Cutting Edge Bass Management

Quick To Grow Lunker Largemouths

The anticipation was high as my Pointer Minnow hit the water.

“You’re just past it,” Scott Robinson hollered from down the bank.

A picnic table was submerged 6 feet below the surface, and Scott said it was a great place for holding wintertime bass. I twitched my rod three hard times before pausing the jerkbait right over the table.

One, two, three…

I twitched my rod one more time, and there she was. A 4-pounder laid into that plug like a Clarks Hill hybrid does in May. When I got the fish to the bank, I dipped my hand into the cold water and lipped one of the fattest bass I’d ever seen. It was obvious that she’d never missed a meal.

I caught that bass a year ago in a 7-acre pond in Jasper County. Scott’s pond is the most unique pond I’ve ever fished. He built the pond from scratch, and it could end up being one of the most impressive, cutting-edge bass ponds in the Southeast. He stocked the pond with only female bass — and tons of forage. Stocking female-only bass means there’s no reproduction, and the existing fish grow fatter and fatter.

“In a normal bass pond you have reproduction,” said Scott. “It’s easy to wind up with a lot more bass than the pond can support, which means it takes a long time for a bass to reach even 2 and 3 ponds. In my pond there’s no reproduction, so I can control how many bass go in and how many go out.”

Scott’s goal with the pond is to grow giant, trophy-class bass, so he wants every fish in the pond to have that potential.

“In a typical pond half the food goes to male bass, which probably are never going to get over 5 pounds,” said Scott.

This cutting-edge in bass management mirrors the mentality I see from deer hunters who have a quality-management program in place. These hunters work hard keeping their doe numbers down, their troughs filled with high-protein pellets and their food plots plentiful and green.

“It’s the same thing with fish, but with only females in the population, we don’t have to worry about taking fish out,” said Scott. “We just make sure the ones in there get all they want to eat.”

Pretty good idea, huh? Trust me, it gets even better.

Scott didn’t stock your ordinary female largemouth bass into his pond. Every female he put in was an F1 bass, which is a cross between a pure northern bass and a pure Florida bass. The cross between these two yields a fish with the aggressive characteristics of a northern bass and the great growth potential of a Florida bass. For fishermen, it means a pond full of hungry, aggressive bass that don’t mind crushing a spinnerbait.

Although the results from his pond are encouraging, Scott said the project  has been a time-consuming affair.

“I had to raise the F1s for the first year in a separate pond, then I was able to sex them,” said Scott. “I sell a tool that allows me to sex the fish in the spring, although you can look at the vent right at spawning time and tell most times it’s a female. That vent will be larger, more red, more raised up and more oval shape than round.”

Before the female F1s were stocked, he put in a a mixture of 7,000 bluegill and shellcracker — this happened in September 2001. Then, in April 2002, 5,000 threadfin shad and 50 pounds of fathead minnows were introduced.

Four automatic feeders were established on the bank of the pond, and Scott said they throw about a ton of fish food a year. Lime and fertilizer are also critical to the pond’s success, because it triples the pounds-per-acre capacity.

“I put 200 F1 bass in the pond in April 2003,” said Scott. “They were 10- to 14-inch bass, hatched in June 2002. The first year in the pond I was really amazed at the results. They put on between 2 and 3 pounds apiece. The bass had a lot of food to eat that first year.”

Scott owns an electroshock boat, and he shocked up a 9-pounder in November 2004, a fish that was only 2 1/2 years old! While that’s eye-popping news to me, Scott said that not every bass in the pond weighed 9 pounds at such an early age.

“Some of that is genetics, some of it is the fact that a fish picked a spot in the pond better suited for eating. Some fish are more aggressive and eat more.

“If you stock 200 bass that are all 10-inches long and 20 of them reach 16 inches, while the rest are 14 inches, those 16-inch bass have a different mouth size and are able to eat bigger bluegill and grow faster. That’s why you’re going to see different-size bass even in a pond with a lot of forage.”

In the summer of 2005, two years after the pond was stocked with the F1s, and when Scott saw the immediate success in the rapid growth, he realized the pond’s carrying capacity couldn’t hold all these fat bass.

“This project was experimental — I didn’t know what kind of survival we’d get, and I wanted to keep catch rates up,” said Scott. “I didn’t expect growth to happen so fast.

“There were 28 bass to the acre, and they probably averaged about 5 pounds apiece at that time, which was 140 pounds per acre. The pond can’t produce that much food even with all the supplement. I knew that thinning it out some would let the ones that remained grow larger due to there being more food.”

In June 2005, 26 months after the F1s hit the pond, Scott decided to remove 32 fish, and he carefully picked smaller fish so that the ones that showed the best growth rates remained.

Last month I met with Scott at the F1 pond for an afternoon of fishing. It was a cold, raw day, but we still managed to boat seven fish that weighed between 3.78 and 6.01 pounds.

Then, just to see if we could get our hands on a bigger fish, we slid his electroshock boat into the water, and we shocked up a 7- and an 8-pounder. Taking those nine fish, I came up with an average weight of 5.52 pounds apiece. It’s not scientific by any means, but it’s enough evidence to prove to me that these fish are putting on some pounds in a hurry. Remember, they’re only 3 1/2 years old.

Scott, who until last year was fisheries biologist with WRD, looked at some Lake Oconee data for average bass weight by age. The average size for a 3-year-old bass was .93 pounds, and the average size seen in a 4-year-old bass was 1.9 pounds.

“They don’t grow that fast on most public reservoirs,” said Scott. “There’s a lot of mouths to feed out there. If you get one to grow 14 inches in two years, you’re doing great.”

The only downside I see to an F1, female-only pond is the cost and overall maintenance.

“A female F1 is going to run you $15, for a 10-incher,” said Scott.

“Forage is expensive, too. Since the initial forage stocking I’ve had to stock 25,000 bluegill, 600 pounds of golden shiners, 800 rainbow trout and 10,000 threadfins. Fish food is about $800 a year and a load of threadfins is $1,200 a year.

“You can always lower the number of bass, so you don’t have to buy as much food.”

Scott explained that where you build an F1, female pond is another key ingredient to its success.

“I’ve tried a few other female-only ponds, and some male bass have come in with a stream, so we saw reproduction right away,” said Scott. “To keep a female-only pond you have to have the right location.”

When we shocked the Jasper County F1 pond, all I saw were fat bass and a bunch of bream and threadfins.

“That pond sits on the headwaters of two tributaries, so I felt confident nothing was upstream,” said Scott.

Fishing this female pond was fun. I knew that every bite was from a fat, aggressive bass. Although we had a great few hours, Scott said spring is the most exciting time to fish the pond.

“Last spring the fish seemed agitated — they were cruising the banks for a month,” said Scott. “I assume they were looking for males to spawn with. The fishing was amazing. I’d hook one and fight it to the boat, and four or five fish would be right there behind it. They are so aggressive.”

I really feel this type of pond is cutting-edge bass management. Only time will tell just how good it’ll get.

“I think we’ll see some 15-pounders here in the next three and four years if we keep putting the food to them,” said Scott.

A 15-pounder would make GON’s Georgia’s Biggest Bass of All-Time list.

“We’ll certainly have some fish in the teens, but anything above that it’s hard to say right now.”

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