Improper harvest of largemouth bass ruins future fishing in more lakes and ponds than any other cause. Lake owners and other anglers frequently overharvest the bass population in the first season of fishing. This allows bluegills to overpopulate in the pond because a top level game fish is not present to control forage fish numbers. In some established bass populations, bass harvest is too low to remove a surplus of bass less than 12 inches long. This, too, causes a problem because the bass population does not have enough forage fish to eat.
A lake owner can reduce the likelihood of bass overharvest by making his water body off limits to everyone. This practice is, however, not encouraged because underfishing can lead to almost as many problems as overfishing. Although the pond owner controls access to his pond, he should not deny entrance to a responsible sportsman asking permission to fish if he follows a few simple regulations regarding catch and release of certain sizes of fish. The pond owner should encourage all anglers to record their catches by species and size. This record keeping system provides an estimate of the size composition and relative abundance of game species over time.
Largemouth bass growth rates are influenced by a number of factors including genetics, water quality, habitat and forage availability. Average growth rates for bass at southern latitudes have been calculated and are as followed:
- Age I -8 inches
- Age II -12 inches
- Age III -15 inches;
- Age IV -17 inches
- Age V-18 inches
The most sensible way to prevent bass overharvest is to establish a 15-inch minimum length limit for a period of 3 years after stocking. If those who fish the pond abide by the restriction and release all bass less than 15 inches, the pond should begin producing good fish of all species. The bass that were originally stocked will have to support the majority of the catch for 3 years, so they have to be used wisely.