Qualifier: This template is for bass/bluegill fishing ponds, mostly in the south.
Fish Stocking Template
When stocking a fishing pond or lake, there are many, many approaches. I prefer to custom-design a program, based on client goals and timeline, and then go get the fish at the right time, in the right numbers from reputable hatcheries we’ve known for years.
I’ll offer three different basic ideas, to start. If we went by the book, we’d be stocking fingerling fish, starting with the forage fish, wait six months to a year and stock fingerling bass, and then eighteen months to two years later, you’d be catching fish.
Option One, an age-old recommendation from the American Fisheries Society, is to stock 1,000 small bluegills and redear sunfish with five pounds of fathead minnows per surface acre. Fertilize the pond in spring, make sure the fish have adequate sources of food and then stock 50-100 fingerling bass either at the end of May, or wait until October and stock advanced fingerlings, your choice. Feeding fish is optional for this plan. Budget $500-650 per acre for this choice
Option Two takes a slightly more aggressive approach. For that one, stock 1,500 bluegill with 500 redear sunfish and 15 pounds of fathead minnows per surface acre, with 250 medium bluegill per acre to promote faster spawns. Then, in late May or early June, stock 100 fingerling bass per acre. For this plan, budget $1,200 per acre to stock your pond. Feeding is important.
Option Three is a fast-track plan. With this one, stock three size classes of bluegill, one size of redear sunfish, and 30 pounds of fathead minnows per acre. Basically, you’re buying the first and second year of growth and reproduction. Then, we stock 200 6-8” feed-trained bass per acre. Feeding is crucial, and harvest of small bass begins at the end of year two. This plan costs about $2,200-2,500 per acre, for fish.
There are other options, of course. We can stock adult feed-trained bass, already larger than one pound, along with adult bluegills and assorted baitfish. That plan is for guys who want immediate fishing and don’t mind writing a much larger check. These options are custom-designed for these folks and their specific pond circumstances.
Channel catfish are an option. Here’s how to make that decision. Catfish are for people who want big fish for the table, or for kids to catch…kids of all ages. Or, if someone just wants catfish because they like them. One question we constantly get from those thinking about stocking catfish is how they compete with other game fish. That answer is pretty clear. Channel catfish compete with game fish on every level. Even though catfish are opportunistic feeders, meaning they’ll eat whatever they find, they are still active predators. When they grow beyond two and a half to three pounds, they become primarily predatory. They’ll eat bluegill, chase baitfish and compete directly with bass and other game fish. If that’s okay with you, that’s okay with us.
How many to stock, you ask? Depends on your goals. Here’s some sound advice: If you want catfish for fun, stock 50-100 per acre. That stocking rate is for an un-fed pond. If you want to feed, stock up to 200. If you intend to put some in the freezer, stock up to 500 per acre and be prepared to harvest them once they reach two to three pounds. Feeding is a must for this number. If you want to raise more, eat more, or sell some, stock up to 1,000 per acre. That many pushes the limits of water chemistry and quality of small waters, especially once they average about a pound. You’ll see them growing at different rates, so you can start harvesting the largest ones as they reach 1.5-2.0 pounds each.
What size to stock? Depends on two things. Are there any existing fish in your pond? If so, especially largemouth bass, stock catfish large enough to escape being eaten. In most cases, stocking 8-10” catfish works best. If there are no bass, stock 4-6” fingerlings. You can also stock 6-8” fingerlings. The second thing? Your time frame. If you want to grow big fish quickly, stocking bigger fingerlings. Oh, one more important thing. If you intend to feed catfish, feed a good quality, grain-based fish food. Channel catfish don’t need the fishmeal-based fish foods.
Two species of crappie are available. But, we don’t recommend crappie is waters smaller than 30 acres. They are top line predators, limited by mouth size. To you and me, that means crappie eat lots of baby fish, key components in our food chain. When a small baitfish disappears, it can’t grow into a significant meal for our other fish. Crappie need their own habitat, away from other fish, especially bass, in order to minimize competition. Crappie are inconsistent spawners, making them predictably unpredictable. We never know what to expect each year. Some years we see heavy spawns. Others, nary a one. Add to the fact that crappie spawn first each year, and their babies have a distinct advantage over all the other species. Bottom line? Crappie are disruptive to small waters. With crappie, it’s not a matter of “if”…it’s more like “when” they overpopulate and stunt, disrupting the entire fishery.
Hybrid striped bass
Hybrid stripers can be huge fun. They are another of those “put and take” fish. Stock some, grow them, and between harvest and attrition, you’ll have to restock from time to time. They love open water and readily come to fish food. They so fast you’ll be amazed. Stocking rates vary from 25 per acre, up to 200, based on goals. Hybrid stripers will grow beyond ten pounds…and can do it in four years or slightly less. Keep one other thing in mind. Hybrid stripers don’t like hot water. They’ll fight to their death. If you want hybrid stripers, let’s have a conversation.
Threadfin shad fill an unused niche in private fishing lakes. They patrol open water, filtering their food from the water column. They typically aren’t grazers, and don’t readily take to fish food. We have seen them pick at periphyton off dock poles, rocks and structure, but that’s not their lifestyle. They constantly swim, moving and inhaling water to breathe and filter their food from the water. Threadfin shad thrive in fertile water. So, if you plan to stock them, be sure there’s a good plankton bloom in the water.
How many to stock? Depends on what’s in the lake. Bass crowded? Stock more, as some will be eaten. Our typical minimum order is 5,000.
Threadfin spawn on grassy substrate, so be sure you pond has grass before stocking shad. If you don’t have aquatic plants, buy some square bales of coastal Bermuda grass, break up the bales and spread them around the edges. Shad spawn just before daylight, around the perimeter. They’ll spawn continually, in sporadic cycles, all summer. And, their babies start having babies when they’re about 90 days old.
How are they used in a management strategy? Threadfin shad attract mostly the intermediate-sized bass, since these shad are typically small. Smaller game fish tend to rely on smaller meals, while big bass prefer big meals. Less work.
Seems there’s some controversy about stocking gizzard shad into private fishing lakes. Some biologists are adamant about not stocking them. Others swear by them. Here’s our beliefs. First, every trophy bass lake we have under management has gizzard shad in them. Every one. But, we have strict caveats about how and when to stock gizzard shad. We want at least 20-25% of the bass biomass to be larger than 2.5 pounds. Why, you might ask? Because gizzard shad spawn once, and their babies grow fast. We want enough big bass to be able to keep the shad population in check. If there’s too few large bass to eat fast growing gizzard shad, we’ll soon have too many shad too big to be eaten. That creates a problem…and is why some biologists consider them controversial. If gizzard shad overpopulate, they don’t have a good function. Do you know why gizzard shad are so aptly named? They have a gizzard. These fish have a bottom-facing mouth and root around in the mud, feeding on worms, bugs, crustaceans and muck. Their long digestive system gives their oily bodies plenty of time to digest whatever they suck in and crush. We’ve seen more than one muddy pond due to big numbers of gizzard shad.
That’s why we’re so picky how we use them.
Gizzard shad spawn once annually, during spring. They’ll dump their eggs quickly, the male fertilizes them, and mom and dad wish them luck. Whatever hatches, hatches. Because of that little natural fact, gizzard shad drop lots of eggs…as many as 250,000 per female.
If we can source big ones, you don’t need more than 5-10 per acre.
While there is no magic bullet in pond management, we’ve grown fond of pulling the trigger on tilapia in management strategies for two key reasons. Reason one is that tilapia, especially Mozambique tilapia, are prolific spawners. While there’s not much hard evidence tilapia are a prime food source for larger bass, young ones are a good fit in the food chain for smaller fish. One important observation over the last decade of stocking tilapia each spring is they increase survival rates of young of the year bluegill. Once we started using tilapia, we noted a significant increase in young bluegill each fall, in each lake we used them. That’s significant. Winter food for prized bass.
Reason Two to use tilapia is assist controlling filamentous algae. Once they begin to reproduce, filamentous algae begins to go away. Tilapia are grazers, with filamentous a prime menu item. On the surface, stocking tilapia for algae control seems high. But, it’s not. For the same price as two or three chemical treatments, you can have organic control, with fish that convert algae to flesh, and living food into your fishery.
Stocking rates? Ten pounds per acre is enough to supplement forage fish. But, it takes 20 pounds per acre to control algae efficiently. Careful, though. Tilapia are illegal in some states.
Each spring, into summer months, crawfish supply is regionally abundant. Exercise caution--only stock species native to your part of the planet. We use crawfish as a supplemental food for bass. Conversion rates are high, and bass love to eat mudbugs. They are available in 30-40 pound bags, delivered straight from the farm in south central Louisiana. Otherwise, buy crawfish from local producers.
Last edited by Bob Lusk; 03/08/22 04:12 PM.