Managing for Bass and Bluegill

Three years after stocking a lake with largemouth bass and bluegill a decision must be made. The decision will depend upon what kind of fishing is desired in your lake. Bass will have reproduced two or three times during this 3 year period and there may be a surplus of young bass. If unharvested, poor growth rates occur because of excessive competition. The result will be a bass population comprised primarily of individuals less than 12 inches long. All these small bass will effectively control bluegill numbers and the pond will have plenty of 7-to 8-inch bluegills.

If the pond owner is interested in catching bass more than 12 inches long, 8-to 12-inch bass must be harvested. About 25 8- to 12-inch bass (weighing a total of 10 to 15 pounds) should be harvested per acre each year after the third year from stocking. The removal of these small bass reduces competition and allows some fish to attain lengths of 12 inches.

To keep bluegills in good condition, incorporate a “slot limit” where 12-to 15-inch bass are released from the third year on. Releasing bass of this size will also ensure thatsome bass will grow to more than 15 inches. If bass have not been harvested properly, the fish community may have to be adjusted. It is likely that bass overharvest has occurred if primarily 3-to 5-inch bluegills and few or no bass are caught. This problem can be rectified by stocking 40 8-to 12-inch bass per acre. Bass less than 15 inches long should be released until small bass become abundant. Then, bass less than 12 inches and more than 15 inches long can be harvested.

If only small bass and few bluegills are caught, harvest of bass has not been adequate. In this case, 30 3-to 5-inch bluegills should be stocked per acre. Approximately 25 8-to 12-inch bass should be harvested per acre each year thereafter. Again, 12-to 15-inch bass should be released. Bass larger than 15 inches should be released if “trophy” bass are the goal.

When a decision is made to stock a pond with limited numbers of larger bass and bluegills rather than fingerling fish, the few bass must be returned to the pond and carefully protected. One cannot afford to lose the few original fish. Remember, fish management is food chain management.

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