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    Checking In On a Trophy Fishery in West Virginia

    by: SOLitude Lake Management   |   Dec 29, 2016

    AS SEEN IN Pond Boss Magazine, September/October 2016: Written by Industry Expert, David Beasley, Fisheries Biologist & Director of Fisheries

    pond-boss-trophy-fishery-article-page-1-e-1.jpgThe thrill of catching a trophy fish is an incredible feeling that sticks in the memory bank for a lifetime. For an avid angler, the simple opportunity to go fishing on a trophy caliber fishery is enough to cause an adrenaline rush. Unfortunately, for most anglers, these experiences are few and far between, and most trophy fish caught are attributed to an act of chance over anything else. One private pond at a time, the opportunity for anglers to routinely catch trophy fish is slowly improving across this great country, thanks to the progression of the private pond management industry.

    One waterbody in particular, located in West Virginia, has been methodically transitioning from a predator heavy, out of balance fishery, into one that has a great chance of exceeding all expectations. As you may recall from an article in the May/June 2014 issue of Pond Boss, this property was just going through a transition of combining four ponds into one larger waterbody, and resetting all of them to start a fishery with a predator population that does not reproduce. Combining tiger muskies, hybrid striped bass, and female largemouth Bass, this waterbody had its sights on a bright future.

    When starting the project in 2013, an initial electrofishing study indicated 78% of the existing bass population was between nine and twelve inches in length. Additionally, adult black crappie was abundant, and the forage base was comprised of only adult bluegill.

    The large quantity of adult bluegill made it appear the forage base had a great deal of promise, but with big expectations for a high quality fishery in the future, the $8,000 value of the adult bluegill on site did not provide enough value to outweigh the negative affect the stunted bass and black crappie populations would have on the future fishery. The problem? Trying to create a food chain for a crowded predator population, and then expecting those predators to grow to large sizes. It doesn’t work that way.

    In the summer of 2013, the ponds were drained, beneficial fish were salvaged for a fish fry, and rotenone was applied to ensure no fish were living in the ponds prior to letting them refill with fresh mountain stream water. That summer, many improvements were made, including the addition of artificial underwater reefs in open water, the installation of an aeration system on the largest of the four ponds, and installation of six fish feeders. In addition, the four existing ponds were mucked out, and a couple hundred tons of pulverized limestone and limestone gravel were placed throughout the waterbodies to improve water quality and serve as spawning substrate.

    In the process of mucking out and combining all the ponds in 2014 to form one 15-acre waterbody, several of the smaller ponds that previously leaked continued to remain problematic, even when being repaired by a professional third party construction company. Rather than letting the leaky ponds delay the fall stocking schedule, a main pond of 7.5 acres was isolated from the problematic ponds until the leaky pond issue could be resolved.

    That fall, once the 7.5-acre pond was full of water, bluegill were stocked at a rate of 1,000 per acre, redear were stocked at a rate of 125 fish per acre, fathead minnows were stocked at 100 pounds per acre, and golden shiners were stocked at 20 pounds per acre. We purposely overstocked the minnows to jump-start the food chain—landowner’s choice.

    gizzard-shad-trophy-fishery-pond-boss-c.jpgNow, three years later, the ponds are still isolated from one another, and the primary pond is the focus of attention for the time being. Its forage base includes fathead minnows, golden shiners, bluegill, redear sunfish, yellow perch, and gizzard shad. Gizzard shad, shiners, and bluegill make up the majority of the baitfish biomass. Gizzard shad, which were stocked at a rate of 40 pounds of six-inch fish in the spring of 2015, currently have three size classes including 12-inch brood fish, along with two smaller year classes of last year’s offspring, which are now seven inches long, and this year’s offspring, which are two inches long.

    Golden shiners have two size classes present, and their biomass within the pond is significant. Of all the forage fish, golden shiners have the biggest advantage at the moment based on their sheer biomass. Much of this is thanks to the fish feeders, quality fish food, and the 18-month delay before any significant predators were added to the system.

    The pond’s bluegill have also done noticeably well thanks to the fish feeders. Stocked in the fall of 2013 at one and a half inches in size, these initial fish are now between eight and nine inches in length, and have an average relative weight of 117. Following the initial stocking of bluegill, their population has responded favorably, and has a well-structured population ranging in size from one inch up to nine inches.

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    David 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 services that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Lake, pond and fisheries management services, consulting, and aquatic products are available nationwide. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.

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    Topics: SOLitude News, Fisheries Management