Performance Culling- Is there a better way?


Performance Culling—Is There a Better Way?

By Brenton Kernes


Your pond is set up, in its fourth year with plenty of numbers, originally stocked as recommended, but your fish just aren’t putting on the size you’re looking for. You’ve already invested in the traditional species, but growing trophy largemouth is a struggle. You’re culling and keeping small ones, just like the biologists tell you to do. But you just don’t have the time it takes to properly cull the population. Does this process ever end? How many are enough? The declining volume of small bluegill and increasing numbers of small largemouth frustrates many of us, especially when we don’t catch many good-sized ones in the first place. “How do I go about culling all these fish?” Or, “What happens if I pull the wrong ones?” The effort can take the joy out of fishing and create stress out of what should be an enjoyable experience. To add confusion, other pond owners love to add their two cents on the subject, “Only keep the males”, or, “Never harvest in June”, or the best one yet, “Remove all the catfish”. So, there must be a way to enjoy a pond during culling process and grow big fish all at the same time, right? There is an alternate method that can work.

The introduction of predators which won’t reproduce can be a key component to maximize the size of Largemouth in your pond. This can also help bluegill and catfish grow larger. I’ve built my livelihood entirely on this foundation as a performance pond developer dedicated to supplemental stocking of hybrid striped bass. I’m not a biologist, but a fish enthusiast with a background in the military and commercial fishing. Here’s how I came to my logic.

I first worked on the commercial side of the industry at age 13, scraping barnacles off boat hulls and pumping gas at marinas when I was barely strong enough to drag a gas hose. Earning enough credibility among boat captains, I landed a job as a striker at the age of 15. I watched the industry struggle through constricting legislation and diminishing wild catch sizes. I listened to theories as biologists hopped rides on the boats. Even as a young man, it was pretty clear to me then, keeping only the largest fish creates a population of smaller fish, even in a wild population. But harvesting within a slot-size of small to medium-size fish can create an environment that allows many to grow even larger than before. The problem was external influence of industrial competition and daily demand that really made it difficult for wildlife resource managers. But it was there I started to imagine the possibility of growing enormous fish in a controlled environment. This experience also brought experience in tank survivability, dissolved oxygen basics, and adverse effects of crowding.

My passion for fish went to the backburner after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. Before then, I was a part-time guardsman and never imagined a decade of active duty military to follow. Ten years later, my military career ended early, leaving me a wounded warrior with an ambition to return to my passion—back to fish, and ready to become part of the industry again. The temporary diversion from fish helped develop a new perspective. I spent a decade learning of new themes of balance and strategy, and inadvertently developed a thought process how fish and ponds can be related to other struggles in the world. As a result, in 2012, I began with working with hybrid striped bass in small ponds and tanks from a new home—Oklahoma.

Check this out…

Like battlefields, ponds and lakes see an initial period of calm expansion, then a stage of turmoil before balance makes a fleeting attempt to set in. When things start getting chaotic, it’s helpful to control problems to ensure the desired outcome is achieved (i.e. To make sure trophy Largemouth develop). Most important, an overaggressive approach can cause unwanted collateral damage or just waste a lot of time and money. In ponds the easy, but most often wrong, answer is to simply add additional Largemouth or catfish fingerlings, or even baitfish into the mix. A landowner tends to think, “My fish aren’t growing because they aren’t good fish.” A new generation of breeding stock will just pile on to that situation and contribute to an existing overrun of available space and contribute to the chaos. Be wary of falling victim to this approach in your stunted pond as there are those who will try to convince you another truckload of fingerlings will correct a stunted Largemouth population, but this just doesn’t make sense. In a confined space, applying fewer numbers of a specialized group is much a more effective approach.

In Oklahoma, where we live, I observe too many out-of-control, unmanaged farm ponds and lakes plagued with stunted largemouth, overrun with small crappie and/or green sunfish. The introduction of hybrid striped bass can provide a specialized targeting system that culls overcrowded problem fish without much effort from the pond owner. Moreover, although equipped to breed, hybrid striped bass serve as an ideal culling predator because they won’t reproduce in ponds and small lakes-so they don’t contribute to overpopulation problems. Introducing more breeding stock like more Largemouth or catfish during the stunted growth stage will only contribute to the population problems. But how will they help?

Stocked at a moderate size (4-5”), hybrid striped bass target smaller fish first and incrementally move to include larger prey in their diet as they grow. They’ll begin feeding on small fry and smallest bluegill. Between 18 and 24 months old, they’ll begin to eat small largemouth that need culling. Because they have to pass by everything too large for their mouth size, they save the medium and large bluegill for predators with larger mouths such as the growing largemouth and catfish. Bluegill that evade the largemouth will develop into large 10-11” trophies. Consequently, pond owners who stock hybrid stripers proportionately will develop ponds where all fish grow larger—with the added bonus of having some hard-hitting hybrid striped bass with near-rod breaking power. Supplementing with high protein feed will provide nutrients and ensure hybrids and other consumers achieve full potential.



Some tips for success:

First, use fisherman’s logic when selecting your hybrid striper fingerlings. Think about how many fish you catch on a 2-3” lure compared to a 4-5” lure. Most of us will agree it’s much easier to catch something on the smaller lure, so it’s safe to assume the larger fingerlings stand a better chance of survival. I try to grow my fingerlings out to the 4.5-5” mark before putting them in the water to ensure long term success.

Second, although fingerling hybrid stripers readily take live prey, they are pellet trained to high protein feed and will respond well to a daily boost. Because they’re growing rapidly when stocked, it’s recommended to keep them on an aggressive feed regimen after stocking and supplemental feed thereafter. Feeding high protein at least once daily will boost them ahead several inches and out of the target range of any large predators in the pond. High protein feed costs just under a dollar a pound on average but is well worth the investment to ensure the success of your program. Some interesting info from my customers; an informal survey of newly stocked ponds in 2020 showed over 45% of hybrids were observed feeding on minnows or fry within minutes to hours and over 80% of those same fish took feed on the same evening of stocking.

Finally, stock proportionately. Stock a number balanced with the severity of the problem, the pond’s capacity, and your willingness to feed. Most often, customers stock between 50 and 100 hybrid striped bass per acre. In ponds with added water, an aeration system and/or an abundance of fish, some push the limit and add more as their pond’s rate of reproduction of crowded species may be a bit higher than average.

Skeptics have questioned the survivability of hybrid striped bass in ponds, in turbid water, and with other fish. In the past couple years, private pond and lake owners have increased their demand for the hybrids throughout Oklahoma. These fish have been stocked in all types of water from chalk-white gypsum ponds to old oil-field lined water reservoirs to neighborhood homeowner’s association lakes to rocky bottom mountain lakes in the Ouachita Mountains with no losses reported.         

Hybrid owners often ask, how long will my hybrids survive in my pond? My answer, “I don’t know, our oldest fish are only 8 years old, but when they start dying, we’ll be sure to let you know so you can call us for more.” It’s true, despite a plethora of information on hybrid striped bass growth rates for the commercial food fish industry, there is relatively little in way of measurable data for recreational use. One way our company is helping is by keeping a pond full of resident hybrids. These fish are dedicated to the customers who invest in hybrid striped bass for culling, and catch and release. How long will they cull? We really don’t know, but we do know they can contribute vibrantly for at least 8 years. Our fish have survived two complete pond freeze overs, several week-long 100+ degree heat waves, many oxygen-depleting wall clouds of 4-6-inch rains during tornado season and even some fish poachers. Hybrid striped bass are survivors, outperforming the skeptics. Still, some sort of pond augmentation is recommended for those who stock in higher numbers. Aeration, added water or a fountain will ensure you don’t gamble with an investment. So, how again do you go about culling all those small largemouth bass?

We’re learning as we go, but the results are promising. Once the hybrid stripers reach about two pounds, they look like they are having an impact on Largemouth bass over-reproduction in ponds with that tendency.

Consider supplemental stocking hybrid striped bass to assist culling with you. They’re you’re your easy button for culling. …They’ll only target your smallest fish. …They’re survivors. …They’ll help you grow trophy Largemouth. …They’re super fun to catch. …They’ll help build your performance pond.


Brenton worked on commercial fishing boats on the Atlantic Ocean, his military included operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s built a company providing commercial solutions to the recreational market, effectively establishing a new supply chain for the once difficult to find sportfish, feed and equipment. Newalla Fish Company LLC now serves as the only sportfish supplier dedicated to recreational hybrid striped bass, a unique niche that serves pond owners well.

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