu.edu/pond-management/species/hybrid-striped-bass/) is typically the most viable option, and can be supplemented to the normal largemouth bass or catfish population at 10–12 per acre. These are considered bonus fish that grow fast, get big, fight extremely hard, and are great table fare, but they are sterile and do not reproduce, so they will need to be restocked as they are removed or die-off.
The recommended stocking rate is 500 sunfish per acre and 50 bass per acre. The sunfish can be 500 bluegill or 400 bluegill and 100 redear sunfish. Stocking redear is recommended because it provides another species to catch, they get larger than bluegill, and the pond actually ends up with more fish per acre than bluegill alone, because they do not directly compete for food resources. Bluegill feed predominantly on insects their entire life while redear feed primarily on snails and mollusks. Redear sunfish can be stocked as the only species in a pond, but if so, do not stock bass. The reproductive rate of redear is much lower than that for bluegill, so alone they are not good forage to support a bass population. Instead of bass, stock catfish at lower rates as the predatory species. The option of stocking bluegill as the only species in the pond is not recommended due to overpopulation issues. With any sportfish stocking, 5 to 15 lbs/acre of fathead minnows (http://fisheries.tamu.edu/pond-management/species/fathead-minnows/) should be stocked prior to stocking the sportfish as an easy to capture forage for the fish population to become established.
There is also a specific stocking order. Stock 5–15 lbs of fathead minnows per acre in the spring or early summer and allow them to reproduce and fill the pond during the summer. Stock the sunfish (bluegill and redear) in late summer or fall, but do not stock bass (or catfish) until late spring or early summer the following year. If the sunfish (typically 1–3") are stocked along with bass (typically 3–5"), the population the following spring ends up with starving bass and no sunfish because the bass eat the sunfish that were stocked. By stocking the sunfish before the bass they have time to grow and sexually mature, so by the time bass are stocked the following spring or summer, the bass will feed on their numerous offspring, not the initial sunfish that are now broodstock.
The quickest way to produce good fishing is to stock for all surface acres of the pond, but that may become cost prohibitive if the pond is many acres. By stocking only a few acres but sticking to the 10:1 ratio, the fish will eventually multiply to fill the pond. This is a cheaper method, but it may take a year or two (or three) longer before the population density can be achieved that would normally be found in a pond where fish were stocked at recommended rates for each surface acre initially. If cost is an issue, as little as 100 sunfish and 10 bass per acre can be stocked, but this will take a long time to produce good fishing if the pond is larger than an acre or two. Stocking at the recommended rates per acre (500 sunfish and 50 bass) will produce fairly good fishing in around 3–4 years. After 4 years, many of the originally stocked bass will be 16–17" in length and weigh 2.25 to 3 lbs, bluegill should be 7–9" and weigh a half pound or more, redear should be 9–12" and weigh 0.75 pounds or more, and there should be copious amounts of offspring in each subsequent year class filling out the smaller sizes.
For more information, please visit the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Aquaculture, Fisheries, and Pond Management website at http://fisheries.tamu.edu/ or download one of the pond management apps at http://fisheries.tamu.edu/mobile-apps/.
Written by Dr. Todd Sink, Aquaculture and Fisheries Extension Specialist and Meagan Hooker, Fisheries Extension Communications Intern, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Wildlife and Fisheries Extension Unit
Stocking Strategies for Sportfish Ponds (>1 acre)
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Originally published at wild-wonderings.blogspot.com.