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#513765 - 11/06/19 05:39 PM Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds....
Bob Lusk Offline
Editor, Pond Boss Magazine
Lunker

Registered: 04/10/02
Posts: 3163
Loc: Whitesboro, Texas
Thought about putting this on my blog, but figured some folks might like to interact with it.

A farm just north of Denton, Texas, has a 3-acre and <2-acre pond on it. These two ponds were built in the 1980's as recreational fishing holes for a family from Dallas. The land was bought as an investment.

They did the cursory things like stock fish, and fertilize as they thought they should. Then, in the early 90's, a branch of the family decided they wanted to ramp up management. One of those family members is a charter subscriber to Pond Boss magazine. He knew Mark McDonald, founding editor of the magazine and called him to see who he recommended to help guide them with a more aggressive management strategy.

He rang my number. The first thing we did was electrofish each pond. What do you think we found? Yep...overcrowded bass and not nearly enough bluegills.

He formed a budget and we devised a game plan. They stocked different strains of bluegills and started a supplemental feeding program. And they started culling bass. For ponds that size, it's not too hard to cull enough bass to make a difference.

Over the years, those ponds responded very well to feeding, culling, occasional supplemental stocking of Florida and F1 bass, adding some tilapia to help with algae, managing other plants that tended to become invasive, and just general maintenance of the property. For 20 years, they paid a full time caretaker to live on the property and keep it as the showplace they wanted.

By about 2012, the decision-makers were growing older and not using the place as much, and by 2014 the caretaker took retirement and the property just sat fallow, on its own.

A new family bought it this spring, and started learning about it. One member is a young man in college with an earnest passion and energy to help restore the ponds to their former glory.

We electrofished each pond last week. Guess what we found? No management since about 2012.

Let's turn this into a Pond Boss Forum Family exercise. Here's your mission: Throw out your thoughts about what happened to these two ponds that were thoughtfully (not necessarily aggressively) managed for great fishing. When the gates were shut, bass ranged in size from babies up to several double-digit fish. Bluegills had five different size classes. Water was healthy, visibility hovered around 30 inches most of the year.

Okay, pondmeisters, chime in. I'll read this thread each day for the next few days. If you need more clues, ask a question.

Go...and let's have a little fun.
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#513767 - 11/06/19 06:24 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
anthropic Offline


Registered: 05/03/14
Posts: 1957
Loc: East Texas, USA
My uneducated guess: Weed & algae growth took up much of the fertility. Water cleared, leading to more weed growth.

Additional weeds made it harder for bass to find BG, so growth rates declined. Smaller bass began to dominate. Average BG sizes declined as well, as LMB could not aggressively crop the YOY.

Not sure about watershed. If acidic as mine, and no liming, fish biomass would suffer as weeds took up more fertility.
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#513768 - 11/06/19 07:08 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Bill D. Offline


Registered: 10/19/14
Posts: 6055
Loc: Boone County Illinois
Great idea Bob! I'll be reading this one daily as well. Ok a question... You say the caretaker retired in 2014. Up until then, did he continue to actively manage the ponds even though the owners lost interest? Still feeding BG, culling bass, etc? If yes, then the question is what happened to a great fishing hole in 5 years when all management suddenly stopped?
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#513770 - 11/06/19 07:13 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
DannyMac Offline


Registered: 04/15/18
Posts: 126
Loc: Bexar county Texas
I'm in with anthropic. I'd imagine that since 2012 all the original and best fish have passed on to fish heaven. Without active and natural culling of the bass runts, the genetics of the herd migrate to average?
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#513772 - 11/06/19 07:15 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Bob Lusk Offline
Editor, Pond Boss Magazine
Lunker

Registered: 04/10/02
Posts: 3163
Loc: Whitesboro, Texas
Frank, you're on a good track...but remember the lake had some double-digit bass and a healthy food chain. Does that matter? Would that impact the fishery long term? If so, how? And what are the limitations?

Bill D...yes, the caretaker reported to us what the water clarity was, he kept the feeders full, grass mowed, buildings painted, and drank a little whiskey along the way.

The owners did the culling and made decisions regarding stocking.

Danny Mac is on a good track, thinking about older fish becoming geriatric and going to fish heaven...did they? Was that enough time for that attrition to occur? Any other variables?

Don't be shy, boys and girls.

Oh, and tune in to the Pond Boss Facebook page in 13 minutes. I'm about to go live. I know Frank will be there, as will Danny Mac.
_________________________
Teach a man to grow fish...
He can teach to catch fish...

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#513774 - 11/06/19 07:48 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
jpsdad Offline


Registered: 05/20/18
Posts: 417
Loc: Texas
Originally Posted By: Bob Lusk
Frank, you're on a good track...but remember the lake had some double-digit bass and a healthy food chain. Does that matter? Would that impact the fishery long term? If so, how? And what are the limitations?


Well, I am no expert but the conditions to grow 10+ lb bass means that ... up to 2012 ... that they did a good job culling and that smaller LMB weren't hijacking the food chain. If there were several year classes of females > 3lbs were represented in 2012 then any attrition would just allow these fish to continue growing. In as much as this is true, attrition of the larger fish would be a good thing. Anyways, such would be needed for a sustainable system and so the decline (if this condition was attained) might likely be gradual in the face of neglect.

The limitation, it seems to me is the recruitment of LMB and/or whether feeding continued. Termination of feeding would have reduced prey production of course and this might have... given the LMB had grown into that productivity ... adversely affected the large LMB. On the matter of recruitment, given there were a lot of large females in the BOW in 2012, I think this would have really helped to reduce recruitment. At least in the case where small BG are plentiful, a heavy cull of the largest males should greatly limit the success LMB spawns.

To grow big bass, one has to grow big bass. Sounds maybe oversimplified because I know a big effort as well as investment went into making the BOW a trophy BOW. But once success is achieved, it is easier to maintain than it is getting it there. Ultimately, nothing succeeds like success and long term satisfactory results can be achieved. So I wonder ... is this going to be a success story where the BOW maintained its self under continued feeding ... Or ... a story of how curtailment of feeding crashed the production of prey?


Edited by jpsdad (11/06/19 07:58 PM)

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#513775 - 11/06/19 08:14 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Bill D. Offline


Registered: 10/19/14
Posts: 6055
Loc: Boone County Illinois
I'm not ready to offer up an opinion on the current condition of the ponds yet but I do think the fact that the BG were fed pellets and that the food was suddenly taken away could be significant. IMHO It is possible the ponds were populated with multiple size classes of healthy BG in numbers that could be supported by the ponds with supplemental feeding but beyond the capacity of the ponds's natural food chain to support. If that was the case, the BG could have been starving, stopped growing and looking desperately for an alternate food source once the feed was withheld. They might have been surviving but not thriving... but still spawning.

Another thought along the same path...From reading another member's experiences, not that long ago, too many hungry BG actually limited his LMB spawn and recruitment....

Would not be the first time we've heard about a pond full of BG and a limited number of LMB of various size class....

So many variables that could have tipped the balance lots of different ways!

Intriguing exercise! Thanks Bob! smile


Edited by Bill D. (11/07/19 07:14 PM)
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#513776 - 11/06/19 08:26 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
RStringer Offline


Registered: 06/06/18
Posts: 459
Loc: Parsons KS
Man that's alot to take in. There alot of couldofs. Yes that's a new word. Have to be honest I'm just a fairly new student to all this pond stuff. I have learned more than I had any clue there was to them. All the different fish, water quality, algae blooms, etc, etc, etc. So really I'm just going to sit back and read the answers mainly. But Mr. Lusk was yelling at the class saying dont be shy.

That's prolly a lie. I'm very talkative so I will prolly chime in more. Also I read this form several times a day so my wheels are always turning (not a good thing lol).
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#513780 - 11/07/19 06:45 AM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Dave Davidson1 Offline
Moderator
Lunker

Registered: 01/04/06
Posts: 14124
Loc: Hurst & Bowie, Texas
Being successful in the past, we can rule out water quality concerns. And Denton is just far enough West to have balance and not need fertilization. If there were environmental issues, I expect you would have said so.

Silted in, average depths?

How quickly do they want to turn this around? Are they like the guy you wrote about in Raising Trophy Bass who said that he didn't buy green bananas? (I've never forgotten that one.)

Step one, for me, would be for you to get your shock boat in to cull bass. It's pretty tough to fish a pond/ponds back into balance. Since we are in a transition time re weather, you might not solve the problem by shocking fish up now. But, it might be a good start. I assume they don't want to kill it off and start over. But, that's a good option.

The young man who will be the new Manager; is he local?
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It's not about the fish. It's about the pond. Take care of the pond and the fish will be fine. PB subscriber since before it was in color.

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#513781 - 11/07/19 06:57 AM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
TGW1 Offline


Registered: 09/19/14
Posts: 2946
Loc: Harrison Co. Texas
I think it could go in different directions. Could be that the two ponds are completely different from one another. A well managed pond could have DD lmb in 5 yrs. And they might continue to grow from the original management. the LMB might be at 10 yrs old and really be big lmb in one or both ponds. On the other hand they could be all out of whack. Like Frank said, could be taken over by plants like bushy Pondweed. Man that stuff is aggressive. HERE U GO "IT DEPENDS" LOL I am betting the two ponds are completely different, even though they were managed the same from the beginning.
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#513787 - 11/07/19 10:31 AM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
jludwig Offline


Registered: 05/14/11
Posts: 1548
Loc: Central Kansas
I think this shifted in a pond dominated by an overpopulation of BG.

My reason is as the larger LMB slowly died off that allowed more larger BG to survive and keep growing. The reintroduction of weeds allowed more BG to survive.

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#513788 - 11/07/19 11:09 AM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
DavidDunn Offline


Registered: 04/11/19
Posts: 21
Loc: Newton, IA
I'm still new at this but will take a stab. I am guessing jLudwig is correct with one pond being overpopulated with BG. The weed growth could have allowed a BG safehaven and provided additional feeding opportunities of insects/snails. I am guessing the other pond is the exact opposite with overpopulated small bass. Which is why Bob knew this would be a great question for discussion.
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2.5 acres with LMB, RES, BG and CC

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#513795 - 11/07/19 12:17 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Bob Lusk Offline
Editor, Pond Boss Magazine
Lunker

Registered: 04/10/02
Posts: 3163
Loc: Whitesboro, Texas
Here's another couple of hints:

The biggest bass we collected was just shy of 4 pounds. Owners reported catches of several bass around 5 over the last few months.

14-16" bass relative weight was 84-90%.

Abundant 7-9" bass relative weight was 105%.

5 size classes of bluegills.

Coontail covered about 50% of the biggest pond.
_________________________
Teach a man to grow fish...
He can teach to catch fish...

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#513812 - 11/07/19 02:57 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
jludwig Offline


Registered: 05/14/11
Posts: 1548
Loc: Central Kansas
So the 14-16" bass don't have the correct size forage but the 7-9" bass have the correct size forage. I still lean towards big bluegill. Seems like the classic setup for that.

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#513813 - 11/07/19 03:00 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Dave Davidson1 Offline
Moderator
Lunker

Registered: 01/04/06
Posts: 14124
Loc: Hurst & Bowie, Texas
Coontail will provide a hiding place for BG of the right size for the larger bass. What % of the BG were appropriate size for the larger bass that it used to have? And how many smaller bass and larger BG could hide there to escape predation?

The 7 inch bass ought to be groceries for the larger bass if they can get to them. And since they had a RW of 105%, I expect they were mopping up on the BG before they got big enough to appropriately feed the larger bass. It surprises me that the bigger bass weren't mopping up on the smaller ones but the coontail could also be a wild card on that. It also comes to mind that 50% coontail could lead to an O2 crash in the big pond.

Since you didn't mention the weeds in the first post I'm probably going the wrong direction on that.

Were they feeding the BG? They must have to get to the 5 size classes.
How abundant were the BG?

Were the shock results the same for both ponds and were the past fishing results the same?
_________________________
It's not about the fish. It's about the pond. Take care of the pond and the fish will be fine. PB subscriber since before it was in color.

Without a sense of urgency, Nothing ever gets done.

Boy, if I say "sic em", you'd better look for something to bite. Sam Shelley Rancher and Farmer Muleshoe Texas 1892-1985 RIP

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#513822 - 11/07/19 04:41 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
jpsdad Offline


Registered: 05/20/18
Posts: 417
Loc: Texas
Originally Posted By: Bob Lusk
Here's another couple of hints:

The biggest bass we collected was just shy of 4 pounds. Owners reported catches of several bass around 5 over the last few months.

14-16" bass relative weight was 84-90%.

Abundant 7-9" bass relative weight was 105%.



From this it sounds like it is about halfway back to where it was when it began. A place most ponds settle to. Pulling the rug on feeding in 2014, to include pulling the rug on annual stocking of TP had an impact on the Large predators. I sure hope those 5 lb bass weren't of the (2 lb head/3 lb body) variety. Bob, please tell us that these 5 lbers were not once the trophies in 2012. Its too bad that this year is lost as far as growing forage for them.


Edited by jpsdad (11/07/19 04:48 PM)

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#513826 - 11/07/19 06:55 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Bill D. Offline


Registered: 10/19/14
Posts: 6055
Loc: Boone County Illinois
I agree, looks like the ponds are transitioning. Too bad we don't have yearly data points since 2014 so we can better understand how the dynamics of the systems changed with time. That would be a way cool study!

Bob,

1) What can you tell us about the current bass density vs BG density?

2) With the reported abundance of 7 to 9 inch LMB, how is the 1 to 3 inch BG size class doing?

3) With half the big pond covered in coontail, does that mean you could not survey that area?


Edited by Bill D. (11/07/19 09:02 PM)
Edit Reason: clarification
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You'll never know what ya can catch unless you wet a line!

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#513827 - 11/07/19 07:05 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Snipe Offline


Registered: 10/26/18
Posts: 759
Loc: NW Kansas
My understanding of how you guys do things and how fish grow down south-is lacking, but.. Not being there to identify visual conditions, weed growth has made an impact but to what extent I don't know. WR's of 14-16" fish suck for this time of year. 105% for this time of year on 7-9" fish might be low also. An abundance of YOY BG is feeding the smaller bass to some extent, but obviously the larger BG are either not available to the larger fish, or very few left(but something is supplying YOY). No more culling of 10" fish is taking a larger chunk of the younger BG. More weed growth is hiding some of them but I would expect WR's to go down as size goes up but it's going to hide YOY BG and LMB, maybe a double edge sword there.
4lb bass shocked up but 5lb bass reported prior could indicate extreme declines in condition and possibly an up-tick in larger BG-larger than the largest bass can consume.
Sounds a lot like the majority of the biomass is tied up in the lower portion of the food chain.


Edited by Snipe (11/07/19 07:06 PM)
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#513892 - 11/10/19 09:48 AM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
TGW1 Offline


Registered: 09/19/14
Posts: 2946
Loc: Harrison Co. Texas
I suspect the 4 to 6 inch bg are few and far between because the 14 to 16" lmb WR were low. This leads me to believe there were too many lmb in that size range. The Wr of the smaller size lmb shows there are good numbers of the correct forage sized for the smaller lmb. Your survey showed bg were in all sizes but I suspect the 4 to 6" forage numbers were low. I would suggest the number of smaller sized lmb needs to be thinned out to reduce pressure on the smaller bg so the bg might grow to the needed 4 to 6" size. It also looks like the water might have been so clear due to excess vegetation that the survey was not able to get a good sample of the larger sized lmb. They saw and felt the boat coming to where they were able to escape the survey boat. Looks like a pond that needs to thin out some of the lmb and maybe stock some Tp this coming spring to take the pressure off the bg. Bob, as per the survey, are the two ponds in the same condition?
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#513907 - 11/10/19 09:01 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
anthropic Offline


Registered: 05/03/14
Posts: 1957
Loc: East Texas, USA
Why 50 percent coontail? TP don't eat it, I think, so the lack of them wouldn't cause this directly.

Obviously, that much pond weed is gonna have big effects on fishery. Too easy for forage fish to hide.
_________________________
8ac E Tx, full 3/16. CNBG, RES, FHM 10/15; TP 5/16; FLMB 6/16. 100 12" NLMB & 1k GSH 10/17. 150# TP & 70 HSB 5/18. 1k PK 11/18. 100# TP 4/19, 200# RBT 12/19





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#513910 - 11/10/19 10:14 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Zep Offline
Hall of Fame 2014


Registered: 07/27/10
Posts: 3394
Loc: Dallas & Wills Point, Tx
where are these ponds? I live only 25 mins from Denton...lol
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#514025 - 11/14/19 01:16 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Bob Lusk Offline
Editor, Pond Boss Magazine
Lunker

Registered: 04/10/02
Posts: 3163
Loc: Whitesboro, Texas
Dave D, they stopped feeding the bluegills about four or five years ago.

jpsdad, you are right on with your thought process. The big pond is on its way to what it was back in the early 90's.

jludwig, big bluegills are definitely abundant, but not overcrowded. And their relative weights are about 70. What's interesting about this fact is that bluegills in this part of the country live about 6-9 years. We didn't age any fish, but I bet the largest bluegills are close to that 9 year old mark, thin fish, that were beasts when they were three or four years old.

While big bluegills are abundant, they are in decline due to age and their gravy train went away.

The biggest variable to make this fishery less easy to understand is the coontail. Picture it this way, these ponds were moderately managed up until about 4-5 years ago. Coontail was held at bay. When management stopped, coontail expanded. Big bass continued to grow. Big bluegills reproduced extremely well.

Here's another clue that will help you think through this little conundrum. There were some newly hatched bluegills in our sample, we observed probably 200 age-0, .5-1" long. There were hundreds of bluegills 2-3", also age zero, but probably hatched mid-summer. We collected about 15 3-5" bluegill, maybe from last fall, then 14 in the 5-7" class and more than 35 in the 7-9" class.

Imagine going back to 2015. We'd just come out of a three year drought with 40 inches of rain in 40 days. Each of those ponds were likely three or four feet low. Coontail probably covered about 5-10% of the pond a few months after those spring rains. The drought had confined the fish, bass grew well, bluegills were dynamic and the big ones were in great shape. Habitat was adequate. 2016 coontail probably doubled, covering 10-20% of the pond. That's still okay, not invasive and healthy for baby bluegill and small bass survival rates and growth rates of bigger bass. With a year past that drought, the fishery was probably expanding. By 2017 bass had begun to overharvest bluegills, except the coontail now likely covered 30-40% of the pond and was expanding. Bluegills have a big advantage now. Coontail now dominated the habitat and small fish had the best advantage to hide and survive. Not grow as much, but survive...until they poked their little heads out of that dense mat of plants. By summer of 2018, coontail covered at least 50% of the pond. Bigger bass were kept at bay, not able to thrive. The biggest bass were reaching old age and the younger bass on the junior varsity couldn't get to the dinner table.

Now go back and look at those bluegill ratios again. There are a bunch of Age-0 bluegills, not many Age-1 bluegills and pretty much zero Age 2-4 bluegills. That tells us there was a span when young of the year bluegills were decimated....which would have been 2015-2017, before the coontail became overwhelming. When the coontail expanded to about 40% coverage, bluegills staged a comeback.

But, compare that to the relative weights of the bass and we see the 15-17" bass are seriously underweight. That makes sense. With expansion of coontail as the food chain was being rapidly depleted, it makes sense that size class to decline. What also makes sense is with the big expansion of coontail we see a big expansion in Age-0 bluegills and bass...with some Age-1 bass as well.

This pond is compensating as nature does, it's ebbing after it was flowing.

The smaller pond is about a year beyond what the big pond is. Bass are considerably more underweight, but there are still five size classes of bluegills and the pond has about 70% coverage of coontail.

How did the boat navigate? Most of the coontail had sunk due to recent cold weather, but it was about a foot to two feet under the surface. Getting around was actually pretty easy. It wouldn't have been so easy two months ago.

Here's the recommendations we made to these new landowners.
1) Selectively cull bass. Get the SmartFish App that Wade Bales developed and when you catch fish, log them in. Any fish under 90 needs to come out, regardless of length.
2) Crank up the feeding program again. Bolster the bluegills and help them increase mass. Feed Purina's AquaMax MVP. It's designed for multiple sizes of bluegills.
3) Diversify the food chain next spring. Add tilapia and threadfin shad. Stock crawfish, too.
4) Keep the coontail in check. No more than 15% coverage of the pond.
5) Bolster genetics, if desired. We saw coppernose bluegill as well as local native strains. Bass offered several that have a Florida look...and we'd stocked Florida bass there many years ago. If you want Florida's, it may not be necessary, but does no harm.

With a three-acre pond, selective harvest won't be that tough. They can remove 50-80 bass and start seeing a difference. Relative weights will tell that tale.

So, there's what we did. If you guys have more questions, pitch them and I'll take a stab at it.
_________________________
Teach a man to grow fish...
He can teach to catch fish...

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#514047 - 11/15/19 07:54 AM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
Flame Offline


Registered: 09/12/14
Posts: 1243
Loc: Deep East Texas
bob you once told me lmb would prefer to eat a smaller lmb over a cnbg. maybe sleeker and easier to consume? Why do you think this did not happen with the larger lmb in these ponds?
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#514060 - 11/15/19 12:24 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
liquidsquid Offline


Registered: 11/20/11
Posts: 1990
Loc: East Bloomfield, NY USA
What would happen if the only thing done was to control the coon-tail?
Just curious as that would be what most people would do without the rest of the management you recommend.

I would hypothesize the bass would go on a feeding frenzy, and the BG supplies would drop quickly to an instability point with a bad predator/prey relationship. Then there would be a lot of hungry bass until they were culled, but a lot more of them would need to be removed than your recommendations above. It would then be a long road to recovery.

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#514068 - 11/15/19 08:32 PM Re: Evaluted an interesting couple of ponds.... [Re: Bob Lusk]
jpsdad Offline


Registered: 05/20/18
Posts: 417
Loc: Texas
Quote:
So, there's what we did. If you guys have more questions, pitch them and I'll take a stab at it.


That's an offer I'll not refuse.

Does the order of the list of recommendations reflect what you consider to be their order of importance?

What's the best way to control coontail?

What impact do you think coontail has on LMB recruitment and LMB YOY survival?


Edited by jpsdad (11/15/19 08:33 PM)

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