On broad expanses of public water, catch and release remains an important practice but, where private ponds are concerned, removing a fair quantity of bass every year is critical to long-term success.
Most people who manage private ponds do so with an eye toward growing big bass, and anyone who manages a pond at all does so in the hope of providing good fishing. The key to both, professionals say, is making sure to harvest as well as tend.
Don Keller, co-founder of American Sportfish in Montgomery, Alabama, has been assisting pond managers with this balance for decades.
“The total pounds of largemouth bass per acre in a pond is pretty consistent over time,” Keller says, “even if the size composition of the bass population changes. Therefore, you can have a high number of small bass or a smaller number of large bass.”
To optimize growth, Keller says the bass must be able to eat the largest baitfish they can reasonably manage.
“Eating food smaller than the optimum size is inefficient because more energy is burned in catching small prey than is gained by eating it,” Keller said.
The bluegill and other baitfish have to be able to reproduce at a rate that lets them grow to a sufficient size before being eaten, a condition an overpopulation of small bass prevents. Keller says simply catching and keeping bass can be all the management necessary to correct this.
“Typically, the bottleneck occurs at bass lengths of 10 to 16 inches,” he said. “Largemouth bass within this size range are so abundant that they deplete prey needed for growth by larger bass.”
Targeting all bass 16 inches and under, Keller says most fishery professionals recommend removing about 30 pounds of bass per acre per year from a well-fertilized pond.
Pick and choose
“Selective harvest of the largemouth bass population, just like fertilizing or feeding, should be continued year after year,” Keller said. “The bass population, by nature, will continue to produce large numbers of small bass, which will be contrary to your goal of larger, quality bass.”
As the bass respond to the harvest, Keller says progressively larger fish will need to be removed to continue the program.
“If you started by removing fish less than 16 inches, after a few years you may want to move this up to 18 inches and under,” he said. “Quality bass management is best done through a combination of fertilization, feeding, stocking and more, but harvesting bass by angling to thin the population is one of the most effective and least expensive management practices out there to create quality bass fishing.”
“The first thing you need to do is figure out the forage where you’re fishing,” Clay Coleman, of Clay’s Bait and Tackle, in Tupelo, said. “You need to know if the bass where you’ll be are primarily eating shad or bream or crawfish.”
As with any other manmade product intended to fool wild animals, bass lures must pass for a natural counterpart with which the bass are already familiar, and be presented in a place the bass would expect it to be. The construction of the crankbait itself determines the depth at which it will run and the degree to which it will wobble, the better to get in front of the bass and get its attention, and the color it wears along the way completes the equation.
“If you’re fishing in a farm pond, you’ll want to use bluegill and crawfish colors,” Coleman said. “On Pickwick, where there are literally billions of shad, you’ll want to take shad and a few crawfish colors. In a farm pond, you’ll want crankbaits designed to run shallow, and on bigger water like Pickwick you’ll want baits designed to go deep.”
The spectrum of colors offered within each individual pattern is tuned to mimic bream, shad or crawfish as closely as possible and still be seen.
“They need to be able to see what they’re biting, so you’ll want to use colors that are progressively brighter as the water gets progressively muddier,” Coleman said. “Use the muted, natural colors in clear water to appear as natural as possible, use black, red and chartreuse in the dirtiest water, and use colors in between in water whose color is in between.”
With those factors determined, Coleman said the rest is common sense.
“Throw a crawfish color where crawfish would be,” he said. “Throw shad colors where shad would be and bream colors where bream would be.”