By J. Wesley Neal
MSU Extension Service
Stocking ponds with largemouth bass and bluegills is the most common management strategy used in Mississippi, but this combination is not ideal for ponds smaller than one acre.
In these tiny ponds, other species — either by themselves or in combination — can usually provide higher quality fishing opportunities than the traditional bass and bluegill approach. One great choice for small ponds is catfish, which provide easy fishing and excellent table fare.
Channel catfish grow well in ponds with few disease problems when stocked at no more than 100 to 150 per acre. It is important to prevent catfish from spawning because of potential crowding and disease problems. To control unwanted reproduction, stock these ponds with 25 largemouth bass per acre to eat any small catfish that hatch in the pond.
Catfish grow faster when fed a commercial pellet feed. Feeding rates and pellet size requirements change as the fish grow, but a good rule of thumb is to feed no more than the fish can consume in 5-10 minutes. Using a floating pellet makes observation of feed consumption much easier. Installing a feeder ensures that the fish receive feed on a regular basis, regardless of your schedule and availability. Catfish will also eat natural foods in the pond, including crawfish, insects, plant material and decaying organic matter.
Remember that the largemouth bass are there only to serve as a population control. Your goal should be to create a hungry, slow-growing bass population. Return all bass that are caught to the pond to maintain high predator numbers. This strategy may create high catch rates for bass, but don’t expect to catch many trophy fish using these pond stocking options.
Harvest of catfish will reduce the fishable population over time, and it will become necessary to restock when about half of the original fish have been removed. It is a good idea to keep accurate harvest records. When it is time to restock, remember that the pond now has a bunch of hungry bass that consider small catfish a delicacy. You’ll need to restock larger catfish (8-10 inches) to avoid having the bass ruin your efforts. If larger fish are not available in your area, drain or poison the pond and start over when fishing quality declines.
Small-pond owners often feel that they can’t have great fishing ponds because their ponds are too small, but small waters can provide excellent fishing opportunities using these pond stocking scenarios. The key is to follow recommendations and keep good records. If you do, your pond is sure to provide tight lines and excellent table fare for you and your friends and family.