Largemouth Bass Culture

Largemouth Bass, Micropterus salmoides

Largemouth bass are freshwater bass which belong to the family Centrarchidae.

Two subspecies:
1. Northern strain
2. Florida strain (
Scientists and anglers had already recognized by 1932 that largemouth bass in peninsular Florida grew to a larger size and had different coloration than their northern counterparts. These differences, as well as other physical characteristics, were used to classify Florida largemouth bass as a distinct subspecies in 1949. Although each is recognized as a unique biological unit, the two subspecies (Florida bass [Micropterus salmoides floridanus] and northern bass [Micropterus salmoides salmoides]) freely interbreed. Florida bass have been widely introduced throughout the nation because of their potential for producing trophy-size fish. However, native populations of this subspecies are unique only to the central and southern portions of the Florida peninsula. As a result, they represent a natural resource that is both biologically unique and economically valuable.(Black Bass Genetics in Florida)

Closely related species that are cultured:
1. Smallmouth bass (M. dolomieui)

2. Spotted bass (M. punctulatus)
(Texas State)

Largemouth bass live in warm, slow moving waters around rich vegetative soft bottoms. Smallmouth bass are a related game species found in faster, cooler water that may require less vegetative cover. Largemouth bass, Smallmouth bass and Spotted bass are known collectively as the Black bass.

Intensive Largemouth Bass Culture Commercial Production
North Carolina is one of the few states which permit commercial culture of bass. It is the only state on the East Coast that specifically permits licensed fish farmers to culture food-size Largemouth bass.

The Largemouth bass market is small. Currently live sales go to Asian-Americans in the northeastern US. Live haulers pick up live largemouth bass at the farm, and may pay up to $6 per lb, in cash. These fish must be at least 1.5 lbs, excellent physical condition and disease-free to bring this price. High price and ready market has resulted in recent interest in intensive commercial production of largemouth bass.

Dr. James Tidwell and others at Kentucky State University conducted research which demonstrate largemouth bass can be stocked at high rates, up to 5,000 per acre. Fed a high-protein pelleted feed, and grown to market size in a reasonable period of time (from 6” fingerlings to 1.5 lb fish in 12-18 months).
(Kentucky State University)

Problems with intensive production of Largemouth bass:
1. Cannibalism (well graded fish at stocking, additional grading may be required before fish are finished out).
2. Bird predation Compared with other species, birds are one of the greatest predators.
3. Unknown nutritional requirements.
4. No approved disease treatments.
5. Other problems yet to be determined (Very little intensive culture experience to go on at this point). (

Bass-Bream Culture in Farm Ponds
Farm ponds are most often hill ponds (also known as watershed ponds [Watershed or embankment ponds, are formed by constructing a dam to collect stream or surface runoff] NC State Fisheries). Excavated ponds are also sometimes constructed in low areas in the coastal plain for the same purpose.

Most farm ponds are located in the upper coastal plain and the piedmont in NC. They are used for many and varied purposes on farms throughout the U.S.A., including:
1. Irrigation
2. Livestock watering
3. Flood control
4. Erosion control

For reasons #3 and #4 above, many of these ponds have been constructed with large (up to 75% of cost) subsidies from the Soil Conservation Service since the 1930’s. More than 100,000 have been constructed in NC alone (NC has 60,000 farms, and most have at least 1 farm pond on the property).

Farm ponds once served another important function on farms in the Southeastern US: Production of fish as food for the farm family.

Homer Swingle (Auburn University, Alabama) conducted extensive research on the use of farm ponds as a source of high-quality fish protein for farmers in the South, beginning in the 1930’s. Swingle’s work laid the foundation for further research on farm-pond fish culture that continues to the present day.

Many states provide largemouth bass and bream fingerlings free of charge to farmers for farm-pond stocking. Many states, including North Carolina have discontinued this practice.

Largemouth bass and bream of various species are produced by private hatcheries for sale to individuals for private lake or ponds. It is a lucrative business, and there are several suppliers of Largemouth bass, bluegill, red-ear, hybrid bluegill, etc. in NC, including graduates of the BCC aquaculture program. (Southeast Pond Stocking of Pender County, specializes in largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker, channel catfish, grass carp, hybrid striped bass, koi, fathead minnows, hybrid bluegill, tilapia, black crappie, F1 hybrid largemouth bass) (NC State Agriculture) Currently only 3-4 active gamefish hatcheries exist in North Carolina and Southeast Pond Stocking, is run by BCC graduates Kevin Patterson and Rick Stuckman.

Most suppliers purchase fingerlings from private hatcheries and provide stocking services for private pond and lake owners. (A list of services,

Largemouth bass become carnivorous when they become adults, and having a preference for smaller fish, so ponds and lakes must be stocked with a suitable forage species to support Largemouth bass populations.

Debate continues over
1. Largemouth bass stocking rate.
2. Forage species stocking rate.
3. The best forage species to use.

Commercially, the most common forage species for Largemouth bass is the Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus).
Bluegill image based on Michigan Science Art

Recommended stocking in North Carolina:

Unfertilized ponds:
a. 350/acre 1-2” bluegill stocked in Oct-Nov
b. 150/acre 1-2” red-ear sunfish stocked in Oct-Nov
c. (optional) 50/acre 2-4” channel catfish stocked in Oct-Nov
d. 50/acre 2-4” LMB stocked the following June

Fertilized (or fed) ponds:
a. 700/acre 1-2” bluegill stocked in Oct-Nov
b. 300/acre 1-2” red-ear sunfish stocked in Oct-Nov
c. (optional) 50/acre 2-4” channel catfish stocked in Oct-Nov
d. 100/acre 2-4” LMB stocked the following June

Many people avoid stocking catfish because catfish may upset the bass-bream “balance”. Some scientific evidence exists for this.

The preferred stocking strategy for ponds and small lakes (described above) in NC is because,

1. Bluegill and red-ear have traditionally shown to be an excellent forage species for bass.

2. Bluegill itself is an excellent foodfish for people. Some people prefer bluegill over bass.

3. Largemouth bass do a good job of keeping sunfish populations in check, preventing overpopulation and stunting.

The greatest problem in Largemouth bass/sunfish ponds is overfishing of bass, and/or underfishing sunfish, resulting in overpopulating the pond with sunfish. The sunfish then may become stunted, too small to be eaten by people, while bass population is reduced in number and larger, which are seldom caught by anglers.

To maintain the pond's “balance” a farm pond should be harvested on a regular schedule by angling :

Depending on productivity:

1. 10-40 lbs/acre of bass should be harvested each year.
2. 40-160 lbs/acre of sunfish should be harvested each year.

Use the lowest figures for unfertilized ponds constructed in soils of low fertility. Use the highest figures only for well-managed fertilized ponds built on highly productive agricultural land, or fed ponds. If a pond owner can’t eat 160 lbs of bream from his pond each year, give them away or bury them!

Stocking alternative forage species:

1. Red-ear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) – has a lower reproductive rate than bluegill, so may be less likely to overpopulate or become “stunted”.

Red-ear Sunfish
Red-ear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus), an alternative forage species for Largemouth bass.
Red-ear sunfish image based on Texas Parks and Wildlife

2. A 70:30 mix of bluegill and red-ear (as recommended by NC Cooperative Extension).

3. Hybrid bluegill – usually a cross between male bluegill and female green sunfish. Very popular with pond and lake owners, but not recommended, because:

a. Hybrids are 90% male, have a very low reproductive rate, and may not provide adequate forage for the bass.

b. The hybrids back-cross and revert back to a fish that most resembles green sunfish after 1-2 generations. Green sunfish rapidly overpopulate the pond and become stunted, useless as a foodfish for people.

Many other stocking and management strategies in other states and other regions of the US, depending on:

1. Climate
2. Soil fertility
3. Watershed chartacteristics
4. Other environmental factors.

Each state has developed its own recreational fishing pond management strategies and recommendations. Consult your local Cooperative Extension office for recommendations in your area.

References: Largemouth Bass, Texas State Parks and Wildlife

Notes from BCC with modifications and additions, January 28, 2006

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