A key factor in ensuring your pond or lake continues to produce good quality fish is a consistent harvesting routine, a concept that is not usually common knowledge. Many people associate fish size with age; hence the “throw the small ones back so they can grow bigger” mentality. However, this is not the case!
Fish growth is solely dependent on forage consumption. The more the fish eats, the bigger and faster it grows. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if forage is few and far between, growth rates will slow down considerably. For example, if there is not enough forage fish stocked in your pond, you could reel in a 10–12-inch bass that may be more than 5 years old!
Harvesting is especially important in bass-focused waters, and it is recommended to harvest anywhere from 30-35 pounds of bass per acre per year depending on your personal pond situation. Of these 30-35 pounds, anglers should be attempting to cull out the smaller, older bass to give potential trophy sizes a better opportunity for growth.
One of the reasons harvesting is such an important practice in private ponds is due to the increased productivity of smaller areas of water. Compared to a large reservoir, ponds have less flow that retain nutrients longer and typically shallower water that allows for increased vegetation growth and photosynthesis. These factors, along with the direct management of cultivating one main sport fish species in ponds, drive reproduction. In turn, more active management is required to ensure bass get to that desirable trophy size. Proper record-keeping of your harvests is a good method to track the growth and productivity of your pond as well.
Every pond has a carrying capacity that management practices can influence. Through regular harvesting, anglers are essentially driving bigger bass to grow by opening more forage availability via eliminating the smaller ones. Remember, maintaining an abundant amount of forage, harvesting regularly, and documentation of your harvests will grow your pond into an outstanding fishery!