Imagine for a second you are a farmer raising cattle. The cattle need to get to big before they can go to market. The faster the cattle get big, the more you can take to market, and ultimately the more money you make. Obviously, you want to have as many head of cattle possible, but you only have so much land.
You have two choices. First, you put out ten cows on your 1-acre feed lot and the grow to market size in just a few months, because there is plenty of food available. Second choice, you put out 50 cows on the same amount of land, and it takes years for them to reach market size. Which would you choose?
The answer is simple. If you want to have money, you would choose less cattle so that they will make it to the market sooner. The same thing is true with your pond. If you want to grow big fish in your pond, the fewer fish you have the faster they will grow and the sooner there will be trophy fish swimming around. Whether you are interested in big Largemouth Bass, slab Bluegill, or giant Channel Catfish, the process is the same. Limiting the number of mouths to feed ensures there is plenty of forage for individuals to grow to a truly large size.
Sounds simple enough. The problem is most fish (except sterile hybrid species), reproduce at an early age and continue to do so for the rest of their live. Bluegill take this a step further and reproduce many times in a year. This provides a great forage opportunity for other predators but makes it difficult if trophy Bluegill is a goal for your pond.
The good news is there are several options for you to limit numbers of fish in your pond to provide trophy opportunities. Stocking a reduced rate of fish per acre when starting a pond has shown some promise, but more research needs to be done before this become a widely accepted practice in pond management. All female populations of Largemouth Bass have also produced exciting results in places like Georgia. However, the process for ensuring only females are stocked into a new pond is currently cost prohibitive to most pond owners. And what happens when one male finds it’s way into the pond? That’s right, bye-bye to an all-female population.
The most widely-available and effective way to limit the number of mouths to feed in your pond is judicious harvest practices with angling equipment. Sure, it can take some work but what a great excuse to get out and enjoy your pond. Plus, you will have the ingredients for a great fish fry! Just add some hushpuppies and hot grease.
In the next few weeks, we will focus on how to apply these strategies to your pond to produce trophy fish. In the meantime, contact your local pond manager to get more information on how you can put your fishing rods to work on creating a trophy fishery.