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Proper Stocking is a Key to Quality Fishing

Posted Apr. 16, 2007

Spring has arrived, and, with it, so has spring fever. One of the many "side effects" associated with spring fever is a compulsive desire to fish. This side effect is very difficult for many people to overcome and some are permanently afflicted. Land-owners interested in managing their ponds for sport fishing are particularly susceptible to a related symptom: a strong desire for a quality fishery.

A quality fishery begins with proper pond construction, proper water quality (see article "Proper Management Ensures Good Quality Fisheries in Ponds" by Mike Porter) and proper initial stocking. Pond size (surface acres) and goals are the most critical factors when determining the number of fish to stock and the type of fishery.

Ponds smaller than 0.5 surface acres or ponds that are muddy due to suspended clay particles are commonly stocked only with channel catfish (CC) at a rate of 100 per surface acre if unfed or 100 to 1,000 per surface acre if fed. Largemouth bass (LMB) should be stocked at a rate of 40 to 50/surface acre to consume excess channel catfish reproduction. CC numbers are then stocked on a put-and-take basis and, when properly managed, can cure the quality fishery symptom for some landowners.

A CC fishery just does not constitute a cure for some. Bass big bass are more their style. Land-owners in need of the big bass cure are best served when ponds are larger than one surface acre, have adequate water quality, preferably a phytoplankton (microscopic plants) bloom that limits visibility between 12 and 30 inches, and have appropriate LMB harvest restrictions. In this instance, a good stocking plan using LMB and bluegill and possibly some combination of CC, redear sunfish, threadfin shad and golden shiner works well.

Stocking other species of fish can cause problems. The combination LMB, bluegill and CC are most commonly stocked in Oklahoma and Texas ponds using 1- to 3-inch fingerlings on a per acre basis as follows: 50 to 100 LMB, 500 bluegill and 100 CC. Stock bluegill and CC in the fall, followed by LMB in the spring. As an alternative strategy, stock adult fish using 20 8- to 12-inch bass and 30 4-inch or larger bluegill per acre. This alternative is less proven than the fingerling stocking approach. Adult stocking can be done simultaneously in the fall or spring, and, if desired, 100 7-inch or longer CC can be added per acre.

LMB, bluegill or redear sunfish should not be harvested within the first three years of stocking. After three years, a good rule of thumb would be to keep a maximum of 18 pounds of LMB per surface acre from a productive pond with balanced fisheries. However, there are situations when few or no LMB should be harvested because of poor water quality or imbalanced fisheries. Specific goals for LMB population, size structure and abundance influence which size of LMB should be harvested. When LMB harvest is warranted, it is best to remove LMB less than 14 inches and leave larger ones to be caught again and help manage the other fish species. There is generally not a concern regarding the number of bluegill harvested. Harvested CC can be replaced as needed with catfish longer than 7 inches.

These stocking guidelines are for new ponds or existing ponds of adequate depth. Supplemental stocking in ponds with existing fish populations should only be conducted after careful evaluation. Many other variables that can influence stocking of ponds could not be covered in this article due to space limitations. There are many commercial sources of fish in Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma also has state sources of fish for those who request them by June 1 of each year by contacting the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) Fisheries Division at (405) 521-3722, an ODWC game warden, an ODWC fish hatchery or by logging on to www.wildlifedepartment.com. The ODWC, Natural Resources Conservation Service, university Extension, private consultants and the Noble Research Institute can provide pond management advice. Give us a call at (580) 224-6500. Maybe we can help cure your "compulsive fishing disorder."