Did You Know…

— Written By and last updated by Pam Brylowe

As the cold winter winds are setting in, many pond owners are setting their sights on next year’s fishing. Of course, to ensure a successful (and plentiful) experience, it’s very important to manage the fish you have in your population. Today let’s discuss the concept of the balanced population in providing a stable fishing resource. It’s excerpted from our excellent NCSU Pond Management Guide, referenced at the bottom of the article.

When is a fish population in balance? How can I determine if a balanced condition exists in my pond? These are two questions often asked by pond owners. Actually, a truly balanced condition never exists in a pond. Fish populations continually change and never reach the state of equilibrium, or general stability, referred to as balance. Fisheries biologists sometimes use the term to describe satisfactory relationships between the predator (bass) and prey (bluegill) populations of a pond. Generally, a balanced population must provide three things:

  • Fish of harvestable size
  • Annual reproduction
  • A combination of fishes, including at least one predator species.

Unbalanced populations are those unable to produce annual crops of harvestable-size fish.

A common method described in the accompanying table may be used to determine balance in a pond of largemouth bass and bluegills. This uses angler harvest information, and is based on a correctly stocked bass-bluegill combination. Sampling four or five shoreline locations around the pond should yield results in one of the population condition categories.

If the results from this method indicates an overcrowded or undesirable condition, contact your county Cooperative Extension Center or the Wildlife Resources Commission for assistance. The Extension agent or fisheries biologist will usually recommend a corrective measure described for the following population conditions.

Overcrowded Bass. If bass populations are overcrowded, the situation can usually be corrected by harvesting the surplus bass. Harvest up to 30-50 bass per acre if the population is severely overcrowded.

Overcrowded Bluegills. This condition can sometimes be corrected by removing at least 100 pounds of sunfish per surface acre of pond. If few bass are present, restock the pond with 50 advanced (6- to 8-inch) bass fingerlings per acre. If overcrowding is not too severe, winter drawdown may correct the problem. Reducing water levels from December 1 to March 1 to approximately one-half the normal pond level concentrates the stunted sunfish, allowing bass to consume the surplus fish. If overcrowding persists, the pond should be drained, poisoned with rotenone (reclaimed), and restocked with the correct bass-to-bluegill ratio.

Undesirable Fish Population. Fish removal or drawdowns are rarely effective in eliminating populations of undesirable fish species. This problem usually requires pond reclamation and restocking to establish a successful bass-bluegill fishery.

Methods for Determining Pond Balance

Angler Method

Harvest Data

Population Condition

Bluegills 6 inches and larger. Bass average from 1 to 2 pounds, although smaller and larger sizes also caught. Balanced population.
Bluegills average more than 1/3 pound. Bass average less than 1 pound and are in poor condition. Unbalanced populations with bass overcrowded. (May be desirable if large sunfish are preferred.)
Principally small bluegills, 3 to 5 inches long. Very few bass are caught, and those caught are larger than 2 pounds in size. Unbalanced populations with bluegills overcrowded and stunted (May be desirable if trophy bass are the primary objective.)
Small crappies, sunfish, bullheads, carp, suckers, or other undesirable fish of any size. Undesirable fish population.

Information for today’s article was developed by NCSU Fisheries Specialist, Dr. Jim Rice and can be found in our excellent Pond Management Guide located online at:  https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/nreos/wild/fisheries/mgt_guide/  For additional information, please contact Mike Frinsko, Area Aquaculture Agent, Jones County Center at: 252.448.9621 or mike_frinsko@ncsu.edu

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

This article was scheduled to be published in the Jones Post newspaper on December 6, 2012 and was written by Mike Frinsko, Commercial Aquaculture Area Agent.