Largemouth bass are the most popular fish for pond stocking. Not only are bass fun to catch but bass are required to maintain a balanced fish populations in ponds. Largemouth bass spawn during March, April and May once water temperatures reach 60 degrees. Males create saucer shaped nests with their tails and then begin courting females. Females join the male in his nest and lay adhesive eggs in the bottom of the nest.
Females can produce 10,000 eggs per pound of body weight. Once the eggs are fertilized the male guards the nest from predators and aerates the eggs with his tail until they hatch. Depending on water temperature eggs hatch in 5 to 7 days. Baby bass remain in the nest for several days before swimming from the nest in schools guarded closely by the male.
Baby bass begin feeding on zooplankton then switch to insects and other baby fish by the time they reach 2 inches. The small fingerlings grow quickly throughout the summer reaching 1/2 to 3/4 pound by fall. By spring the bass are mature and can begin spawning. Most largemouth bass will grow one pound a year after their first year. Maximum size and rate of growth is a function of food availability, competition and age. Genetics are a small part of the equation and are linked geographically to climate.
There are two recognized strains of largemouth bass. Florida strain largemouth bass are native to peninsular Florida. Northern strain largemouth bass are native to everywhere north of Florida. An intergrade zone exists in northern Florida, southern Georgia and Alabama in which naturally occurring largemouth bass populations contain genes from both northern and Florida strains. Recently an F1 hybrid (the first cross between a northern strain and Florida strain bass) has been marketed for pond stocking in the southeast.
Northern strain largemouth bass are capable of reaching 16+ pounds in size with most averaging 6 to 8 pounds. Northern strain largemouth bass in their native climate have a well defined growing seasons and must tolerate stressful cold winters. Therefore they do not live as long as Florida strain largemouth bass and generally do not get as large as Florida strain bass. Northern strain largemouth bass provide quality bass fishing.
Florida strain largemouth bass are the largest strain with some fish reaching 20 +pounds in size with most averaging 10 + pounds. Florida strain largemouth bass in their native climate have a year round growing season and do not have to cope with stressful cold winters. Therefore they live longer and grow larger in their native climate. However, Florida strain largemouth bass are difficult to catch prompting many pond owners to restock with northern strain bass to produce quality fishing. Florida bass are not very cold tolerant and ponds north of I-20 stocked with Florida strain largemouth bass can experience 50% mortality in the winter and up to 75% mortality under ice cover.
F1 hybrid largemouth bass are gaining in popularity in the southern region as easier to catch then Florida strain largemouth bass and larger than northern strain largemouth bass. The jury is still out on the F1 hybrid largemouth bass. Once the F1 bass reach maturity and spawn the hybrid genes will be mixed up and those passed on to offspring will be selected by the local climate.
Recently bass producers have trained largemouth bass fingerlings to eat commercial fish food allowing them to sell bass year round. These bass are most often northern strain largemouth bass and are marketed as feed trained bass. Under crowded conditions small feed trained bass will continue to feed on artificial food in ponds and can be grown into adult sizes. These adult feed trained bass will continue to feed on artificial food once released into fishing ponds. There is still some reservation as to the maximum size a feed trained bass will achieve in a recreational fishing pond. While they do provide good fishing, there are no nutritionally complete artificial feeds for largemouth bass resulting in liver problems in larger feed trained largemouth bass. Pond owners have also reported that the robust football like feed trained largemouth bass they stocked into their forage filled ponds lost weight and either refused to eat or were unable to catch live forage.
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J.M. Malone and Son, Inc. produces 3 million feed trained Northern Strain Largemouth Bass fingerlings annually. These fingerlings are sold for stocking recreational fishing ponds, sold to food fish growers who raise adult largemouth and some are stocked into our own production ponds to produce advanced fingerlings and adult largemouth. The greatest obstacle to the large scale production of advanced fingerling and adult bass is poor survival caused by poor retention of feeding behavior once feed trained fingerlings are stocking into production ponds. J.M. Malone and Son, Inc. is committed to resolving this problem in largemouth bass culture allowing us to supply the great demand for these fish.
J.M. Malone and Son, Inc. has produced Florida Strain Largemouth and the F1 Hybrid Largemouth since 2001. We have observed that bass with Florida Genes grow slower than Northern Strain Largemouth. The difference in growth begins in the hatchery where bass with Florida Genes require more time to hatch and more time to swim up. In several trials using ponds of forage fish, Northern Strain Largemouth Fingerlings grew to 1 pound by the age of 16 months while F1 Hybrid Largemouth only grew to 1/2 pound by the age of 16 months. In trials using feed trained Northern Strain Largemouth and feed trained F1 Hybrid Largemouth, the Northern Strain Largemouth grew to 1 1/2 pounds by the age of 16 months while F1 Hybrid Largemouth only grew to 1 pound by the age of 16 months. However, we have also observed that bass with Florida genes begin to put on more weight at four years of age than Northern Strain Largemouth and that bass fingerlings with Florida Genes grow more uniformly than do Northern Strain Largemouth fingerlings.
The most notable differences between Northern Strain Largemouth and bass with Florida Genes can be observed when handling small 1-3" fingerlings. Northern Strain Largemouth bass fingerlings will tolerate the handling, grading and water quality associated with feed training. Florida Strain Largemouth and F1 Hybrid Largemouth fingerlings are very susceptible to columnaris and must often be stocked within several days of harvest to prevent complete mortality. It is very rare that a group of Florida Strain fingerlings or F1 Hybrid fingerlings will handle well enough to feed train them in sufficient numbers. For this reason advanced Florida Strain Largemouth and F1 Hybrid Largemouth fingerlings are always in short supply.
All Largemouth Bass Virus susceptible species produced by J.M. Malone and Son, Inc. are tested bi annually for Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV). Since testing began in 2002 no LMBV has ever been isolated from any fish on our farm.