Making a Stocking Plan


So, you’ve built a new pond, added good habitat, finished a few months ago, did a rain dance, have some water and now you are ready for fish.

How many? What kind? When?

Good, thoughtful questions. If you’ve read these pages before, your mind has been imprinted with the importance of making goals. You’ve written them down…heck, you’ve probably gotten them memorized.

If you haven’t done it already, right now is the time to get your stocking plan in place, fish located and ordered. If this spring is anything like the past two or three, hatcheries will sell out of last year’s crop by late spring and won’t have a new crop ready to go until late summer, or fall.

Since you know your goals, the next decisions are based on your timeline. When do you want to start catching fish?

Not too many years ago, stocking recommendations were based on standards put together by the American Fisheries Society, usually local state chapters for that region.

Back then, fish species and size availability were considerably more limited than in today’s market. Today, you have more species choices, and for many of those types, you can choose from a range of sizes. For southern and most Midwestern states, fathead minnows, channel catfish, bluegills, and Largemouth bass were the top four species. Redear sunfish were added to the mix about 30 years ago, especially in the southeast. In northern tier states, fathead minnows, pumpkinseed sunfish, and smallmouth bass were the staples. Since Largemouth bass were of national interest, those fish encroached into many northern waters as well.

When those basic stocking standards were introduced, the recommendations were dichotomous. If your pond is less than one surface acre, do this. If it’s an acre or more, do this.

As you wade through information to create your stocking plan, understand the basic premises. First off, size of the pond definitely matters. Way back, biologists frowned if you wanted to stock any type of bass into a pond smaller than an acre. That’s simply because most ponds can’t support more than about 50 pounds of bass per acre. In today’s world, that’s not as hard. There are better feeds to nourish the forage fish. You can stock a wider variety of forage fish to support those predators. In some markets, you can even buy feed-trained Largemouth bass for instant gratification. That fifty pound per acre fact of years ago has been altered with better management options.

With those concepts in mind, here’s the first stocking plan premise. Build the food chain prior to stocking predator fish. Remember this, it takes at least ten pounds of forage fish for a game fish to gain one pound. That will ring true for a few years. When predator fish grow larger, it takes more to maintain their weight and more to keep them growing.

The question begging to be asked next is, “How many?”

That answer is based on a couple of things. First, what’s your timeline? If you are part of the fast-food generation (aren’t we all?) you’ll want to stock more fish than the standard recommendations. The second part is budget. Do you want to spend the money to buy time? You can, if you want to.

Since most people with ponds are interested primarily in growing Largemouth bass, the standard recommendation dichotomous key’s next step is about management. Planning to feed the fish or create a healthy plankton bloom?

If not, the standard recommendation is to stock five pounds of fathead minnows and 500 small bluegill per acre, with 100 redear sunfish. If you plan to feed or fertilize, double those numbers.

If your pond is small, and you want to grow meat for the family, stock channel catfish. The standard rate for an unmanaged pond is less than 200 per acre. If you plan to feed, that number can rise to 1,000 per acre, based on how many you intend to harvest. Don’t stock 1,000 catfish per acre if you don’t plan to fill the freezer or eat a lot of catfish.

If you are the kind of person who doesn’t buy green bananas and want to get bigger fish, faster, stock up to 2,000 small bluegills per acre, along with 150 medium-sized bluegill (3-4”) per acre with 20 pounds of fathead minnow per acre as well.


Build the food chain, first.

Another important premise for that first stocking is to build the food chain. The mission is to stock the right numbers of fish where enough can grow to sexuality maturity and reproduce toward exponential numbers by the time the predator fish are stocked. The numbers are also set up to create a long-term food chain from enough young fish growing large enough to not get eaten and become the brood fish for long term success.

See why happy water, great habitat, and a management plan becomes even more important? Check all the boxes to help to create success.

For smallmouth bass as your top end predator, try to avoid bluegills as their forage fish. Bluegills can reproduce prolifically and grow rapidly, quickly outgrowing smallmouth bass mouth-size. Look at fathead minnows and pumpkinseeds. Ratios of sunfish to predators should be at least ten to one.

Stock forage fish as soon as your pond can take them, but avoid the coldest and hottest months for stocking. Why? Because handling fish in extreme temperatures bumps up risk factors for fish health. You want your fish to hit the water ready to grow, not to heal.

Here’s another pearl of advice. Don’t think you can just add fish and, presto-chango, it works. If your water is happy and your target fish have the best habitat, your odds just went up. Keep in mind, though, your baitfish will thrive even better with an adequate food. It is it the pond’s responsibility to produce food. It’s your responsibility to help the pond produce.

How long after stocking the baitfish can you add your predators?

Don’t wait longer than a year. Preferably, stock and nurture the baitfish early spring, into summer. If you do that, you can stock bass within 4-6 months. If you have any doubts, stock predator fish in the fall.

How many bass and what genetics?

Good question. The number of bass is dependent on your goals and your forage fish stocking and management plan. Actually, in the real world, numbers of bass to be stocked have been considered when deciding how many forage fish to stock.

Remember those “standard” recommendations? That book says to stock 50 bass per acre for an unmanaged pond, 100 if the pond is managed via feeding and/or fertilization.

What about genetics? Stay with locally popular genetics. It’s tough to have a conversation about Largemouth bass and the word “Florida” not come up. People want bass with Florida genetics simply because those fish are widely known to grow larger. If you have this climate thing called, “winter”, avoid stocking Florida bass. They don’t like cold.

What about hybrid sunfish, hybrid striped bass, crappie, tiger muskies, walleye, trout, tilapia?

Those are all specialty fish for specialty management strategies. Some work where you live, some won’t. Some will work in your pond or lake, some won’t. It’s your job to gather enough information to create a plan that stands a great chance to work.

Here’s the best advice in this article. Unless you truly know what you want to do, enlist the advice of someone in the business of stocking ponds and lakes. Do you still need to do your own due diligence? Absolutely, you do. The old Latin axiom, Caveat Emptor, comes into play in the marketplace. “Let the buyer beware”. The more you know, the better decisions you can make.

Some fish suppliers have an agenda based on what they produce. Others have an agenda based on how long fish can live on their delivery trucks. Their agenda isn’t necessarily yours.

Personally, I think it wiser for you to confidently tell your supplier what you want, but listen to what they have to say. If their logic conflicts with yours, think about it. It’s not hard to flush out an agenda, if someone has one.

Once you find a supplier you like, depend on them. They are not only a valuable vendor; they keep their fingers on the pulse of the marketplace. Good suppliers have good experience.

One last piece of advice. You do this in your business, at church, even in your social life. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people and listen to what they have to say. When you make your stocking plan, if you miss something, you won’t know it for several years.

Think through your plan, decide what makes the most sense to meet your goals and then do it. Line up your supplier, place your order and then follow up with phone calls to make sure you are on their radar. When spring hits, it’s game time.

Just be sure you are in the game.

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