Bluegill - Big Bluegill

Do you love big bluegill?

So in my attempt to find what I need to do with my pond, I wanted to find out how the LMB population looked.  So far it's hit or miss.  The bluegill population seems to be seriously lacking, but the water is cold.  

I'm trying to find out if Tilapia are legal in Maryland so I can get them to eat up some of the vegetation in the pond.  I will keep fishing and start taking some notes on the actual numbers to help me move forward.

Here's the best bass that was caught.  Not super skinny, but not fat either.  Also a picture of the single bluegill I caught.

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Comment by Walt Foreman on November 13, 2012 at 6:52pm

His Chris, I sent you a PM.  1/4 acre is pretty small, so aeration is just about essential with a pond that size because you have a lot less room for error.  Also, I would definitely encourage the stocking of male bluegill only, as you want reproduction to be as minimal as possible in a pond that size.  100 6"+ bluegill is plenty for that size pond.  I googled it and Maryland Select is only 76 miles from you; they sell both coppernose and northern-strain bluegill 7-9", so I would get 50 7-9" coppernose males and 50 7-9" northern-strain males (next April or May).  

You might also think about renovating the pond, i.e. starting from scratch.  You would have to kill off the existing fish with rotenone, but you would be able to maximize the potential much more with a pond that small.  It's really easy for bluegill to overpopulate a pond that small, and once they're overcrowded it's a real chore to get them under control again.  You would stock the shrimp a month or so after the rotenone treatment (it neutralizes very quickly in warm weather but this time of year you'd probably need a month), testing first with a few minnows to make sure it had neutralized, then in the spring you would stock nothing but male bluegill, no bass at all; and at the same time ideally you'd stock three or four additional forage species such as crawfish and tadpoles.  Some of the biggest bluegill in the country in recent years have been grown in very small ponds stocked with this single-sex strategy, simply because the bluegill can't spawn at all so they never have to worry about increasing competition for food, and they don't devote any of their energy to spawning, but just eat all the time.  

Comment by Chris Roberts on November 13, 2012 at 4:58pm

I'd love to get a price on shrimp.  The pond is only 1/4 acre.  Here's a picture of the muck.  I can take more/better ones tomorrow if need be.  I also look forward to hearing a price on a diffuser.

Comment by Walt Foreman on November 13, 2012 at 4:00pm

Looks like you have widgeon grass, though it could be Southern naiad.  But looks like probably widgeon grass.  "Floating muck" sounds like probably FA but I'd have to see it to be sure.

You can test alkalinity now, and it's a good time to do so since liming is typically done in the winter months.  

Getting the right species of grass shrimp is the key to their survival.  Some species are tropical and wouldn't survive where you are; but the hatchery I mentioned is in Nebraska, and the species they sell is adapted to colder climes.  DON'T buy from HabitatNOW - they advertise scuds, a type of freshwater shrimp, at a cheap price, but then they charge as much for shipping as they do for the shrimp, and when I ordered a couple thousand from them, ninety percent of the shrimp arrived dead and the owner refused to give me a refund even though I took photos of the dead shrimp (he claimed they were asleep, even though they had changed color!) and had the pond owner as a witness that they were stone-dead.  But I've stocked shrimp from Fattig a few times in the winter, and never had more than a small handful die during stocking (they all just got eaten later due to no substantial vegetation).  I may be ordering some for a couple other clients in the next couple weeks, and can get you a better price than what they would quote a new buyer.  

A good plan would be to stock as many shrimp as you can afford now, then stock a few male bluegill around April or early May (before it gets too hot) and install an automatic feeder.  

Don't add water lilies - they'll choke the pond.  A better alternative would be American pondweed, which is sort of like a mini-lily - it floats on the surface and looks really cool, provides great fish cover, but only grows in water to about four feet or so deep and won't take over a pond like lilies will.  Planting a few would take some of the nutrients from the widgeon grass and potentially reduce its prevalence.  But that widgeon grass can really be your friend if it doesn't dominate the pond - dense vegetation like that is great cover for grass shrimp.  Do you have any photos showing the whole pond?

A surface aerator should keep an area free from ice if you get ice, and would be good to employ.  I can give you a quote on a bottom-diffuser system once I know:


How big is the pond?  That's a key factor in making management plans.  

Comment by Chris Roberts on November 13, 2012 at 2:46pm

Quite a bit to process there.

Alkalinity is no sweat, I can figure that one out.  I guess the question is when should I test that?  I guess I can do that now because if it's off, we can correct that with lime over the winter.

As far as shallow water, I guess I'll have to get the jon boat out there and start plugging a stick into the thing because I honestly don't know.

I do have a surface aerator I can run during the winter to prevent icing if need be.  I doubt that I'll get an entire pond iced for longer than the period of a week, but who knows.  We did just get a hurricane in October.  That being said, I would love to get a bottom diffuser though.  I haven't looked into pricing yet, so I don't know if they're within budget.  I do have power right beside the pond.

I feel like there's enough plant life below the surface that if the floating muck is removed, we'd be okay.  I'd like to add some lily's, but everywhere I read says to stay away from them and I'm probably okay with that too.

I am loving the shrimp idea.  I'm going to look into how much they cost and survival temps.  I don't want to dump a thousand or so in and this be the time where they struggle to survive.  I would love to add some big gills in there right now too, but they don't breed until the spring so I will most likely hold off on them.

I could probably get away with not pulling any bass, it could be tough though :).  I have read management strategies where people pull the once they hit 14", but I ultimately want big bluegills (or I wouldn't have come to this site).

Let me know if these pictures of the weeds are good enough for you.  This is not the floating muck (but I think I may have posted that in another entry - I'll check)

Comment by Walt Foreman on November 13, 2012 at 11:59am

The best way to control filamentous algae, if that's what you have, is by fertilizing the pond regularly from March through August in your area.  You would first test your alkalinity, which can be done with any pool testing kit, to make sure it's at least 20 ppm; if it's below that, you would want to lime the pond, which is pretty cheap as you can generally get a ton of lime for around $100 or less.  You fertilize twice monthly the first couple months or until you get a good plankton bloom, which is when the water turns a cloudy sort of green from phytoplankton.  The ideal bloom is when you can't see a bright white object more than 18" deep in the water; more than that and you risk a fish kill; less than that and you won't control the weeds.

Does the pond have a lot of excessively shallow water, less than 2' deep?  If so, fertilization will be more difficult.  One other thought: if you do fertilize, you would definitely want to install an aeration system.  Some northern pond owners skip fertilization because it can increase the risk of winterkill.  If your pond typically would be iced over for a month or more during the winter, you would need aeration to prevent winterkill.

Aeration would be a great idea even if you don't fertilize, as it lessens the likelihood of a fish kill during dry conditions in midsummer.  It would also cut back some on the FA.

The best thing apart from fertilizing you could do to control the FA, if that's what you have, would be to install a pond circulator.  One of these would be more expensive than a standard bottom-diffuser aeration system, but it would do more to combat FA, which doesn't like current.  A circulator aerates the pond by creating a current throughout the pond; it prevents stratification during the summer, as a bottom diffuser would, and keeps a portion of the pond free from ice in the winter.  I can give you a good price on either a bottom-diffuser or pond circulator.  

Once you're aerating, you might also add some muck-eating bacteria to reduce the muck.  I haven't used it myself but know multiple other pond managers who have gotten good results with it.  

Post a photo of the algae you have and I can identify it for you.  

Again, though, if it doesn't cover a majority of the pond, I would leave it to provide cover for the grass shrimp.  They have zero chance of establishing in a pond that doesn't have vegetation - I know because I've tried several times and had zero luck.  

It certainly wouldn't hurt to give the shrimp a while to multiply before adding more bluegill.  The other option, if money isn't an issue, would be simply to stock a boatload of shrimp now, a couple thousand or more.  

Whenever you stock new bluegill, see if the hatchery will sell you nothing but males.  It's relatively easy to positively identify sex in bluegill over 6", and stocking males only will reduce the likelihood of overpopulation issues.  Male bluegill generally grow larger than females.  This single-sex strategy can be especially valuable if your pond is small, under an acre in size.

DON'T stock tilapia under any circumstances if the goal is big bluegill.  It won't matter that they're gone after a year, because that one year will be all it takes for your bluegill to badly overpopulate.  I learned this the hard way myself this year; I had a one-acre pond I'm managing that was one of my very best ponds as of April, with coppernose bluegill that were only two years old and already 10".  But the pond had a bad watermeal problem, and I had already learned the hard way that a once-trusted brand of Fluridone, Whitecap, no longer has the quality control it once had thanks to being manufactured in China; after spending nearly $800 on whitecap with no results whatsoever, I was desperate to get the watermeal under control without spending a fortune.  This pond had a bunch of stunted crappie that I had not known about when I stocked the coppernose, and they had done a great job to that point of eating up most of the coppernose YOY (along with the Florida-strain largemouth I had stocked with the coppernose), so I thought that if ever tilapia could be stocked without causing the bluegill to overpopulate, it would be this pond.  Fast forward just two months from the May stocking of tilapia, and I had a couple guiding clients fly in from Texas to fish for trophy bluegill.  I was expecting that pond to be the best pond; and while they did catch a few coppernose in the 9-10" range, we didn't catch any of the 11"s I had been expecting (I was catching a bunch of 10"s in April), and for every coppernose they caught, they caught two tilapia, and three or four bluegill under 5".  We had caught no bluegill under 6" when I fished the pond in March, and only one under 8".   

And, to top it all off, the tilapia didn't control the watermeal, barely made a dent in it.  Their best gift of all was a partial fish kill the pond had in August when the water got low and there were simply too many fish in the pond, in spite of aeration, for the amount of oxygen available.  None of the tilapia died, of course (they can tolerate low DO) - just dozens of big coppernose.  

I would strongly recommend not keeping any bass at all if you want trophy bluegill.  The biggest key to growing big bluegill, even more important than supplemental feed or genetics or anything else you can do, is to keep bluegill density low; and the way you do this is by allowing the bass to overpopulate so that they hammer the bluegill YOY and fingerlings.  Few bluegill survive to adulthood, but the ones that do have exponentially more food per fish than they would in crowded conditions, and grow exponentially faster and larger.  I never keep a bass, or allow anyone else to, out of ponds I manage for big bluegill.  Your bass will be anorexic - but your bluegill will look like sumo wrestlers on the juice (if you feed supplementally, which is the second most important thing to do for trophy bluegill).

Comment by Chris Roberts on November 13, 2012 at 6:41am

Walt, this is wonderful information!  The goal for the pond is big bluegill by far.  The only reason I wanted to use tilapia was strictly to remove the weeds.  They only last one year and I was willing to take that year to have no bluegill growth.  I do indeed like the idea of grass shrimp though.

Would it be a good idea to try and get them established in the upcoming year rather than stocking more bluegill?  Or would you also potentially add a few 6 or 8" to the breed pool just to give them a year.

I do plan on harvesting the bass here eventually, but I don't want to completely get rid of them.  I do want to keep the population down, but my biggest problem is I just love the taste of them!  That being said, they taste best when they're just over a pound.

Let me hopefully ask you one question since you seem to be full of good info!  How can I get rid of floating algae other than just pulling it out of the pond? 

Comment by Walt Foreman on November 12, 2012 at 10:50pm

One other thought: consider diversifying your bluegill genetics by stocking a few larger (6"+) bluegill from a hatchery, or, if you have a nearby lake or pond that regularly produces large bluegill and you seldom or never see parasites on them, you could stock from there.  Zetts hatchery in PA and WVA (two locations, same family but they don't get along, both are good hatcheries) sells bluegill up to 8" that they've been selectively breeding for years, and I know of a pond owner in WVA who has grown some pretty large bluegill from stock he got from Zetts.  Another possibility is Maryland Select Hatchery, which is a member on this site; they sell coppernose bluegill that they raise there in Maryland.  They may or may not be pure-strain coppernose, but if they're adapted to your climate and they're even part coppernose, they could potentially grow larger than northern-strain bluegill would.  

How big is the pond, and how deep?  

Comment by Walt Foreman on November 12, 2012 at 10:35pm

Chris, is your goal for the pond big bass, or big bluegill?  If the goal is big bluegill, avoid tilapia at all costs as they will cause your bluegill to badly overpopulate, shutting down bluegill growth altogether.

The bluegill you show above is in decent shape, i.e. not stunted, but also not superlative.  If you want big bluegill, don't keep any bass; install an automatic feeder and feed once a day initially, then two or more times daily once the fish take well to the food, and make sure to feed a high-quality food that's high in protein such as Silver Cup (the best but probably not sold in your area - you can get it directly from the manufacturer but it would be expensive unless you bought in bulk) or Ziegler or Aquamax.  Don't keep any bluegill over 9", so they can grow to 10"+.  

If you have significant vegetation, rather than trying to eliminate it, use it to your advantage: stock some grass shrimp from Fattig Fish in Nebraska.  They're a favorite food of bluegill and they need vegetation in order to establish in a pond.  If you get them established they could make a big difference for your bluegill.

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