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A Young Fishery with a Bright Future: Part II

by: SOLitude Lake Management   |   Aug 31, 2017

AS SEEN IN Pond Boss Magazine: Written by Industry Expert Dave Beasley, Fisheries Biologist and Director of Fisheries

A Young Fishery II_e.pngThree years ago, I started on a journey with a client who was interested in growing big Largemouth Bass. He had recently closed on a farm with a seven-acre pond and was looking to create a special retreat for friends and family.

As you may recall from an article in the July/August 2016 issue of Pond Boss, this pond is picturesque and full of character, tucked down in the center of the property where rolling hills lead to a perennial creek that cuts through the landscape. The natural topography of the land, teamed with a large watershed yielding year-round flow, created an area that was destined for a productive pond.

In the spring of 2014, the pond was sampled using an electrofishing boat to determine how the newly purchased fishery was doing. The findings depicted a predator heavy waterbody with a depleted forage base. The stunted bass population had an average relative weight (Wr) of only 87, with most fish ranging between 11 and 14 inches in length. The water quality was also assessed, and the findings indicated the pond was eutrophic (nutrient rich), which was supported by the visual cues provided by the large biomass of aquatic vegetation.

After a couple of months weighing the options, the owner chose to reset the fishery and start fresh. To do this, the water level was lowered eight feet, and rotenone was applied using a Jon boat. By early fall, the pond was ready for fish stocking. Bluegill, Redear Sunfish, Golden Shiners and Fathead Minnows were all stocked to help establish a solid forage base. Once the fish were stocked, four directional fish feeders began dispensing a heavy regiment of high quality fish feed to boost the forage base.

In an effort to improve the pond’s water quality throughout the growing season, a bottom diffused pond aeration system was installed to de-stratify the water column. This process of de-stratifying the water helped to stabilize the pond’s nutrient load, and promote a high-quality plankton bloom.

The next spring (2015), the growth of Curly-leaf Pondweed was significant, so it was treated with aquatic herbicides to reduce the shear biomass of plants. The long-term plan was to not eradicate all the vegetation, since the pond was also destined to attract waterfowl and provide outstanding duck hunting opportunities. But since the fishery was just getting established, nearly all vegetation was eradicated to ensure that a high-quality plankton bloom could be established to boost forage growth rates.

That spring, one-year-old female bass were stocked at a low rate of 15 fish per acre. The bass stocking rate was low, partly to ensure they grew quickly, but also because of the pond’s ample supply of freshwater. Although this incoming water was a positive attribute, it comes with the cost that fish upstream can enter the pond at any given moment.

With the threat of incoming fish from upstream, the waterbody’s future female-only bass population was not likely to remain that way for long. So, to help keep track of the young female bass that were stocked, each of them were fin clipped to provide a visual reference and tagged with a pit tag to track their growth rates over time.

Water temperatures reached into the 60s during the spring of 2015, and the pond was fertilized using a quick-dissolve pond fertilizer to develop a plankton bloom. With some timely filamentous pond algae treatments, the pond was able to maintain a quality plankton bloom throughout the entire 2015 growing season, which aided in a strong yield of forage fish. Thanks to a great bloom teamed with two tons of fish feed pushed through four feeders the forage base thrived.

The fall 2015 electrofishing results showed the female bass were growing at an accelerated rate. In the first six months of life in the pond, the bass grew on average 1.56 pounds. In addition to a healthy forage base and good bass growth, the fall electrofishing results indicated that bass from upstream were already entering the system. Due to all of the “volunteer” bass entering the aquatic ecosystem from upstream, it was critical that we focused on bass harvesting.

ElectrofishingIn the spring of 2016, the pond was assessed and the bass had grown an average of 0.25 pounds and 0.5 inches in length over the winter months. The spring electrofishing results indicated that the forage base was still doing great and that the fishery was on track to maintain quality bass growth rates in 2016.

To help ensure the continued growth of the bass, the pond was electrofished multiple times that spring and 156 bass that had entered from upstream over the past year were removed. The incoming bass were doing great, averaging a Wr of 124, but they needed to be removed to prevent having negative impacts on growth rates of the stocked bass. In the process of harvesting these bass, several outstanding young female bass were pit tagged and released.

In addition to the few wild female bass, the pond was stocked with another five female bass per acre to help boost the bass population with desired, young female fish. These new bass were pit tagged as well to help identify them and track growth rates over the years.

Throughout the 2016 growing season, a high-quality plankton bloom was established and fish feeding continued. Another two tons of feed was consumed by the forage base. Keeping the forage base well-fed has been playing a key role in the fisheries success.

The fishery appeared to be on track as another growing season came to an end. The pond had experienced minimal fishing pressure thus far, so throughout the summer of 2016 we were not certain how well the bass were doing.

That fall, the pond was electrofished, and the sampling effort revealed that the fishery was on track, with the stocked bass averaging a Wr of 119. In the process of assessing the fishery, another 19 wild Largemouth Bass from upstream were harvested.

With things going well, little needed to be done throughout the winter months to keep the fishery on track. The primary item on the winter task list was simply to keep an eye out for otter sign, and trap them once they were present. With some more time under our belts, and four fewer otters in the world, it was soon the spring of 2017 and water temperatures were beginning to increase. The mild winter left us anticipating slightly higher wintertime fish growth than what we typically observe.

Our 2017 spring electrofishing effort showed that the fishery was thriving. The bass were all piled up in the shallow water and put on an exciting acrobatic show as they tried to evade the electric field produced by the electrofishing boat. The young female bass were noticeably stocky and had vibrant colors.

Fish FeedingIn the process of recapturing 40 of the stocked female bass, we also removed another 12 bass who came in from upstream, bringing the two year total up to 187 bass harvested that entered the waterbody from upstream. The bass growth rates of the initial generation of bass, who which were stocked 24 months prior, averaged 3.33 pounds of growth since being stocked, and had an average Wr of 126. The top performer that was recaptured had grown 4.27 pounds in two years and had a Wr of 123.

Based on the spring findings, it was decided that it was not mission critical to harvest more of the wild bass. Had the owner wanted to push bass growth rates to the limit it would have been necessary to harvest the remaining wild fish, but because the fishery was flourishing the owner decided not to do so. As a result, growth rates will be impacted, but, conversely, the wild fish will help boost catch rates.

In 2017 the pond will begin receiving a greater amount of fishing pressure, so, in this process, it is possible that many of these wild fish will be caught through angling efforts and removed from the system.

In just three years, the fishery has been successfully transformed from a stunted, undesired fishery, into a thriving ecosystem that continues to have an incredibly bright future. Although it may feel that the fishery has become a success story, the reality is that at any moment Mother Nature can disrupt our plans. For that reason, the pond needs to continue to be managed properly to ensure the owner reaches his goal of having a trophy fishery for his friends and family to create memories that will last their lifetimes.

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Dave Beasley, Director of FisheriesDavid Beasley has over 12 years of experience growing and managing successful trophy fisheries. David earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries and Aquaculture from State University of New York in Cobleskill and is currently the Director of Fisheries for SOLitude Lake Management, servicing the eastern United States and offering fisheries consultations nationwide.

SOLitude Lake Management is committed to providing full service lake and pond management solutions that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Our services include lake, pond, wetland and fisheries management programs, algae and aquatic weed control, mechanical harvesting, hydro-raking, installation and maintenance of fountains and aeration systems, water quality testing and restoration, bathymetry, lake vegetation studies, biological assessments, habitat assessments, invasive species management and nuisance wildlife management. Services, consulting and aquatic products are available to clients nationwide, including homeowners associations, multi-family and apartment communities, golf courses, commercial developments, ranches, private landowners, reservoirs, recreational and public lakes, municipalities, parks, and state and federal agencies. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com

Topics: Fisheries Management, Fisheries Projects

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