Lessons Learned on a Georgia Largemouth Bass Fishery
As seen in Pond Boss Magazine
Thanks to plenty of sunshine and warm seasons, the southeastern United States is prime ground for producing trophy Largemouth bass. Well-managed waters in this part of the country naturally produce thriving populations of forage over a long season. This fuels ideal conditions for Largemouth bass to become spoiled, fat and happy…our goal.
Capitalizing on the opportunity to create a fun fishery of this nature brings excitement to landowners who are blessed with enough resources. In 2015, a landowner with a 10-acre lake set his eyes on creating a trophy fishery, with double-digit bass. He had a firm understanding he would need an abundant forage base and good bass genetics to do things properly. Although he was not up to speed on the most advanced management strategies, he hired fisheries professionals to help him accomplish his goals.
Thanks to SOLitude!
My stocked pond looks better than it has looked in 45 years, thanks to SOLitude!
SOLitude Helped Us Achieve Our Community Goals
As the manager of wetlands and open water for my community, I work with SOLitude Lake Management closely. They have helped us define our vision and achieve our goals. Every wetland area and body of water has different uses and different needs. SOLitude understands that and ensures those needs are met all the while keeping the budget in mind. We have annual fishing tournaments and they come out and talk with the anglers, explaining what we’ve done during the past year and what our future steps will be. Management of wildlife and waters is an ongoing and long-term commitment, SOLitude understands this. They have a dedicated staff that not only manages these areas but also helps educate their clients.
Our Fishery Is In It’s Best Condition Ever
Thank you to SOLitude for all your help at our Fishing Club. Our hydrilla problem is practically non-existent now. The fish survey you completed for us, the recommendations on slot sizes, and the stocking and feeding program you developed are producing outstanding results. Our club’s fishery is in the best condition it has ever been! Your presentation to our stockholders at our annual meeting was extremely well received. We are getting ready to enhance our fish attractors as suggested. We appreciate that a management program was developed that fits within our budget and that you are available to talk with us when we have questions. We look forward to continuing our association with SOLitude.
A Huge Improvement with SOLitude
I wanted to let you know how pleased we are with the results of the algae treatment. We noticed a huge improvement very quickly, and at this point, the pond looks really, really great. Also, the fish are thriving – some of the bass are over a foot, and the Bluegills have also gotten big. We are just thrilled. Thank you so much for your responsiveness.
From an Eyesore to Thriving Ecosystem
In one season, SOLitude Lake Management turned the two lakes on my Virginia property from dead, weed-infested, eyesores into thriving, fish-filled, ecosystems – and they have maintained them as such ever since!
Excellent Pond and Fisheries Management Experts!
After I had to drain my pond in 2010 to fix the dam, I took the opportunity to start from scratch. I contacted SOLitude to help guide my long-term management. Two years after my original stocking, we electroshocked for the first time. Based on the electroshock survey and Dave Beasley’s advice, I restocked 10,000 larger bluegills. My friends call me when they have “Daddy day” because they know they can come to my pond and their kids will catch bluegill bigger than my hand until they get tired of it. After 4 years, the bass are reaching 6 pounds, and in an hour, enough heavy bass can be caught that would beat a full day’s fishing on any lake in the region. Without SOLitude and Dave Beasley, despite all my research, my pond would be in an ever-worsening downward spiral. Now SOLitude and annual electrofishing surveys to keep me on track are a permanent part of my pond management plan.
What A Great Company!
When looking online for a new fish feeder, we had unpleasant experiences with two local fisheries. I decided to call a feeder manufacturer in San Antonio, who recommended SOLitude Lake Management. They were terrific! Paul Dorsett called me directly and was so kind and helpful. He arranged for a feeder to be delivered and set up for us. Although Paul was out of town, he sent his “ace” out, Ryan Young. Ryan and Alex Harrison were efficient, answered all questions, and were very nice young men. Paul even followed up to make certain that everything went smoothly. What a great company! Customer service is what it’s all about these days and SOLitude Lake Management knows exactly that.
Proof Is In The Pudding
Paul Dorsett and the rest of the team at SOLitude have done an absolutely wonderful job in helping us to create Lake Willis! In just a few short years we have gone from having just a few baitfish and perch, to catching a nearly 9-pound bass (our new record). Now if we could just have more time to fish as recommended, we could take out the 300 fish that need to come out. As far as we are concerned, we followed SOLitude’s recommendations and our fish have averaged growing of 2 pounds per year…proof is in the pudding!
A Truly Valuable Investment
We began with two small lakes that were never managed 10 years ago. With SOLitude’s help and expertise we expanded both lakes from 2 acres to 6 acres and began a monthly management program. We went from a spotty fish population to trophy bass with some over 10 pounds! SOLitude is efficient and really cares about the lake ecosystem. Seeing my three-year-old granddaughter catch her first bass makes the investment truly valuable. Thanks, SOLitude.
From Frustrating to 100% Fishable
When we hired SOLitude, our 12-acre lake was about 1/3 full of lily pads and hydrilla which were frustrating to the fish. Within 4-6 months, the lake became 100% fishable and the coloring and bloom were much more attractive. The recent addition of 8 or so built brush piles has added much-needed structure for bait fish and is now a great target that is producing bass on every other cast! A very common afternoon will produce 100 fish a day.
Assessing & Enhancing Fish Habitat
Over the course of the fishery’s first few years under management, the owner and the biologists made some good decisions. First and foremost was resetting the fishery. This management strategy provides significantly better odds of producing double-digit bass. During the resetting process, the lake was drained, cleaned up, and deepened in areas, improving both depth and the bottom contour. Add some habitat, and this lake was ready for water.
Once the lake filled, biologists introduced bluegill, redear sunfish, golden shiners, fathead minnows, and threadfin shad. They installed bottom-diffused aeration to improve water quality and placed artificial fish structures to improve angling experiences. They also installed three fish feeders and implemented a fertilization program to boost forage production. Then, summer 2016, they stocked F1 strain Largemouth bass fingerlings at a rate of 25 per acre, totaling 250 fish.
Over the years, biologists conducted electrofishing assessments and made adjustments as needed. As the bass grew larger, they also incorporated gizzard shad and rainbow trout into the management strategy to provide a larger meal to the bass. Although the bass were growing larger, the owner grew concerned his initial generation of F1’s were not reaching their full potential. More concerning, however, was the fishery appeared to be lacking a second or third-generation of bass growing fast enough to reach his double-digit goals.
The fishery had some good fish in it, but electrofishing data collected in the spring of 2020 supported his concerns. Only four bass greater than four pounds were collected that spring, with 85 percent of the bass weighing less than three pounds. The sample size was sufficient, but the quality of the pre-spawn bass was not. Eventually, he decided to make a change and bring in a fresh set of eyes to the project. In that process he hired SOLitude.
As with all trophy bass fisheries, some management improvements are obvious, while others take time to figure out. Upon getting to know the fishery in the late summer and fall of 2020, a few adjustments made sense immediately.
Setting Goals for Bass Population
First, it was clear the fishery had too many bass, which suppressed growth rates for all bass and led to depleted forage base populations. Instead of applying rotenone and resetting the fishery, the landowner and SOLitude chose the strategy of overhauling the existing bass population using a combination of electrofishing and angling. A goal was set to reduce the population to 200 female bass, and then stock a new generation of fast-growing female Titan F1 Largemouth bass once the undesired bass were harvested–bringing the estimated bass population to 250 fish. This population target was intended to be a fluid number that may increase or decrease in future years, but for the time being would serve as a benchmark in the process of improving bass growth rates while also re-establishing a more robust forage population.
Restructuring the Largemouth Bass Population
Restructuring a bass population in a lake this size, using electrofishing and angling typically takes 24 months, although it’s realistic to do it in 12 months if the waterbody’s habitat is outstanding and efforts are robust. This involves selecting all of the female bass you want to remain in the waterbody while harvesting all other bass.
Although this fishery would not exceed expectations for several years, it was still capable of producing measurable results. The initial generation of F1’s stocked in 2016 were good fish, and have a chance of reaching double digits, but not likely until around the time they are dying of old age. Although not perfect, these big bass will provide some great fishing opportunities as the owner patiently awaits more sustainable future generations of fast-growing bass.
The biggest error made in the original management strategy was to allow the bass population to become overpopulated. Based on the lofty bass growth goals and the owner’s avid fishing experience, it is realistic to say that male bass should have never been introduced into the system following the initial reset. Male bass are inferior to females when it comes to top-end growth, so based on the double-digit growth goals, male bass make little sense. To compound matters, the offspring of F1’s are considered genetically inferior to their F1 parents, resulting in less favorable bass in fisheries intended for top-end growth. If looking to create a sustainable fishery capable of producing double-digit bass within each generation, the strategy should not lean on offspring from F1’s to accomplish the objective. A more favorable solution would be all female F1s, as well as layering in pure Florida female bass at least every other year. Given the geographical location of the waterbody, it is not guaranteed that pure Florida bass would always survive winter. If the owner were to balance the risk/reward of Florida genetics, they would want to consider no more than 1/3-1/2 of the population being pure Florida strain.
How the Water Quality Impacted Productivity
During the process of harvesting bass, it became apparent the fishery lacked sufficient cover. The lake lacked adequate vegetation, wood, and rock. It did have some artificial cover, but it was spaced out too much and difficult to locate. Bass failed to associate to these areas very well due to lack of cover, making both electrofishing and angling efforts less efficient than desired. Fish were dispersed, rather than concentrated.
This poor-cover scenario made assessing the fish population and harvesting bass more difficult than it needed to be. This was especially true when it came to estimating how many bass were in the system. Following some fish collection struggles, logs were installed in the pond to better congregate bass. Unfortunately, due to the scarcity of wood in 2021, the log installation was delayed until the summer of 2022. In addition to adding woody cover, aquatic vegetation was installed in both 2021 and 2022 in effort to improve the complexity of the fish habitat.
The spring of 2023 will mark 24 months of effort toward restructuring the bass population. Although the bass population was not fully restructured in 2022, nearly zero bass recruitment was observed during the fall 2022 electrofishing study, indicating the fishery was nearing its goal. Lack of recruitment is a good indicator that the male bass population is becoming depleted simultaneously as the biomass of forage fish is increasing. Momentum is building in a positive direction. The forage base needs more momentum, and the bass population needs an additional round of harvesting.
Water quality was another critical variable that impeded the fishery’s success. During heavy rainstorms, incoming runoff would turn the entire pond brown with sediment, disrupting the plankton bloom and negatively impacting the forage base. Further examination of the watershed revealed areas of exposed soil and erosion. The largest contributor was a large ditch that ran several hundred yards in a straight line, allowing water to run rapidly downhill. Using riprap, small check dams were installed to slow the water down, significantly reducing erosion. Although a lot of work to install, they have done a great job at minimizing sediment–related turbidity following heavy rainfall.
Helping Our Clients Grow Big, Healthy Bass
Another water quality challenge for the fishery is the extensive amount of shallow water. Around 60 percent of the waterbody is 5 feet deep or less, with a max depth around eight feet. In the summer months, this shallow water can reach temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s, reducing areas for bass to find cool-water refuge. Although this variable is difficult to manipulate or improve, it sure can have a negative impact on bass growth and prevent them from reaching their maximum growth potential. This emphasizes the importance of minimizing as many other limiting factors as possible.
The management adjustments made over the past two years will have a profound effect on the fishery’s trajectory. The forage base still has room for improvement when managing to high standards, but overall, it has rebounded noticeably well. The initial generation of F1’s continues to grow, as they should. When electrofishing in the spring of 2022, two egged-up six-year-old females tipped the scales at seven pounds and are on their way to meeting the owner’s expectations. With another year of hard work and strategic management efforts ahead, this fishery will likely be fully on track by late fall 2023.
SOLitude Lake Management is a nationwide environmental firm committed to providing sustainable solutions that improve water quality, enhance beauty and preserve natural resources.
SOLitude’s team of aquatic scientists specializes in the development and execution of customized lake, stormwater pond, wetland and fisheries management programs. Services include water quality testing and restoration, algae and aquatic weed control, installation and maintenance of fountains and aeration systems, shoreline erosion control, muck and sediment removal and invasive species management. SOLitude partners with homeowners associations, golf courses, private landowners, businesses and municipalities. SOLitude Lake Management is part of Rentokil, a leading business services company, operating across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
For more information, visit SOLitude Lake Management at solitudelakemanagement.com, and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.