If you go just by Google results and which company ranks the highest for searches pertaining to stocking a pond in this state, you’ll likely end up with a company that is actually headquartered multiple states north of us. Said company claims to be the best choice for stocking your pond; they also claim to be innovators in aquaculture; they claim that they stay abreast of the latest research and are even helping further research in the field. If all of this were true, they would indeed be a great choice for stocking your pond.
This same company regularly advises any pond owner who contacts them for help improving the size of his or her existing largemouth bass population, to stock fathead minnows to help the bass. Fathead minnows are widely recognized as a waste of money in a pond with an established bass population because the bass will wipe them out within a month or two of the minnows being stocked. This happens because fatheads have a maximum size of three inches long. Even a six-inch largemouth can easily consume a three-inch fathead; fatheads never reach a size at which they are safe from bass predation.
The other part of this equation is the conversion factor. The general rule of thumb for conversion rate of live forage to body weight for any piscivorous species, i.e. a predator, is that it takes ten pounds of forage to put one pound of weight on one predator fish. Fathead minnows generally will run 200 to 250 fish per pound, so to put one pound of weight on a one-pound largemouth you will have to feed it roughly 2,000 minnows. If you have a one-acre pond with 100 pounds of bass in it, just to get one pound of growth on all of your bass you’re going to have to stock 200,000 minnows, 200 pounds’ worth. And none of those 200 pounds are going to survive, meaning if you want your bass to keep growing, you’d better be a heart surgeon or you’re going to have to mortgage your house to do it.
So how does anyone ever get largemouth to grow? Simple: they don’t rely on fatheads.
Bluegill, unlike fathead minnows, regularly reach sizes at which they’re immune to bass predation. A bluegill in a well-managed pond can go from one inch to eight inches or more in a year or less, and an eight-inch bluegill isn’t going to be eaten by any largemouth smaller than six pounds. Here’s another detail about bluegill: they readily consume pelleted foods, and convert a quality fishmeal-based food at under 2:1, meaning it takes less than two pounds of food to add a pound of weight to your bluegill. That pound isn’t going just on one bluegill at a time; but if you feed forty pounds a month of a fishmeal food with a protein content of 40% or more, you’re gaining over twenty pounds a month of growth across all of your bluegill. Bluegill, like most any animal, fish or otherwise, produce more offspring when the quality of their nutrition improves; bluegill specifically have been found to produce 80% more offspring when fed a fishmeal food compared to unfed bluegill.
One last reason why any biologist who knows anything at all about largemouth bass uses bluegill rather than fatheads to grow big bass: largemouth need bigger meals to maintain optimal growth rates as they reach larger sizes. A six-inch bass gets good growth from a three-inch minnow; a five-pound bass gets nothing at all from that size meal because it has so much more body mass to supply calories to each day. The energy it expends to catch a three-inch minnow makes the few calories it gets from said minnow a wash. But that same five-pond bass can eat a six-inch bluegill, and because of the bluegill’s rounder, compressiform body shape, get forty times the calories – from the same amount of exertion.
So you can mortgage your house to grow your bass via fathead minnows, or you can feed your bluegill and get five times more forage for the same amount of money.
Why would anyone, then, ever recommend stocking fathead minnows to help an established bass population? Maybe it’s because the company in question is a fish hatchery that doesn’t make its own fish food, but happens to raise large quantities of fathead minnows.
Trophy Pond is a fish hatchery and lake and pond management company that strives to put the customer first rather than our bank account. We may make less on the average sale than that bigger competitor from up north, but we grow a lot bigger fish for our customers.
Here’s some more reading on fathead minnows: