What Food Should You Feed Bass in Ponds? (Bass Food Guide)

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What Food Should You Feed Bass in Ponds? (Bass Food Guide)

Spotted bass
Bass are economically valuable freshwater fish and include species like the spotted bass (pictured) and largemouth bass. Yann Kemper / No copyright

Bass belong to a group of economically valuable freshwater fish in the Perciformes family. The most notable species are known for their feeding capacity, value to sport fishers, and fantastic meat quality. Some of these are hardy enough to be raised in farm and garden ponds, potentially with other types of fish. Some of the most prized game fish in North America, these include largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), smallmouth bass (M. dolomieu), and spotted bass (M. punctulatus).

In the wild, bass favor relatively clean to pristine freshwater systems with ample vegetation and a complex food web. Mature specimens are known for being voracious feeders and formidable fighters. They may be classified as apex predators in ponds and lakes with well-balanced profiles, particularly those that can ecologically support their growth into mature sizes.  

To fully comprehend the needs of your own bass population, it’s important to go over their environmental requirements and natural feeding habits. Based on your intentions for rearing them and on the features of your pond, you should then be able to develop an adequate feeding regimen. As some hatchery-raised species can be trained to take feeds, you should finally be able to consider a supplemental feeding diet for bass.

Natural and Manmade Bass Habitats

Bass underwater
Bass require vegetative cover to catch prey effectively. Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-ND 2.0

A structurally diverse habitat is key to ensuring that your bass are able to receive their minimum dietary requirements all throughout the year. Natural bass habitats are heavily filled with vegetation and a variety of rock sizes, decomposing logs and twigs, and hardwoods aiding in the structural reinforcement of the area. These components are vital, not just for keeping bass comfortable and hidden, but for serving as habitats for their prey.

The structural profile of the habitat largely determines which forage fish are able to thrive. They also dictate the types of competitors the bass may have as they attempt to feed down the food chain. Vertical vegetation that extends through the water column is extremely important due to the feeding behavior of bass. They require vegetative coverage to catch prey in an effective manner.

Manmade or artificial bass habitats come in two forms – naturalized ponds and grow-out facilities. These are made to either cultivate bass as a food source, as ornamental fish, or as game fish. Trophy bass ponds are perhaps the most similar to their wild environment as these will need to replicate natural conditions to produce large fish. In these ponds, the fish are usually fed a wholly natural diet. In ponds rearing bass as food, the diet may be supplemented with artificial feeds.

Feeding Habits of Bass

Bluegill swimming
Bluegills (pictured) are one of the bass’ favorite freshwater fish to eat. Brian Gratwicke / CC BY 2.0

Wild bass have had to develop behavioral tactics to effectively catch their prey. Because they can grow to a considerable size, they rely on the cover of vegetation to remain hidden. They are sometimes referred to as ambush predators that remain stationary while they wait, but they are more likely to cruise slowly as they search for prey. Once they pinpoint the unfortunate victim, they can quickly lunge forward to grasp their prey in their powerful jaws.

Bass are, without a doubt, voracious carnivores and top predators. Some species are able to consume a wide range of prey sizes due to their enormous gape. Usually partial to live fish, their favorites are often associated with their size. Smaller bass tend to favor smaller forage fish, whereas larger ones can reportedly consume small birds, reptiles, and mammals. However, fish are generally the most agreeable and nutritionally rich options. Below are some of their favorite freshwater creatures to feed on in the wild and in captive setups:

  • Bluegill
  • Red-ear sunfish
  • Fathead minnows
  • Golden shiner
  • Gizzard shad
  • Threadfin shad
  • Rainbow trout
  • Crawfish
  • Tilapia
  • Smaller bass species or younger conspecifics

The bass diet is not restricted to these fish as they are opportunists. In the absence of favored prey types, they will rarely hesitate to feed on unsuspecting insects, ducks, salamanders, frogs, and tadpoles. Unfortunately, these may not provide them with the necessary fats and proteins to mature at a desirable pace. Non-living or non-fish food types may compromise the quality of their meat as well as the fecundity of sexually mature individuals.

Feed Training & Supplemental Feeding for Bass

Automatic fish feeder
You may need to use an automatic fish feeder to conduct feeding sessions multiple times a day. USFWS Mountain-Prairie / No copyright

Bass have exceptionally strong predatory instincts, so they are quite difficult to train. Once they are able to experience the satisfaction of consuming live and moving fish, they may struggle to accept any other types of food. As a result, you will need to begin feed training bass from a young age (as fingerlings) or obtain your specimens from hatcheries that have already trained them.

Technically speaking, feed-trained bass are those that eagerly accept pelleted fish feeds. They can grow to considerable sizes on a high-quality, yet artificial diet that meets all of their nutritional and developmental requirements. One of the major advantages of stocking a pond with feed-trained bass is that it eliminates the need to obtain live fish as food. Also, a feed-based diet can hasten growth rates and reduce competitive stress on pond occupants.

One of the downsides to stocking a pond with feed-trained bass is it can result in a higher cost per individual fish. An automated feeder may be required in the absence of persons that can manage to conduct feeding sessions multiple times a day on a daily basis. Stocking feed-trained bass is also no guarantee that other pond inhabitants will never fall victim to their appetite.

Forage Fish in Trophy Bass Ponds

Shad in hands
Shad (pictured) and bluegill are the best choices for trophy bass ponds. Lee Cain / CC BY 4.0

Trophy bass ponds are usually made to meet the sporting demands of local anglers, which may target bass for either catch-and-release or as harvest fish to feed their families. To grow self-sustaining populations of trophy-sized bass, you will need to raise populations of forage fish. These will collectively serve as a live and generous source of nutrients for your bass.

A combination of shad and bluegill is best for trophy bass as they quickly reproduce to replenish depleted populations. They also come in ideal sizes for the consumption of a wide variety of bass species. The amount of forage fish you introduce into a bass pond will depend on the dimensions of the basin and the size of your bass population.

Note that, for forage fish to thrive, they will need a suitable habitat. This is why a trophy bass pond has to replicate natural conditions. The vegetative cover will serve as both a habitat and source of food for the forage fish, while ensuring that only the necessary numbers are consumed as many individuals can remain hidden. In this type of pond, supplemental feeds will rarely ever be required to support the bass population itself. Instead, the additional nutrients may eventually become necessary to support phytoplankton and forage fish populations in case of natural food shortages.

Designing a Feeding Plan for Your Bass Pond

Fish feed
You need to match the size of fish pellets to the bass’ average body mass. Dan Frendin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You will first need to determine your intentions for rearing bass before pinpointing the appropriate food choices for your pond. If you have just one or two individuals in a large garden pond, then it should be enough to sustain them with small populations of forage fish or to simply provide them with live treats every now and then.

Sustaining large bass populations is definitely more complicated. In bass-only ponds where they are raised as food fish, you would presumably be stocking feed-trained individuals. These bass would almost exclusively be fed with a diet of high-protein and high-quality fish pellets stimulating rapid growth. This scenario is more likely to promote an even growth rate for a fairly uniform harvest. Feeds for bass (may be available as feeds for trout or salmon) come in various sizes, so you will need to match the pellet size to their average body mass.

In trophy bass ponds for anglers, initiation of the feeding plan may precede bass stocking times. As bass require ample live food from preferably self-replenishing populations of forage fish, they should be introduced into the pond a few months after stocking the smaller fish. Forage fish may need to be replenished if their populations are excessively depleted by bass. Note that they can only sustain their populations in the presence of beneficial phytoplankton and ample vegetation.

Best Time to Feed Bass

Striped bass
Bass are most active at dawn and dusk as they see better in minimal light conditions. Lake Mead NRA Public Affairs / CC BY-SA 2.0

Of course, specific feeding times for bass would only apply to populations that are feed-trained. Those in ponds that are stocked with forage fish can be relied upon to determine their own best times to eat, which generally take place all throughout the day. It’s important to remember that bass are visual feeders and thus require light to accurately spot and approach their prey. Blinding, midday light can stun them, whereas the dim rays of moonlight may not sufficiently reveal their prey.

The best time to feed and, consequently, hunt for bass is at dawn or dusk. They are most active at these times as their depth perception and ability to distinguish between colors become heightened with subdued light conditions. This is due to the morphology of their eyes, which have permanently protruding lenses.  Unable to control how light levels affect their vision, they are more likely to see better under minimal light levels. In shade, forage fish are also less likely to spot a casually hungry bass, allowing it to more effectively launch a surprise attack.

Is It Possible to Overfeed Bass?

Largemouth bass
To maximize growth, you should feed your bass just the right amount at a higher frequency during their peak months of growth. Mrs. Gemstone / CC BY-SA 2.0

Though you need not worry about overfeeding bass in ponds where they depend on populations of forage fish, you must take extra care when measuring feeds for monoculture or farm ponds. Feed-trained bass should only be fed as much as they can consume within a few minutes of feeding. Excess feeds should ideally be removed before they can sink to the pond bottom and become trapped in bottom substrates or sludge, from which they may heavily enrich the water with toxic nutrients.

To maximize growth and minimize waste in ponds undergoing supplementary feeding, aim to feed just the right amount at a higher frequency during the bass’ peak months of growth. This should satisfy their hunger all throughout the day, preventing the urge to search for other food sources and discouraging cannibalism, which can be quite common in wild bass populations.

While bass populations feeding on forage fish rarely consume more than what’s good for them, it is certainly possible to overstock a pond with the forage fish themselves. They can deplete food sources at the bottom of the food chain before their numbers can be controlled by bass. It would be best to stick to recommended stocking densities or consult a local expert in case forage fish stocks need to be replaced periodically.

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