Growing Trophy Largemouth Bass

Upstate Outdoors
March 17, 2017 - 9:36 am

March is the time of year when deer hunters who have taken a trophy deer can have the deer rack officially scored. Several deer from South Carolina will make the state record books and a few may even make the coveted Boone & Crockett books.

Unlike trophy deer, South Carolina has a better than average reputation for growing trophy largemouth bass. It’s interesting that there are several similarities that produce either.

According to fisheries biologists, it takes a combination of four basic factors to produce a trophy largemouth bass. 

One of the factors that should be on the list, but isn’t, is genetics. Years ago there was a big stir among both bass fishermen and bass biologists over whether or not certain bodies of water contained largemouth bass with the proper genetics to produce trophy largemouth bass. 

Genetics isn’t typically an option for fisheries managers because introducing different strains of fish, even the same species of fish, is frowned upon in fisheries management circles these days. What has come to the forefront is that most strains will achieve the size that a particular body of water will permit. For this reason, introducing new genetics is both a waste of resources and potentially harmful to existing fish stocks.

One thing that stands out in South Carolina is that all of our major impoundments have the potential to produce at least some trophy –sized bass. From the deep, clear, infertile waters of Lake Jocasee, to the shallow, murky, richly fertile waters of Lake Marion, most South Carolina lakes can and do produce trophy fish on a regular basis. 

Number one on most biologists’ lists is water. Simply stating water implies all the factors that come into play with water such as water quality, water levels, oxygen saturation and free of harmful pollutants. Water levels are typically the easiest to discuss because it’s one of the first things you notice in any body of water. High water, particularly in the spring spawning season is viewed as favorable while low water is typically a stumbling point. Water quality, meaning oxygen levels, become more important through the summer when high temperatures tend to reduce the amount of oxygen in water. Smaller and shallower impoundments may seasonally suffer from poor water quality.

Next down the list is food. Rarely is food a detrimental factor to the development of a trophy fishery in South Carolina because of two particular species of forage – threadfin shad and blueback herring. While not all impoundments in the state contain both, they all have on at least one and any void in the food chain is readily filled in with other food sources such as young-of-the-year of other fish species as well as a variety of “minnow-type” forage baits and additional aquatic insects, crustaceans and natural foods.

Shelter is a difficult factor to assess because it’s hard to see under the water and to the casual observer, one form of shelter appears as good as the next. As an example, one angler may catch multiple bass by fishing boat docks and struggle to catch fish in and around aquatic vegetation. The distinction in shelter is not the catching of bass, but the rearing of bass. Smaller, denser, vertical structure in the water, such as vegetation, does a much better job of providing a nursery for rearing young bass than all the boat docks in the world.

Finally, there’s time. Time goes hand-in-hand with a bass’ growth rate to determine how big that fish will get at a given point in time. It takes a largemouth bass in South Carolina on average a year to grow between 6 ½ to 7 inches. That rate remains fairly consistent through the second year then slows down to about half that rate as the fish matures and puts on more weight than length. 

Recent reductions in creel limits and the buy in of most largemouth bass anglers to release nearly all bass caught has produced great results for our state.

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Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest will be Mike Johnson from The Clinton House to discuss the upcoming turkey season.  Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Biologists state that four factors – water, food, shelter, and time are the essential ingredients in growing largemouth bass in South Carolina. Photo courtesy Ron Ahle.

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