Why Don’t They Stock Bass in Big Lakes?

Why don’t they stock bass in this lake so we can catch more? I am often asked that question by fellow fishermen, and I have an answer, based on what Georgia state fisheries biologists have told me and what I have read in magazines and books.

note – I wrote this several years ago. There is now some evidence stocking Florida or hybrid strain largemouth, in suitable habitat lakes, can improve the size of bass in the population but not necessarily the numbers. But without suitable habitat, it will not work, no matter what is stocked.

When you build a new pond you normally stock it with bream, then wait until after they spawn and stock bass and maybe catfish. The bream spawn every month in the spring and summer and quickly fill the pond with small bream. They will increase in numbers until they are using all the food available. Without predators like bass, they will never grow very big because there just is not enough food to match their prolific population increases.

Bass eat bream, so they will keep the population in check. But the bass will also produce so many offspring that they will eat too many bream, causing them to run out of food and be stunted, too. That is why you should remove bass from your pond on a regular basis.

Fish will expand to fill the available space and food resources. In big lakes some species overpopulate and cause problems. Good examples are gizzard shad and blueback herring. They don’t have a lot of natural predators in our local lakes since they are and open water fish and get too big for most bass to eat. They can get so thick in lakes that they cause disease outbreaks and use up food resources.

When that happens, fisheries biologists look at stocking fish that will eat the shad and herring. Stripers and hybrids are stocked for this reason, and also to give fishermen something fun to catch. The stripers and hybrids are good choices because hybrids are not fertile and can not reproduce, and stripers can’t reproduce in most of our lakes due to limited miles of flowing water. So their numbers can be controlled.

Stocking of stripers and hybrids can be overdone, too. No matter how many you put in, the total numbers that survive are limited by food available. In an 11 year study on Smith Mountain Reservoir in Virginia it was found that stocking 200,000 stripers each year resulted in the same numbers surveying after one year as stocking 620,000 each year. There simply was not enough food to support more, so the extra fish died.

In a big lake largemouth bass usually fill all their niche naturally, reproducing to produce numbers that take advantage of space and food resources. Adding small bass will do nothing to add to the numbers of bass since they are already using up all the available food and space. The maximum numbers are already there.

There are some exceptions, of course. In the Flint River below Lake Blackshear dam the water changes levels several feet every day due to power generation. Shoal bass living from the dam to Albany can’t be very successful spawning since their beds are either too deep for the eggs to hatch or shallow enough for the eggs to hatch but left high and dry when the water drops.

The state is stocking fingerling shoal bass in this area since natural reproduction can not keep up. It can’t keep up because man has altered the habitat.

In north Georgia at Lake Nottely, fishermen that thought they knew more than the fisheries biologists stocked blueback herring. Blueback herring are a great baitfish for bass – for a time. But the little herring eat the same things as largemouth fry, and big herring will even eat little bass fry.

There is not much cover on Nottely to allow the little bass to hide, so a lot of them are eaten. Due to the huge numbers of blueback herring that have resulted, largemouth bass populations have crashed.

Nottely is the only lake in Georgia where largemouth bass are being stocked, and it is a very special situation. Fisheries biologists study each lake and determine what is best for it. If appropriate, bass will be stocked, but stocking bass in most lakes just uses up money and resources that are needed in other areas, and does nothing to increase cacheable bass numbers.

I am glad we have professional fisheries biologists to take action based on science to improve our lakes.