Fish & Aquatics
Feeding the Food Chain For Bigger Fish
By Mark Griffin, Ph.D. and Gordon Ballam, Ph.D.
Purina Mills Research & Technical Services
Anyone who has ever spent a Saturday morning on their pond with a fishing rod knows what a thrill it is to feel a tug on the end of the line. The size of the thrill however, is directly related to the strength of the tug - the bigger the bend, the better. So wouldn’t it be great if the fish in your pond were as big as possible? Wouldn’t it be nice if your pond not only had bigger fish, but more of them?
It may sound like a fish tale, but it is possible - with good pond management and supplemental feeding of your fish.
Research has shown that ponds stay healthier, fish grow bigger and faster and sustainable per acre populations are larger with supplemental feeding. Ponds which naturally sustain a stocking population of 500 bluegills and 50 bass per acre can easily sustain 1,000 bluegills and 100 bass per acre with supplemental feeding. This remarkable difference is due in part to the fact that supplemental feeding affects a pond’s entire food chain.
Picture one of the old cartoons that showed a small fish being swallowed by a bigger fish who smiled all the way down the throat of an even bigger fish. This is the food chain action and illustrates one of the hidden benefits of supplemental feeding. At first glance, supplemental feeding seems to benefit only those fish such as bluegills, sunfish, hybrid striped bass, catfish, minnows and other species that directly consume the feed. And while it’s true these fish flourish - converting feed at a 2:1 ratio to produce a full pound of weight gain for each two pound of feed - they are not the only beneficiaries.
Feeding fish also supplies nutrients to the water which enable phytoplankton to grow. Since phytoplankton are at the very bottom of the food chain, they affect all the animals above them. When they thrive, other life flourishes.
At the other end of the food chain are the predators such as bass, walleye and larger catfish. They eat the bluegills, minnows, small catfish and other forage fish that have been supplied with supplemental feed. The food chain has now come full circle. By feeding the forage fish, you’ve not only provided yourself with a better catch when you hook a bluegill, you’ve also provided a better meal for your bass. As an added bonus, supplemental feeding also makes the forage fish population more plentiful because the larger size brought on by feeding encourages earlier breeding - sometimes as early as the first year. In the end, the result is an increase in the capacity of your pond to grow and maintain a greater number of trophy fish.
Ten Tips For A Successful Feeding Program
To help pond managers get started on a feeding program, Purina offers these ten tips taken from Purina’s Complete Guide to Pond Management:
1. Start with fish bought from reputable vendors as they will already be trained to eat commercial feeds.
2. Match the feed size to the size of the fish. If the fish vary in size, use Purina Game Fish Chow with multi-sized particles. The floating ration allows for monitoring of the amount of feed consumed. Feed only as much as fish will eat in 10 - 15 minutes.
3. If training the fish to eat pellets is necessary, use Purina Game Fish Chow. It contains attractants to help train fish to eat a commercial diet.
4. Begin feeding in the Spring when the water temperature rises above 55o F.
5. Follow a routine each day, feed at the same time(s) and place(s).
6. Choose a convenient location where you can throw the feed out over deep water.
7. One feeding station is sufficient for small ponds. Ponds larger than 10 acres should have multiple feeding stations with one station for every 10 acres of surface area as a rule of thumb.
8. To keep floating pellets from drifting into the shoreline build a simple, inexpensive feeder ring with 10-ft. sections of 1½” plastic PVC pipe. Connect the sections with elbow joints, then tie it to your dock or secure it to the bottom with weight tied to a string.
9. Do not try to get too close to the fish when starting a feeding program. Stand back out of sight and move slowly. As the fish become accustomed to feeding you can begin to move closer. Some fish can even be trained to take feed from your hand.
10. Never fish at a feeding station near or during feeding time. This will cause the fish to shy away from the feeding area.