To Grow Big Bass Keep a Few Small Ones

Not too long ago, a friend told me he caught an 8-pound largemouth bass out of one of the farm ponds on his property. With permission to fish at will, I thought this could be my chance to catch a 10-pounder. If he released an 8-pounder in there a few years ago, there’s a good chance the fish is double digits today. Well, if that bass is still swimming he’s sharing the water with a million 10-inchers. I found the population to be stunted. 

In a 1979 study by Burrough and Kennedy, they state, “Stunted growth is a frequently observed phenomenon in freshwater fish populations. In such populations, growth of fish is much diminished relative to the potential of the species. A variety of factors has already been suggested to explain the phenomenon of stunting. These factors include intraspecific competition due to overcrowding, low food availability and an increase in survival rate.”  

The pond I was fishing is about 3 or 4 acres. It’s surrounded by native prairie grasses, so the water is very healthy. There is no run off reaching the water from surrounding agriculture fields. It has great water quality. It’s clear and around the shore there’s ample, appropriate aquatic vegetation. You would think the fish population would be just as healthy, but it’s not. 

The fishing was incredible, if you are only considering numbers. On nearly every cast, you would catch a largemouth bass. The problem is, every single fish was the same. They were all about 12-inches long. It didn’t matter what I threw at them. I tried my largest rubber worms, big spinnerbaits and topwater plugs half the size of the fish I was catching. Those little guys hit whatever I presented. I even caught largemouth that jumped out of the water to strike a bare hook dangling inches above the surface. 

According to Brian Canaday, the Statewide Resource Management Branch Chief for the Missouri Department of Conservation, a number of the bass in that pond have to be removed if we want to see the size quality of the fish improve. There is too much competition for the available resources. More is not always better. 

Catch and release has become such a mainstay in modern fishing, especially with bass fishing, that people rarely consider keeping them. While there is certainly good reason for catch and release fishing, sometimes the best thing you can do for a fishery is keep a few fish for the frying pan. Especially from a small body of water. Canaday said there would be no issue with removing 100 or more of the stunted bass from this pond. 

I think we have come up with a solution that is going to be fun, rewarding and good for this little fishery. We are going to catch and tag 100 fish, then have a family day on the farm with children fishing. Each tag will be assigned a prize. Hopefully the kids will catch a number of the tagged fish. We’ll keep 100 fish, filet them and have a feast. 

Farm pond fishing is one of my favorite outdoor activities. The action is usually hard to replicate on a large reservoir. To keep the fish populations of ponds and small lakes healthy, you need to keep some fish. Otherwise they are likely to become stunted. It may seem counter intuitive, but if you want to grow some big bass, introduce some smaller ones to your fish fryer. 

See you down the trail…
Brandon Butler
bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com

Pic: To grow bass like this in small lakes and ponds, you need to keep some of the smaller ones. 

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