Apr 11, 2012
Calculated “harvest” critical to small waters management
By Mike Pehanich
“Harvest” is a term you hear a lot in central Illinois.
Southwest of Peoria, you find a lot of corn and soybeans growing on some of the world’s richest topsoil. But that’s not the type of “harvest” Nate Herman and I discussed last week.
Herman, co-owner of Herman Brothers Pond Management (hbpondmanagement.com) creates and manages some of the most interesting private waters in the Midwest. In fact, he has earned a reputation as a man who can “customize” fisheries to specific species – largemouth or smallmouth bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish, and even walleye and muskellunge!
Most of the waters he has designed in the past or manages today sport an abundance of his clients’ pet species including true “trophy” specimens. But if you think that a strict “catch-and-release” policy is the way to a fisherman’s paradise, think again! Most of his waters are carefully but consistently harvested to produce optimum results.
Nate’s use of “harvest” as a primary management tool on small waters was no real surprise. Bass legends Ray Scott and Bill Dance had preached the gospel of “harvest” to create a strong bass fishery in discussions before. On several occasions, I have witnessed the “before and after” results of a stunted bass population made strong by the practice of intelligent harvest.
“You’ve got to have forage for the fish to grow, and the way to control the forage is to control the predators,” Scott had said in a discussion of small waters two years ago. “That’s one of the problems with small waters. You can have a lot of fish, but you want quality fish in the two- to five-pound-and-up class. You have to harvest some fish.”
But other points Nate made were fascinating, and some real revelations!
Keep the cats! – If you want a catfish pond that produces fast action and good eating, keep fish that have reached a respectable frying-pan size. “Never practice ‘catch-and-release’ with catfish,” says Herman. “Once a catfish has been caught a couple of times, it’s hard to catch it again. With catch-and-release, you will get big catfish, but, if you can’t catch them and don’t eat them, that’s wasted biomass in your pond.” He recommends that catfish lovers keep pan-sized fish, which are the most flavorful to begin with. “Once it gets past a couple of pounds, don’t let it go!” he adds. “For $50 a year, you can stock all the fish you will need.
“When bass are abundant, I go bluegill fishing” – Some of the best lakes for BIG bluegill have an abundance of stunted bass. Bass in such lakes survive on a bluegill diet. They take small bluegill and bluegill fry out of the system early. The few ‘gills that survive through the forage stage often grow to “bull” – or, as Nate likes to say, “Boone & Crockett” dimensions. “They’ll get huge!” says Herman.
Formula for big crappie – You won’t find many bluegill in Nate Herman’s best crappie waters. In fact, he likes to keep ‘gills out completely if a “slab crappie” fishery is the goal for the lake. His formula includes: introducing fatheads and other forage minnows in the spring; stocking crappie in the fall; and stocking a high number of predators late the following season. The crappie will get a good growth spurt that first season, but the predators will keep the population from exploding and stunting.
Shocking forage numbers
I joined Herman on an electro-shock survey expedition on one of the lakes he manages.
I had fished it earlier in the day, and we had a field day with bass and walleye.
Interestingly, Herman’s primary focus was not on the smallmouth bass, walleye and musky stocked in the lake, but on the forage.
Only a single golden shiner came up. Bluegill and crappie appeared in fair but not huge numbers in the size range he preferred.
No yellow perch came up at all.
The reason: an abundance of largemouth bass had entered the lake. They had not been stocked but had had come in from a lake higher up in the watershed during a high-water period. The conditions were perfect for largemouth, and that “perfect predator” had taken advantage of its new home!
The bass looked rather thick and healthy, but they did not meet the expectations of a man accustomed to weighing in bass that register 120 percent of the norm for their length.
Our day ended on a high note with a fascinating encounter with giant bluegills, “boiling” hybrid stripers, and bass that literally fed from our hands.
But that’s another story!