Put the Sign on the Door and Let’s Go Fishin’!
Soon the air temperature will begin to warm, dogwood blossoms will begin to crack open and turkeys will be gobbling, all sure signs that spring has arrived. The coming of spring also has many of us wondering if the line on our fishing reels needs replacing, is our tackle box in order or do you need to replace the rod that you closed your truck tailgate on last summer? For many of us, Spring means fishing! While there are thousands of fishermen that thrash the waters of Lake Seminole every spring, there are countless others that enjoy the relaxing, much more laid back style of pond fishing. Whether you are fishing in your pond or that of a friend, a well-managed pond with properly balanced bass and bluegill populations can be a true joy to fish.
How has the fishing been in your pond for the last several years? Have you been catching nice, “football shaped,” fat, healthy bass? Or have you been catching a lot of “torpedo shaped” 12 lb. bass? Obviously the first situation is preferred; the latter represents a problem in your pond.
The number one problem encountered in most privately owned recreational ponds is over-populated bass, which is usually the result of not enough fishing pressure. The Achilles Heel of most small ponds is “catch and release” bass fishing. While this practice may have its place on large, public reservoirs, it can ruin a small pond. A very common misconception is that if you release a small 10-inch bass back into the pond it will grow into a 10-pounder. It just doesn’t work that way and here’s why.
In most ponds bluegills are the foundation of the food chain for the bass. If bass are over-populated they will prey heavily on these small fish and can completely eliminate an entire year’s bluegill reproduction. After a couple of years of this, the bluegill population will be comprised primarily of large, adult fish with no small bluegill (3 lb. range). Eventually the larger bluegills will die, there will be no replacements and the entire food chain will collapse. Yes there may be a very few larger bass but the majority of the bass population will be comprised of fish less than 15 lb. These fish become stunted because of lack of food and will never be that 10 pounder you thought was possible. The only way to correct this problem is to remove enough smaller bass to relieve pressure on the bluegill spawn. A healthy bluegill population will spawn several times throughout the summer producing tons of foraging for a properly balanced bass population. Bass in this situation will not become stunted, will continue to grow, and produce the type fish that we all want to catch.
So how many bass should be removed from your pond each year? A consultant friend of mine says that when you think you have about caught all the bass in your pond you are about half way to the number you need to be removed! While a general rule of thumb number is around 15-20 lbs/acre/year from an unfertilized pond, the only true way to tell is to survey your pond’s fish population. A survey can be conducted with a specially designed boat which generates an electric current that temporarily stuns fish and causes them to come to the surface where they can be caught, evaluated and returned to the pond unharmed. Utilizing this special equipment enables you to determine if the pond is properly balanced with the right numbers of predator and prey fish, primarily bass and bluegill. This equipment can also be used to quickly correct an unbalanced situation by removing a large number of bass in a short period of time. Of course you can remove these bass with hook and line but it takes a dedicated effort if the pond is badly out of balance.
Another misconception about private ponds is that they are easily over-fished. It is next to impossible to over-fish a pond where access is controlled. Following these 3 simple steps will go a long way toward keeping your pond in balance:
- Keep all bass less than 15 inches
- 2 Keep records of all fish caught and removed from your pond and
- 3 Keep on fishing!
So put some new line on that reel, buy a couple of new lures and a fresh bag of plastic worms, get some new grease for the fish cooker and let’s go fishing! Also remember, it is much more fun to take a kid along than it is to fish by yourself.
Joe McGlincy, a certified wildlife biologist and Auburn University graduate, serves as Director of The Wildlife Company, a division of Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc. He has extensive endangered species experience, particularly working with red-cockaded woodpeckers and has developed Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Plans and coordinated other management activities for RCW and other species on private and public lands. Mr. McGlincy has developed biodiversity plans for industrial forest products companies across the south and has conducted environmental audits to SFI and FSC standards. He has completed numerous outdoor recreation lease market analysis and maintains an extensive database of leasing information. Contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.