How to Stock a Pond or Lake With Bass 2022 [Updated]

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How to Stock a Pond or Lake With Bass [Species, Prep & Regulations]

Largemouth bass
Black basses, such as the largemouth bass (pictured), are particularly valuable in North America and Europe. Brandon Preston / CC BY 4.0

Many types of freshwater and marine fish are commonly referred to as “bass”. They belong to Perciformes, a large order of ray-finned fishes that are found throughout the globe. Many notable species have become economically important due to their value as aquaculture, sport, and ornamental fish. In North America and Europe, black basses of the Centrarchidae family and temperate basses of the Moronidae family are especially valuable.

Rearing bass in manmade ponds is an increasingly popular activity as it can turn an impressive profit. Many of these fish have an amazing taste and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. They are known for their mild taste and firm, yet surprisingly tender, meat. Moreover, the meat is lean and healthy, making it an ideal protein source in a well-balanced, nutritional plan. Some natural ponds and lakes are intentionally stocked with these fish for the purpose of diversification or for recreational fishing demands.

In many developing regions, large ponds are run predominantly for the cultivation of bass. Small to medium-sized ponds may house bass for ornamental purposes, as a biological means of control for highly reproductive fish, or as a recreational sport fish. Whatever the purpose of rearing these fish, their survival is significantly affected by the method with which they are introduced into the pond. Proper pond conditions are likewise crucial in ensuring desirable growth rates and reducing stress.

Popular Types of Bass for Ponds

1) European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax)

European sea bass
The European sea bass is a relatively slow-growing fish, reaching a weight of 500g in about 3 years in extensive systems. Julien Renoult / CC BY 4.0

Native to the coastal areas of Western Europe and the Mediterranean, this sea bass is a fairly slow-growing fish. It can take as long as 2 years to reach market size. Highly sought-after as a sport fish, it occurs in stable populations across a widespread distribution. Due to demand, this species is now cultured in several types of artificial systems. As it is a marine species, D. labrax is chiefly produced in sea cages across coastal areas. Lagoons, coastal raceways, and seawater ponds are also used for smaller densities or for rearing juvenile stages.

Although this species may venture upriver and into freshwater zones, juveniles tend to exit estuaries and mature in coastal habitats. They search for their mates in marine environments, after which they return to lagoons or estuarine systems to spawn. The juveniles may be transferred to grow-out ponds, where they are fattened up to meet the demands of a consumer market. In extensive systems, an individual can reach a bodyweight of 500 grams in about 3 years. Intensive systems aim for larger sizes within a shorter time frame.

2) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Largemouth bass' gaping mouth
The largemouth bass is famous for its enormous gaping mouth! Clara Dandridge / CC BY 4.0

The largemouth bass is a definite favorite for recreational fishers in the US. This fish, which is famous for its enormous gape, is a formidable carnivore in its natural environment. It cruises slowly through rocky pools and vegetation, surging forward only when its prey is at the perfect spot for capture.

Largemouth bass fingerlings are frequently introduced into both natural and artificial pond systems. These eventually serve as protein-rich food for existing fish, though many are able to survive and grow into large, sexually mature individuals. When predators are absent, bass can eventually overpopulate a system and wipe out local populations of foraging fish. Sport and commercial fishers significantly aid in keeping large populations at bay. In some cases, ponds are strategically stocked with an all-female population of bass, particularly if they are intended to be long-term inhabitants that grow into trophy sizes.

3) Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)

Person holding large striped bass
Striped bass can grow to be quite large, especially in clear waters where they can reach their peak growth rates. Sebastian Sigman / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America’s Atlantic coast, this anadromous fish has been widely introduced into inland lake systems, reservoirs, and artificial ponds throughout the US. As its common name suggests, it is distinguished by the horizontal stripes on both sides of its streamlined figure. Striped bass can grow to be quite large, with healthy individuals reaching an average length of about 25 – 30 inches (63 – 76 cm). Outside of the US, it is an economically important aquaculture and game fish in Russia, Mexico, South Africa, and Iran.

Striped bass favor clear waters, where they can reach their peak growth and reproduction rates. They have been used as a biocontrol solution for gizzard shad, a type of herring that has proven to be invasive due to its highly fecund nature and rapid growth rate. M. saxatilis has also been re-introduced into freshwater systems where its natural populations were once overfished or compromised due to dredging.

4) Asian sea bass (Lates calcarifer)

Barramundi underwater
Barramundi are native to the Indo-Pacific and favor warm waters. Mitch Ames, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Also known as barramundi, the Asian sea bass is a commercially important species. Several aquaculture farms across the globe are dedicated to producing this flavorful fish. Apart from its elongated structure, it is distinguished by the slightly concave appearance of the top part of its head. Native to the Indo-Pacific, this demersal fish favors warm waters (26 – 30˚C or 78 – 86˚F) in clear rivers, lagoons, estuaries, and tidal flats.

Grow-out farms in Singapore and Australia tend to make use of sea cage systems where barramundi can be produced in the hundreds to thousands of tons. The rate at which they grow has much to do with water temperature. Given optimal conditions, a single fish can grow to the ideal harvest size of 5 kg in less than 2 years.

Pond Preparation: Testing the Water

Water testing kit
It’s important to test the water prior to stocking, as treatment will be required in case of highly acidic or alkaline water. Science History Institute, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Prior to introducing bass to a pond or lake system, it’s crucial to make sure all water parameters meet their base requirements for survival. These requirements may differ per species and age group, with some preferring warmer vs cooler water and others favoring brackish as opposed to freshwater conditions. Ample research on the fish’s biology and natural requirements must be done to avoid mortalities.

Ponds with earthen bottoms usually need to be conditioned prior to stocking. You’ll need to test for pH and use the appropriate treatment in case of highly acidic or alkaline water. If fish are stocked into freshwater with a pH level outside of 6 – 9, heavy mortalities may occur. Optimal water parameters will, in turn, reap optimal production levels.  The same goes for dissolved oxygen and suspended solid levels.

Earthen ponds that are newly filled with water may appear turbid due to the suspension of bottom sediments. It would be best to wait for these to settle as the sediments can damage the gills of young fish or reduce oxygen levels. For peace of mind, a laboratory evaluation of the existing planktonic and bacterial communities is also advised. There should be more beneficial strains as pathogenic ones can cause severe mortalities in juveniles. Desirable phytoplankton strains, which serve as primary producers, can take some time to colonize a new pond.

Creating a Bass Stocking Plan

Male redear sunfish
When cultivating medium-sized bass, a 10:1 ratio of prey fish (such as redear sunfish) to bass is ideal. I, Ianare, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The purpose for which bass is grown may influence how the pond should be prepared. If you wish to rear trophy fish, the pond water will need to be relatively pristine. It should also be packed with high-quality prey choices for your bass. You’ll need to create a stocking plan that allows for a specific number of bass to be sustained by the right densities of forage fish, such as bluegill or redear sunfish. A 10 to 1 ratio of prey fish to bass is ideal for cultivating medium-sized bass, resulting in decent catches and more food on the table. For even larger bass, this ratio has to be increased, with more forage fish per bass.

Forage fish may also need to be supplemented with other types of small, high-protein food choices. Don’t forget that sunfish will require their own prey to survive and reproduce in order to sustain the nutritional needs of bass. These smaller prey items, such as minnows, tend to grow and reproduce at a faster pace. They will likewise serve as food for bass that is introduced as fingerlings into the pond system. Other prey types you may wish to supplement for your bass include crayfish, shad, shiners, carp, trout, and catfish. These may have seasonal availability, so you should have an annual plan for forage supplementation.

This stocking plan, allowing for a bass-forage fish complex, should work to produce superior specimens that anglers would love. If you’re after rearing bass for food and don’t really care for their consumption of live prey or growth into trophy sizes, an intensive plan (with no forage fish if fish feeds are provided) may be more appropriate. Aquaculture systems tend to adopt semi to fully intensive grow-out plans. Note that these may compromise the health of the fish or that of the natural ecosystem, particularly if the pond is an open system.

Introducing Bass to Lake Systems

Smallmouth bass from lake
Introducing non-native bass species to lakes can damage the natural ecosystem. James Mann from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a large grey area when it comes to determining the right number of bass to stock into established lake systems. Their introduction, particularly if they are non-native species, can significantly alter the natural ecosystem. Stocking bass into public lakes is controversial as they may outcompete the existing fish and damage a functional food web.

Nowadays, those that are introduced into lakes are fry or fingerlings that have been genetically engineered to be sterile. This way, they are unable to breed amongst themselves or with the native bass populations. However, they’ll need to be stocked repeatedly to meet recreational fishing demands. Bass may also be stocked into lakes that require more carnivores for the control of invasive fish. Stocking densities for these cases are largely experimental and their resulting performance or impact on the lake systems must be closely monitored.

Acclimating and Stocking Bass

Largemouth bass fingerlings
You can introduce bass to ponds at any stage, from fingerling to adult. Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-ND 2.0

Aim to stock your pond with fish in spring or fall as mild conditions are less likely to cause stress and bring about diseases. Natural dissolved oxygen levels also tend to be highest during these months. If you must stock the pond in summer, make sure to allot more time for acclimation prior to releasing the fish into the warm water. When the acclimation step is skipped, behavioral abnormalities of stressed fish may be readily observable.

Prior to stocking bass, add prey fish a little bit at a time and wait for their populations to stabilize. This can take as much as a few weeks to several months. Ideally, the surviving populations should be stable enough to replenish their numbers once the introduced bass begin to feed on them. Their survival will also help you ensure that your pond conditions are suitable for bass survival. If the forage fish are stocked in late summer or fall, bass can be stocked in the spring of the following year.

Bass can be introduced as fingerlings, small juveniles, or as larger individuals that measure at around 5 – 7 inches (12 – 18 cm) each. Whatever their size, it would be best to acclimate them to the pond’s temperature beforehand. Also, it may be possible to contact your supplier for information on the water pH and salinity in which the fish were reared. In some cases, the supplier can begin to acclimate the bass to your pond’s specific parameters several days before delivery. Minimal acclimation steps are required when these values are matched.

To acclimate bass or any other prey fish, allow their aerated transportation bags to float on the water’s surface. Don’t let these float off, of course, as it would be difficult to account for all bags in large bodies of water. Preferably, the bags should remain afloat in a shaded area of the pond for at least 20 minutes. This will allow the water temperature in the bag to slowly match that of the pond, preventing the fish from becoming stressed due to temperature shock. A large pond-side drum or tank of pond water may come in handy for acclimating a considerable number of fingerlings for a longer period of time.

Best Density for Survival

Largemouth bass fingerling
A combination of 100 fingerlings and 50 adult bass per acre is the recommended density in high-fertility ponds. Matthew Zappa / CC BY 4.0

A major error that many new pond enthusiasts make is overstocking their system. Bass fingerlings are very small, but they’ll grow into large fish. As a rule of thumb, work with conservative densities to prevent the pond system from becoming overloaded. Bass are more likely to grow quickly and reach considerable sizes when they are less crowded, with room to comfortably feed, mate, and hide from potential aggressors.

When contemplating densities for your pond, you’ll have to compute for its surface area. Recommended densities are usually given per acre unit and would depend on the fertility (present resources and nutrients) of the pond itself. These densities would also fluctuate relative to the amount of forage fish or wild fish that are already present in the pond. Hypothetically, a highly fertile pond may have the carrying capacity for a combination of 150 – 200 largemouth bass fingerlings, 700 bluegills, 300 redear sunfish, and about 100 channel catfish per surface acre.

In natural ponds, the ideal stocking density goes down as the pond fertility is decreased. The sizes of each group of fish in a bass-forage fish complex must be considered when evaluating how much bass to stock in the pond. If the bass measure at least 6 inches (15 cm) prior to being introduced into the system, their stocking density must be reduced. The reduction can amount to almost half the density recommended for fingerlings per surface acre of pond. A combination of fingerlings and adult bass can also be introduced at the same time, with the recommended value being a combination of 100 fingerlings and 50 adult (8 – 10 inch or 20 – 25 cm) bass per acre.

Stocking Permits and Considerations

Always make sure to double-check requirements for purchasing bass and introducing them into private water features. This should be done with your local department of wildlife or fisheries. In some regions, the movement of live animals, even those that are cultivated by private companies, is prohibited without the necessary sanctions, permits, and visual surveys. Stocking permits help regulate the spread of potentially invasive species. They also ensure that private properties are equipped with barriers for the prevention of fish escapees and the contamination of public waterways.

Other considerations include the accessibility of suppliers and their delivery methods, the cost of bass, forage fish and their feeding requirements, pond stability and biosecurity, and any impact the existing pond vegetation and fish may have on newly introduced fish.

It can take up to 3 years until a bass-stocked natural pond is ready to be fished. At this point, the populations of fish relative to one another will have stabilized up to a point that a small annual harvest is possible without compromising the survival of populations. Stocking a pond undoubtedly calls for a long-term commitment. In many cases, seasonal replenishment of forage fish may be necessary. In intensive farms, considerations are totally different and have more to do with waste management and rigorous water maintenance. No recommendations of stocking densities are definite, as each system will have its unique capacity for sustaining bass populations.  

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