Winter Feeding for Bluegill

by

Barry W. Smith

Bluegill will feed during the winter and are often found concentrated in deeper areas of the lake.Feeding bluegill is something that most of us pond owners enjoy. We like to see our coppernose bluegill come to the surface and take those floating pellets. It is a way for us to observe our bluegill and see how much they have grown. It is also exciting to see a big largemouth bass rip through the bluegill, making them scatter like a bait pod in the Gulf of Mexico.

Adding a pelleted fish food to a recreational pond provides a food supplement for the bluegill. This adds to the existing food supply created through natural fertility or fertilization. The effect this feeding has on the bluegill population depends on the amount of food that is distributed from a specific site. If you feed multiple times a day from an automatic fish feeder and feed enough pellets that it takes the fish three to five minutes to eat it, you will fatten bluegill within the proximity of the feeder. I have seen this happen on lakes as large as 100 acres, with just a single feeder.

Feeding not only fattens bluegill, but it can increase the total fish production in a lake. Natural productivity, or the total pounds per acre that a lake will support, is directly related to the fertility of the soil within the lake and its watershed. This is true with the production of a garden or any agricultural crop. This productivity, however, can be dramatically increased through a proper fertilization program. Fertilizing on a regular basis with a fishpond fertilizer, such as Perfect Pond Plus, can increase your fish production as much as 300 %. Utilizing an automatic fish feeder for every five acres in a fertilized pond can push the total fish production even higher.

What type of feed?

DSC_0185Remember that feeding is just a supplement to the natural foods in your pond, and bluegill do not depend on the feed as a primary source of food. The higher the quality of fish food, the greater the growth you will see and sometimes the more fish you will see feed. There is a tradeoff; the higher-quality feeds with more fishmeal and significantly higher protein content are very expensive. If you are on a reasonable budget, then feed a good quality catfish ration that contains 28% to 30% protein. During the spring, summer and fall, feed small floating catfish fingerling pellets.

Automatic fish feeders:

Many pond owners like to feed their fish by hand. There is nothing wrong with this technique, but you will experience more consistent growth and feed utilization if you use an automatic fish feeder. Bluegill have a small stomach and will respond much better to multiple feedings each day. A reliable automatic fish feeder will feed your fish when it is raining, when you have to take the kids to the doctor or soccer practice… it never forgets. When purchasing an automatic fish feeder, don’t get the cheapest feeder at the local bargain barn. It pays to purchase a reliable directional fish feeder that can be programmed to feed multiple times a day. These quality feeders with battery and solar panel range from $500 to $800. It is one of the best long-term investments you can make for your lake.

Even if you do not want to “max out” your lake’s production, a feeder offers a number of advantages in addition to increasing the growth and size of your bluegill. It is a great place to show your friends how well your fish are growing and a place you can enjoy observing fish and their activities. Do you have kids or grandkids? It is a place where they can learn to fish, and become excited about big bluegill attacking as many crickets as you can keep on their hooks. It is a wonderful focal point for family fishing.

When do I quit feeding?

Automatic fish feeders are a great investment and can be a focal point for family fishing. Make sure you continue feeding during the winter.Many pond owners turn off their fish feeders in the early fall when they turn on their deer feeders. The general consensus is that when the weather turns cool, the fish stop feeding. Actually, fall and early spring are excellent growth months for bluegill. Much of the supplemental food is channeled toward growth rather than egg production, as occurs during much of the spawning season. Another little known fact is that in the southeast, growth will continue throughout the winter, although it is not as rapid as in the spring or fall.

There have been a number of interesting studies of food consumption by catfish during the winter months. Dr. Jesse Chappel, an Auburn University fisheries extension specialist, says that feeding catfish during the winter is very beneficial to commercial catfish growers. “Commercial catfish ponds that are fed regularly from November through early March experience about a 20% increase in growth. Ponds that are not fed can experience a 15% weight loss. This can be critical in other ways, as fish that experience significant weight loss may be more susceptible to disease in the early Spring,” explains Dr. Chappel. When asked if this same principal would apply to recreational ponds with bass and bluegill, Dr. Chappel responded, “Bluegill will definitely experience a weight gain if fed during the winter months. However, since they are not totally dependent on pellets as a single food source, their weight loss may be minimal if they are not fed.”

We recommend changing to a sinking catfish pellet during the winter. Although this does not allow you to observe the fish feeding, it has several advantages. Because of the colder water temperatures, feeding response is much slower during the winter, and much of the floating food is washed upon the bank before the fish can eat it. A sinking pellet remains on the bottom for bluegill to slowly feed on over a long period of time. If conditions are too harsh for the bluegill to feed, the sinking pellet will act as organic fertilizer and increase the production of small zooplankton and insects.

Chappel says that placing structure, such as treetops or pallets, in front of the feeder will afford many of the smaller bluegill an opportunity to eat the sinking pellets while inside a refuge area.

How often to feed?

09-11-2023-0042During the winter, we recommend feeding once daily during the middle of the afternoon. This is the time when the water is typically the warmest and will elicit the best feeding response from the bluegill. Typically 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. is the best time to feed. Feeding duration of 6 to 10 seconds is usually adequate.

Feeding only once daily will allow you to check and fill feeders every other week. Just because hunting season is in full swing, don’t forget about your fish. Winter feeding does not take much effort and the reward of fat bluegill in the spring is well worth it. Keep those feeders full!

Barry W. Smith is a Certified Fisheries Scientist and co-owner of American Sport Fish.

 

Seasonal Tips

Threadfin Shad Winter Kills

Threadfin shad are great supplemental forage for both bass and crappie in fertilized ponds. They spawn multiple times during the spring and summer and the adult shad are always in the size range that bass can eat. Adult shad seldom exceed 5 to 6 inches. Threadfins are sexually mature at a size of 2.5 inches and the offspring of a spring spawn will be mature by the end of the summer and often spawn in late summer or early fall. Almost all lakes that are successfully managed for largemouth bass contain threadfin shad as an additional forage species.

The single drawback to threadfin shad is they are susceptible to winter kills. These kills do not typically occur every year in the southeast. The farther from the Gulf Coast, the more likely you will experience a kill in the threadfin population. Ponds and lakes that have a third of the lake with depths greater than 15 feet are more likely to have survival of some shad even in cold winters. Ponds and lakes that ice-over for several consecutive days are likely to experience a shad kill.

Although water temperatures below 38 F will cause mortality, the number of consecutive cold days plays an important part in mortality. Threadfin can be stressed by low temperatures and the fish will swim slowly, becoming easy prey to bass, crappie and larger catfish. Many of these stressed will be eaten by fish and birds, never showing up on the shoreline. Just because you never see dead fish on the shoreline does not mean you did not have threadfin mortality.

This has been a much colder winter than we have experienced for the past four years. It is always a good idea to re-stock threadfin in the spring or early summer to insure you do not miss a year without shad.

Stock Your Pond!

By stocking the right kind of fish and following a well-developed plan of maintenance and fertilization, you can grow trophy-sized fish in your pond. Let American Sport Fish Hatchery help you reach your pond's maximum potential!

Trophy Bass

Have A Perfect Pond

Perfect Pond Plus is truly a revolutionary tool for maintaining the perfect balance in your pond. It is easy to apply, water soluble, and will not clump.

Always Use Perfect Pond Plus® For Great Results!

Trophy Bass

© 2007 American Sport Fish Hatchery - Website developed by RobertsonConsultants