Tiger Bass® is a buzzword among pond owners and bass anglers throughout the Southeast. Word of its success has traveled overseas to such unlikely places as Japan and Italy. What is this fish, where does it come from, and what is the real scoop on its growth.
The name “Tiger Bass” is actually a registered trademark of American Sport Fish Hatchery in Montgomery, Ala. This name refers to the specific cross developed at American Sport Fish, utilizing its strain of aggressive, pure northern largemouth bass bred with a strain of proven trophy Florida largemouth bass. The purpose of this particular breeding was to create a true F-1 bass that would be easy to catch and have a rapid growth rate. Private lake consultants from Georgia to Texas have distributed Tiger Bass from American Sport Fish to their clients.
The term F-1 is used in the scientific community to denote the offspring resulting from the mating of two different species, subspecies or genetic strains of animals. In this case, F-1 refers to the breeding of the two recognized subspecies of largemouth bass: Florida bass, Micropterus salmoides Floridanus, and the northern bass, Micropterus salmoides salmoides.
All F-1s are not created equal.
The F-1 utilized by state game and fish agencies during the 1960s and 1970s was a cross between a pure northern (native) bass and a pure Florida bass. This is not the same as the Tiger Bass, which was created through a selective breeding program to bite artificial lures more readily (aggressive northern strain), and to grow at a more rapid rate (offspring from trophy Florida bass blood lines). There are many so-called “F-1” bass available today, but most are merely an intergrade bass containing an unknown mixture of Florida and northern genetics. Buyers beware!
Growth Rates of Tiger Bass
Today’s pond owners are certainly more knowledgeable regarding bass management than those of the 1970s. There has been considerable progress, especially among private sector biologists, regarding bass management. Thinking “outside the box” and challenging many of the paradigms of the 1950s and 1960s has yielded greater predictability in creating outstanding bass fisheries. Changing traditional bluegill-bass stocking from the traditional 10:1 to a 30:1 or even higher has resulted in consistent growth rates in excess of 2 pounds per year. There are also more pond management tools available to biologists and pond owners today than there were in the 70s. We have aeration and destratification systems, automatic fish feeders, liming barges, supplemental forage, such as threadfin shad, golden shiners and tilapia─ as well as an understanding of selective bass harvest. All of these factors contribute to the growth rate of bass and the number of trophy bass available to the lake owner.
Growth rates of any strain of largemouth bass are first limited by food. Most bass management experts agree that availability of proper size forage is the key to rapid growth for all bass. In well-managed lakes and ponds in the Southeast, Tiger Bass have shown consistent growth rates, often exceeding 2 pounds per year. The majority of these lakes are well fertilized and have both bluegill and threadfin shad as a forage base. There is an established pattern of exceptional growth from Georgia to Texas, where Tiger Bass are documented gaining 2.5 to 3 pounds per year.
During the fall of 2012 we electrofished a 30-acre lake where the 18-month-old Tiger Bass weights ranged from 2.5 to more than 4.5 pounds. The lake had been stocked at a 30:1 ratio of bluegill to bass and was also stocked with golden shiners and threadfin shad. The larger bass were all females.
We received a report from Mark Hardy of Columbus, Miss. stating he had caught numerous bass in his 20-acre lake this fall that were also 2.5 to 4 pounds. These Tiger Bass had been stocked for 18 months and also at a 20:1 stocking ratio.
Ben Dowling, fisheries biologist and owner of Southern Lake Management says, “We have had excellent growth from the Tiger Bass and almost unbelievable growth in some instances. Lake owners that are really good managers and who have ponds in good soil types can’t believe how fast their bass are growing. I have a client, Mr. Bobby Franks of Hale County, Ala., who caught a Tiger Bass that weighed 9 pounds, 12 ounces and was only 32 months old! It does not take long for good news to spread. He has a lake full of 7- to 10-pound bass.”
Mr. Glenn Bugsby of Baldwin County, Ala. reported catching up to 4 pound Tiger Bass in less than 18 months. The reports continue, as these lakes age, the bass get larger and are still growing at an average of two pounds per year. Bear Lake Fishing Club in Washington County, Ala. have had several bass over 14 pounds caught before the lake was 7 years old.
“We have been very pleased with the Tiger Bass,” says Don Keller of American Sport Fish Hatchery. “It has performed well in both growth and catchability. Our clients are pleased, and that makes our life easier. It was always difficult to explain to clients why they could grow a trophy Florida bass and then couldn’t catch it on an artificial lure. We commonly see 1.5 to 2 pounds of growth each year and have seen some really big fish. Neil Schrimshire of Adventure Lake, near Laurel, Miss., had a client who caught a 13- pound, 4-ounce Tiger Bass that was only 5.5 years old. We had a client catch one of our first experimental Tiger bass that was almost 15 pounds in 8 years.
“Producing the Tiger Bass requires a lot of extra hatchery work,” continues Keller. “We place a radio transmitter in each of our brood bass to identify our two strains of bass and to distinguish males from females. It is worth the trouble, this is a great bass for private ponds,” says Keller, “and we have a long list of clients who are pleased with the aggressiveness of the Tiger Bass and its growth potential.”
We will keep tracking the Tiger; a new state record may be lurking in your neighborhood.
Barry W. Smith is a Certified Fisheries Scientist and an internationally recognized expert on largemouth bass management in ponds and lakes. He has authored numerous publications on largemouth bass and was a speaker at both National Bass Symposia, which were sponsored by the American Fisheries Society.
There are more than 2.5 million ponds scattered across the United States. Most of these ponds provide fair to excellent recreational fishing opportunities.
However, a variety of problems can affect pond fisheries as they age. Some of these problems are population imbalances due to poor management, the introduction of nuisance or unwanted species, and siltation or other loss of habitat. Most problems can be addressed and remedied by utilizing traditional management practices such as harvest strategies or corrective restocking.
Occasionally, problems become so severe that renovation of the pond is warranted. One of the benefits of managing ponds as compared to large lakes, rivers or reservoirs is that when pond fisheries decline in quality, we have the option to simply start over. Pond renovation can be complete where all the fish are eradicated by draining the pond or by eliminating the fish with the use of rotenone. Rotenone is an EPA approved fish toxicant.
A pond does not have to be invaded by a nuisance species to be considered a candidate for renovation. It is often quicker and less expensive to renovate a fishery that is severely out of balance than to rely on traditional measures such as harvest and supplemental stocking of forage. Once a largemouth bass population becomes severely stunted, there is a good chance that the stunted fish will never reach their full potential. This is often the case in old ponds that have been neglected for years. In such cases, even the best management practices will not improve such a fishery to the level that can be created over the same period of time in a newly renovated pond.
Arguably, some of the best fishing a pond can offer is in the first five to seven years after being stocked. Most pond fisheries decline after that period unless they are actively managed. Completely draining or poisoning a pond is certainly a drastic measure, but a complete renovation is often the quickest and most economical route to a better fishery. Anglers can begin harvesting sport fish one year after the bass fingerlings are stocked following a renovation project.
If the pond is to be drained then it is best to drain it in late summer so the bottom can be allowed to dry. Heavy equipment can then be utilized in the early fall to remove silt or create structure or add boat ramps.
For the past several years, many areas have experienced drought conditions and land owners have been very hesitant to drain ponds for fear that they won’t receive enough rainfall to refill the pond. In this case the lake can be treated full or partially full with rotenone to eradicate all of the existing fish.
Rotenone is a naturally occurring botanical substance found in the roots of certain tropical beans. Rotenone is registered as a restricted use pesticide by the EPA and the user must have a restricted use pesticide license to purchase the material.
A common misconception about the mode of action of rotenone is that it blocks the uptake of oxygen by restricting the blood flow in the gills. Actually rotenone is rapidly absorbed across the gill membrane and blocks oxygen uptake at the cellular level. Rotenone is toxic primarily to fish and invertebrates. It is very low in toxicity to mammals, turtles and snakes.
Rotenone comes as a liquid 5 % material or as a wettable powder. The liquid is much more effective and easier to use. The amount of rotenone to use will be determined by water volume and the species of fish targeted. Bullhead catfish, gar, carp, gold fish and shiners require a higher rate than bass and sunfish and shad require even less. For ponds that have only bass and sunfish, one gallon for every two acre feet is sufficient. If the harder-to-kill species are present, then twice this rate is recommended.
Rotenone is temperature sensitive. The warmer the water the quicker it kills and the quicker it biodegrades. In cold water, it works slower and persists longer.
It is important to get the material dispersed throughout the water column. This can be done by using a sprayer or pump and holding the discharge end beneath the surface of the water. We then recommend you take a small outboard and stir the water vigorously to mix the rotenone from top to bottom. Fish will usually begin popping up to the surface in 30 to 45 minutes.
As a general rule, wait about two or three weeks before restocking. It is best to run a simple bioassay test before restocking. This can be done by getting a bucket of water from the pond and stopping by the bait store. Add about six to ten minnows to the bucket and if they are alive the next morning you should be good to stock.
The last question I usually get is “can we eat the fish that are killed by the rotenone?” Well, legally I have to say no because it is not on the label. No company is going to spend millions of dollars to add this to the label when it would not generate a profitable return. The natives in South America do eat the fish they kill with this plant material.
When I was a young biologist with the Alabama Game and Fish division, we would do population studies on all the major reservoirs using rotenone. We would block off a one- to two-acre cove and kill all the fish. We would then pick these fish up and sort by species and measure and weigh them. After we got our data recorded we would pick out the bass, crappie and catfish and have a fish fry that evening. I was about 28 years old when these projects were done.
When this article goes to press I will be 68 years old. I have noticed that when my wife is in the kitchen and I am in the next room, she has to repeat things two or three times. The third time is usually a scream. I have to wear glasses to watch television and different glasses to read. I am not as strong or fast as I used to be. I have a tendency to put on weight around my waist if I am not very careful. Now that I think about it, it may be all those rotenone-treated fish I ate.
Most lakes and ponds in the southeast, except those built in Blackbelt soils or those receiving water from limestone aquifers, will benefit from the addition of agricultural limestone. If crop or pastureland surrounding your lake site requires the addition of lime, your pond may also need lime.
“Can I check the pH of my pond to see if it needs lime?” is a question we frequently receive. According to Dr. Claude Boyd, world-renowned water quality expert from Auburn University Department of Fisheries, pH is not a reliable indicator of whether your pond needs lime. “Most pond owners are not aware that the pH normally fluctuates in a pond as a result of photosynthesis. Values are usually lower in the morning and higher in the afternoon,” says Boyd. “Total hardness and alkalinity are much better indicators of your pond’s requirement for lime. These tests can be performed from a sample of pond water. To determine the amount of lime required in your pond, a composite mud sample is often required, and a standard test can be conducted by most labs that analyze farm soil samples.”
The application of agricultural limestone has been used to increase fish production in acid soils in Europe for more than a century. Research during the 1940s and 1950s in recreational ponds in the southeast showed significant increases in bluegill production by applying lime to ponds with acid soils. Ponds with hardness and alkalinity values of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) benefited the most.
Liming lakes and ponds is very similar to liming a pasture or food plot. If the pH of the soil is low, plants are unable to absorb the components of the fertilizer. Once the acid soil is neutralized, crop production can increase without increasing fertilization. In ponds, phosphorus is a key ingredient in the production of phytoplankton. Liming increases the amount of soluble phosphorus in the water, increasing the efficiency of pond fertilization and the production of food for fish.
The application of finely ground agricultural limestone over the entire pond surface neutralizes the acidity of the bottom muds and immediately increases the concentration of calcium and magnesium in the water column, providing a buffer against high swings in pH. Soft waters with low hardness values may experience high pH swings with values exceeding 10.0. These can often be toxic, resulting in fish kills.
Dr. Marty Brunson, a pond expert from Mississippi State, says, “Apply agricultural limestone to the bottom of newly constructed ponds when possible. I like my clients to disc this in the bottom, as it seems to react quicker than applying it just on the surface. Use the finest-ground limestone available for best results. In the early days we used 1 to 2 tons per acre, but now 4 to 5 tons is a common rate. The effects of the lime last longer at the higher rate.
“In ponds and lakes that are full,” says Brunson, “applying lime by washing it off specially constructed barges is the best method of application. Agricultural limestone is heavy and does not go into solution quickly, so most of it goes to the bottom.
Dumping piles of lime around the shore or at the upper end of a pond is not very effective, as the limestone does not move very far from where it is deposited.”
Larry Clay, retired fisheries biologist with the US Forest Service and living in Euphora, Miss., has had considerable experience with lakes that have a high water flow throughout most of the year. “Early in my career, we tried to fertilize many of our forest service lakes in Mississippi. These were lakes with acid-soil watersheds that produced typical brown, tannic acid water and where fertilizers would not create a plankton bloom. We applied agricultural limestone to many of these lakes and were successful in creating plankton blooms. The limestone lasted two to four years in the lakes with watersheds of 10:1, but in larger watersheds, with high flows during the winter or spring, the limestone lasted only a year,” says Clay.
“Knowing that our treatment was only effective for approximately a year, we began to look at more cost effective methods of liming. We began to use hydrated lime at low rates in the early summer and found that these treatments would often last through August or September. We would make the same treatment again the following year. This would allow us to fertilize and increase our fish production, but our annual material costs for lime were less than $20 per acre.” Clay advises, “Don’t try this at home, hydrated lime, if improperly applied, can kill fish.” Not only that, he warns, it is very caustic and can be dangerous to the inexperienced applicator. If your lake has high winter or spring flows, this may be an alternative method of increasing your plankton and food production.
Agricultural limestone requires some time to react with the pond bottom and should be applied well before beginning a fertilization program. Most applications are made during the fall, winter or early spring. Bulk lime is the most economical source of limestone and can be delivered in quantities of up to 28 tons per truckload. Bagged lime is available and could be used in small ponds.
There are many individuals and consulting companies who specialize in applying agricultural limestone in lakes and ponds. These professionals can coordinate delivery and application of one to many truckloads of agricultural limestone. If you want to increase the efficiency of your fertilization program and produce more fish in your lake, applying lime may be just the ticket.