New ponds may be fished one year after the bass are stocked. Prior fish harvest can cause problems in pond balance because largemouth bass will not spawn until they are 1 year old. After the bass have spawned, there is usually no reason to delay fishing. If the pond has been managed properly, it will be supporting a maximum weight of fish one year after bass stocking. Continued growth of the fish will be very slow until some are harvested. Bream normally average about 1/4 pound and largemouth bass about 1 pound when fishing begins. As harvest occurs, more food becomes available to the fish that remain, and their growth rates improve.
Efforts should be made to harvest a practical yield of fish from the pond, yet overfishing should be prevented. Overfishing occurs most often during the first few days or weeks after the pond is opened, but may occur at any time if excessive fishing pressure is exerted. Therefore, owners should use some restraint when harvesting fish.
Annual maximum harvests should be limited to about 125-150 pounds of bream and 25-30 pounds of largemouth bass per acre for a properly fertilized pond (less than half these limits for unfertilized ponds). The total catch should not be made during a 1- or 2-month period, but evenly distributed over the year. Sound harvest practices cannot be placed on a precise schedule, but as a general rule, no more than 25 percent of the maximum yearly harvest of bream and largemouth bass should be made during any one month. To maintain balance, fish should be harvested at about the same rate they reach a catchable size. Harvest records (weight and numbers for each species) should be documented to eliminate guesswork. If proper management and harvest is practiced, ponds will sustain a fishery indefinitely. Contrary to popular belief, ponds do not have to be drained every few years.
Bluegill are easiest to catch during their first spawning period. In Alabama, this is usually during May or June. Bluegill spawn periodically throughout the summer when the water remains above 80° F and can be caught during any month of the year. Redear sunfish (shellcracker) are caught more readily during April and May. Redear sunfish spawn when the surface water warms to about 75° F. Normally they do not continue to spawn throughout the summer, but redear sunfish may spawn again during September or October when the water temperature cools to 75° F again. Redear sunfish are not as prolific as bluegill; therefore, they are less abundant and are not caught as often as bluegill.
Live earthworms are the most popular bait for bream. Other effective live baits include crickets, meal worms, cockroaches, grasshoppers, and catalpa worms. Bream will also take an assortment of artificial flies and small lures.
Largemouth bass usually spawn once each year when the surface water temperature reaches about 65-70° F. Bass may go on nests as early as February or as late as May, depending on the water temperature. Largemouth bass are not easily caught while nesting, but after they spawn, their feeding activity increases. Bass fishing success is usually at its peak from March through May, but bass fishing is also prductive during fall and winter. Largemouth bass can be caught on an assortment of live baits and artificial lures; however, shiners or minnows should not be used as they may become established and pose problems to gamefish populations.
A common problem in large ponds (over 5 acres) is inadequate bass harvest. Bass may become so abundant that they become stunted and skinny. If overcrowding occurs and owners wish to improve bass size, then they must fish heavily for bass and remove all that are caught. Owners may have difficulty removing enough bass to correct this problem in a large pond. Preventative measures are usually best. Bass should be routinely harvested at 25-30 pounds per acre each year (beginning one year after the bass are stocked) so that an overcrowded bass population is avoided.
There is no “only way to fish.” Fishing success may be improved by studying the habits of fish or by watching other anglers. The most successful angler fishes often, uses effective baits or lures, and is willing to experiment with new baits or techniques. If fish are not biting, simply try again another day.