Managing Bass and Bream Populations

Charles Lutz  |  3/31/2006 8:52:24 PM

Management of bass and bream populations requires maintaining a balance in the predator-prey relationship of these two species. Sustained fishing success will not be possible without careful attention to the number, size and condition of bass and bream being caught. For this reason, harvest records are essential in the management of ponds stocked with bass and bream.

In Louisiana, bass stocked as fingerlings should be allowed to remain in the pond until the second summer after stocking. In most cases, no more than 30 to 35 pounds of bass per acre per year can be removed from a fertilized pond if balanced populations are to be maintained. This limit is reduced to 15-20 pounds in unfertilized ponds.

Whether you keep track of numbers or pounds of fish, most of the fish harvested from a bass-bream pond should be bream. A general recommendation is to harvest at least 5 pounds and as much as 10 pounds of bream for every pound of bass. In many instances, any bluegill which is caught should be removed from the pond, whether it is large enough to eat or not. Redear sunfish are not as prolific as bluegill and may be thrown back except when bream populations are extremely high.

Another point to remember is that when a bream is removed from the pond, another individual will grow to take its place within several months. When a bass is caught, however, it will take roughly one year for a younger fish to take its place. For this reason, bass harvests must be spread out over the entire fishing season if pond balance is to be maintained.

If both bass and bream exhibit good reproduction, a pond can probably be considered in balance. One way to ascertain spawning success is to sample shallow areas from mid-May to late June with a small-mesh minnow seine, approximately 15 to 30 feet in length and 4 to 6 feet deep. Ideally, various sizes of both species will be present, including young-of-the-year in the 1- to 2-inch size range. The late Dr. H.S. Swingle of Auburn University developed the following method of evaluating pond balance based on seining samples: (see Table 1)

Another way to determine whether bass and bream populations are in balance is to evaluate the size of fish being harvested. If most of the bream are small (less than 5 inches long) and few small bass are present, the pond is probably overpopulated with bream. This is common. On the other hand, if only a few very large bream are present and many small bass are in the pond, additional bass harvests may be necessary.

The percentage size distribution (PSD) method of evaluating pond balance is useful if good records are available for the pond. Records should be kept of all largemouth bass larger than 8 inches caught from the pond. Of those bass, any fish larger than 12 inches can be considered a “quality” fish. The PSD for the bass population is determined by the percentage of all bass over 8 inches long which can be considered quality bass (over 12 inches.) If 10 fish over 8 inches in length are caught and six are over 12 inches, the PSD is 60. Balanced bass populations generally have PSD values between 20 and 60.

Table 1.

Fish Collected by Seine

Condition of Population

Recommendation

No young bass. Many recently hatched bream and few or no 3- to 5- inch bream.

Bass slightly crowded.

Harvest more bass.

No young bass. No recently hatched bream but many 3- to 5- inch bream.

Bream overcrowded.

Remove excess 3- to 5-inch bream. Correct problems such as excess vegetation or turbidity. Bass stocking may be desirable.

No young bass. No recently hatched bream. Many 3- to 5-inch bream and many tadpoles, minnows or crawfish.

Bream overcrowded.

Same as above, but bass should be stocked at 50 per acre the next spring.

No young bass. No recently hatched bream, and few or no 3- to 5-inch bream.

Other types of fish competing with bream.

Undesirable fish must be eliminated by draining or renovating. Restock as new pond.

Same as above but with many 3- to 5-inch green sunfish.

Green sunfish competing with desirable bream such as bluegill and redear.

Same as above, or reduce green sunfish by intensively seining accessible areas.

Young bass present. Many recently hatched bream. Few 3- to 5-inch bream.

Balanced population.

No action required.

Young bass present. No recently hatched bream. No 3- to 5-inch bream.

Bass overcrowded.

Stock bluegill and/or redear adults (4- to 6-inch fish) at up to 200 fish per acre.

Young bass present. No recently hatched bream. Few 3- to 5-inch bream.

Other species may be competing with bream.

Monitor situation to determine if removal or eradication of competing species is required.

For bluegill, quality fish are considered to be 6 inches or longer, with any fish over 3 inches included in the PSD calculation. If 10 fish over 3 inches long are caught and two are over 6 inches, the estimated PSD is 20.

These PSD recommendations apply to general situations. Individual ponds vary widely in their ability to support different ratios of bass to bream, so use PSD values as indicators rather than management goals. Several years of diligent management may be required to bring bass and bream populations back into balance. Occasionally, however, ponds may go so far out of balance that more drastic corrective measures are needed, as described in the next section.

Table 2.

Management Recommendations for Various PSD Values

Bass PSD

Bream PSD

Recommendation

More than 60

Less than 50

Increase bluegill harvest. Return all bass.

20 to 60

Less than 50

Increase bluegill harvest. Return large bass.

Less than 20

50 to 80

Harvest more small bass.

Less than 20

More than 80

Harvest more small bass. Return large bluegills.

20 to 60

50 to 80

Balanced. Return large bass.

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