Written by Industry Expert Dr. Vic DiCenzo, Fisheries Biologist
There are approximately 4.5 million lakes and ponds in the United States, and many of these waterbodies are utilized for recreational fishing. Anglers often have wide ranging objectives for their fishing experience, including catching fish to eat, catching and releasing a variety of fish for sport, catching fish in a trophy fishery, or simply being outdoors and relaxing in a natural setting. These disparate motivations often require pond managers to develop different strategies to meet angler desires.
Largemouth Bass are the most popular sportfish in the US. Many anglers have transitioned from wanting to catch Largemouth Bass to eat to seeking trophy fish to catch. Because of this, most anglers practice catch-and-release fishing and rarely harvest Largemouth Bass. Low harvest of Largemouth Bass often skews the predator-to-prey ratio, creating an environment for fish to become overcrowded and leading to poor growth, poor condition and a population comprised of smaller individuals (< 15 inches). In the absence of harvesting, fisheries management professionals often seek alternative ways to mitigate the overcrowding (fish removal and resetting the pond) and improve population structure of Largemouth Bass.
If harvest is negligible, then fisheries managers need some control over Largemouth Bass reproductive success (which is often high in ponds). One strategy is to stock female-only Largemouth Bass, thus negating reproduction. This strategy requires that fisheries managers are 100% certain that no males are included in the fish stocking and also that the pond is isolated (no males can enter the system from a nearby stormwater pond or stream). A population comprised of all females gives fisheries managers control over recruitment. An additional benefit is that females typically grow much larger than males. In the case of Largemouth Bass, females can exceed 24 inches while the length of males is significantly less. Therefore, stocking female-only Largemouth Bass is a viable strategy to help meet the objectives of those seeking a trophy fishing experience.
Researchers at Auburn University recently evaluated stocking all female Largemouth Bass in three ponds. They also stocked prey fish and fertilized the ponds as needed to achieve a productive plankton bloom. The Bass experienced fast growth and remained healthy for several years after stocking. By monitoring growth and condition of the Bass, the researchers were able to determine if additional management was needed (selective harvest and additional forage fish stocking). Not only were growth and condition above average, but survival was high and density was easier to manage in the absence of reproduction. Results of this study indicate that stocking and maintenance of pure female-only Largemouth Bass populations offers fisheries managers with an attractive alternative to help create low-density, fast growing, quality fisheries in lakes and ponds.
It is important to remember, however, that stocking all female Largemouth Bass does not guarantee the creation of a trophy fishery. Trophy fisheries are unique and require a variety of fisheries management strategies to achieve the desired results. It is still imperative to closely monitor water quality, fertility, cover, prey density and Largemouth Bass growth and condition. Fisheries managers often refer to this approach as adaptive management. Adaptive management is a process of describing the current status of the fishery, identifying goals and objectives, designing and implementing strategies to achieve those goals and objectives and evaluating the effects of strategies to learn more about the system to modify the approach if necessary. Therefore, consultation with trained fisheries biologists is necessary to determine if stocking all female Largemouth Bass is a viable management option for your waterbody.
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Vic DiCenzo, PhD, is a member of the fisheries team at SOLitude with more than two decades of industry experience. As a Fisheries Biologist, Vic designs and implements studies to collect fisheries data from lakes and ponds, and makes recommendations to clients for the long-term management of their aquatic resources. He has published numerous research articles and presented research results across the country.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 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.