Private waters

It takes a lot of effort to make private waters a quality fishery, but when it works the payoff is worth it.

In the last couple of years I have garnered a new appreciation for bass management.

You are dealing with something you cannot see and facing a lot of conditions you have little control of.

Comparatively speaking, deer management is a cinch.

My foray into bass management has come on a small scale on a pair of private lakes. Both are old and neither has had anything done to them in years. That presented a unique set of problems because managing a new lake you don’t have to deal with the past.

Management at most modern lakes follows a pattern of early fertilization and liming, then stocking with a certain recipe of forage fish before coming in with nothing but Florida strain bass.

In older lakes just about everything might have been thrown into the pot, and if they received Florida bass it was long after native bass were established so you are walking a genetic tightrope.

I admit I was naïve going into this. I thought it would be a case of harvesting a certain amount of bass per acres and suddenly I would be catching bigger fish.

What I have learned is that every action triggers a reaction that must then be dealt with, and for it to all be successful it is ongoing.

For example, as you create larger fish you put more pressure on the larger bait fish. That means it becomes even more important for successful spawns of bluegill and whatever other forage is in a lake. Along with the habitat that is there, you need to fertilize to create an alga bloom that provides nutrients for fingerlings along with cover for them and some other lake benefits.

To fertilize you need to know the lake pH, and then you add fertilizer. Surprisingly it doesn’t take a lot of the 0-46-0 fertilizer, about 100 pounds per 5 acres. But too much and you can create too much bloom that can become deadly if the weather conditions turn hot and cloudy over a long period. Too little fertilizer and you may find yourself back out there doing it again.

The alga bloom is good for young bass and I stocked one of the lakes with Florida bass fingerlings from Tyler Fish Farm earlier this summer. I had a chance to get some older Florida-strain bass from another lake and bring them in, but fortunately that fell through. I say fortunately because I have learned a little about trying to move adult fish from one lake to another and it is a roll-of-the-dice as to whether it works or not. One of the biggest issues is transporting fish from a lake with a certain water quality to another that is completely different.

I heard two stories from fisheries managers about failed efforts. One told of moving a pair of 10-pounders from a lake in northern Texas. The population in the new lake was monitored by a shocking survey annually, and while one of the big bass showed up the first year, the second was never seen again leading to speculation both died.

In the second instance the stocking was to a similar lake and included only a small number of fish placed into a new pond. The fish survived the stocking, but no reproduction was ever seen. In this case it was believed that only more-easily caught males were included in the transfer.

As Juan Martinez at Tyler Fish Farms says, buying certified fingerlings is the only way to go because of the quality and the lack of lost time and effort.

As part of the management game, I have taken to measuring and weighing every bass caught. It is a pain, but using a weight/length ratio chart showing what bass should weigh at a certain length, it is a good way to keep an eye on successes.

Maybe the biggest take-away of the summer is Tyler Fish Farm’s Bob Waldrip’s suggestion that if you ask 10 fisheries biologists a question, you are going to get 14 answers. The advice you get along the way is helpful, but you have to remember that every lake and every budget to manage it is different. You have to do what best suits your situation.

That all said, this summer I caught my personal best 10.09 and followed that up with a 7.09 the next day. A stringer that is now well into the 300s for the summer has included a lot more 1s, but you have to start somewhere. Plus, I know the newly-stocked Florida bass will be on their way soon.

I know there are a lot of differences between private and public waters, but learning just what it takes to improve 15 acres of water I stand impressed with those looking over thousands.


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