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F1s: Beware Armchair Quarterbacks and Dishonest Hatcheries

There’s a website online that presents itself as an authority on pond management. Most of the moderators have never worked on any pond other than the one in their backyard, i.e. are hobbyists, but they don’t mention this. The owner is a pond management professional but rarely posts.

One of their moderators recently discounted a post I made on here about F1 largemouth and the inferiority of their offspring. Surely said person must have many more years experience and training than I do to so blithely discredit me, right? He’s an attorney. He has no training in biology and has not worked for five minutes as a pond management professional.

F1 largemouth are a hybrid between largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides salmoides), and Florida bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus), which are two separate species. Anytime specimens of two different species are crossed, the initial resultant cross, the first-generation hybrid, has what is called hybrid vigor: these animals, whether fish, plants, mammals, or what have you, tend to grow well, be disease-resistant, and generally to have desirable characteristics. However, when the hybrids begin breeding with one another a genetic phenomenon known as outbreeding depression becomes a major risk. Outbreeding is when there is too much genetic distance between the DNA of the two parents, and it causes a wide range of undesirable characteristics in the offspring including inferior disease resistance, decreased fecundity, and many other problems. One of the first undesirable characteristics that manifests is inferior growth potential. As the offspring of the hybrids then begin to breed with one another, mis-aligned DNA breeds again with mis-aligned DNA and the problems get successively worse.

None of this is considered theory: it’s accepted scientific fact in the field of genetics. If you have ever fished a pond that was overrun with hybrid bluegill that averaged two inches long, this is how that came to pass. That’s why most states that have any sort of pond management literature, if they mention hybrid bluegill in said literature, also note that their offspring are undesirable and genetically inferior. Hybrid bluegill are a cross, most often, between a male bluegill and a female green sunfish – two different species, just as largemouth bass and Florida bass are two different species.

While I feel that I have figured out some things about pond management that as yet have escaped others in the field, I was not the first person to call landowners’ – and pond consultants’ – attention to the potential for genetic problems with F1 largemouth. Wes Neal is the chair of the fisheries department at Mississippi State University, and a very smart and capable biologist; he first began alerting folks like myself who do this for a living that we might want to think twice before stocking F1s, on the very website I referenced above, sometime around 2009. At the time, I regularly stocked F1s, just like all the other guys in my field, because I thought they were the best option. However, unlike many guys in this business who care more about backroom deals or a quick buck than what’s ultimately best for the landowner’s pond, I am always trying to learn and get better, and if that means re-considering what I thought was the best way, I’m going to do it. I don’t hold onto a method or product at the expense of the landowner. And after reading Neal’s warning about F1 largemouth, I looked into the subject further myself, and I started stocking pure Floridas instead. Then I took a class in fish genetics, and that strengthened my decision.

Here is Neal’s article again:

http://extension.msstate.edu/news/extension-outdoors/2016/select-largemouth-bass-genetics-for-your-pond

I’ve been managing other people’s ponds, not just my own, since 1987; I’ve been doing this as a business proper since 2009, and have been making my sole living from it since 2014. I have a master’s in fisheries science from one of the top fisheries departments in the country, the University of Florida; I have electrofished hundreds upon hundreds of ponds all across the Southeast, from western Arkansas to South Carolina, from Indianapolis to the southernmost portion of Georgia a few miles from the Florida panhandle. And all, not most but all, of the very worst-performing ponds and lakes I have ever worked in terms of bass size on were ones that had had F1 largemouth for several years.

We shocked a 60-acre lake in Monteagle, Tennessee for nearly three hours in October 2016. The lake had been stocked as a new lake in 2003 with F1s; the bass were stocked several months after forage fish, by a management company other than mine. According to a resident on the lake who was there when it was stocked and was still living there when we shocked the lake, some nice bass up to eight pounds were caught four or five years after the bass were stocked, but then gradually it began going downhill. When we surveyed it, the biggest largemouth we captured was 1.25 pounds.

We shocked a nine-acre pond in central Alabama in May 2019 that had been stocked with F1s as a new pond twelve years earlier. The biggest largemouth we captured measured 11″.

We shocked a 20-acre lake in west Tennessee in 2015 that had been stocked with F1s as a new lake several years prior; the biggest largemouth we shocked up measured 10.5″.

There are other factors that can cause largemouth to underperform in a pond; but they all pale compared to genetics.

A little context: there are hundreds upon hundreds of articles available to the general public at the click of a mouse on the Mississippi State University Extension Service website, on a wide range of topics ranging from crop care to pond management. A year or two after I linked to Neal’s very insightful, and important, article on F1 largemouth on said site, a disclaimer appeared at the top of the page bearing said article, stating that the information contained in the article might be out of date. I spent a little time clicking on dozens of other articles on the site; guess how many other articles bore such a disclaimer? None. Zero.

There are fish farms out there that care a lot more about the health of their bank accounts than they do the health of your pond, so much so that they will go to great lengths to protect said bank accounts. I would offer that those are not the best people to buy fish from, or for that matter anything for your pond from.

A little more context: the owner of the pond management website I referenced sold his management business not too long ago to a company whose signature fish is an F1 bass.