Fish Stocking in the Southeast

Whether your goals are to produce a trophy largemouth bass fishery, a bluegill, or catfish fishery, or just a fun fishery for your grandkids, Aquatic Environmental Services (AES) has you covered all over the southeast. AES provides several fish species and will work with you to develop a customized fish stocking plan to best fit your fishery management needs. 

Here are some of the more popular species that we stock: 

Bluegill: Who doesn’t love to spend a hot lazy summer afternoon catching some bluegill? Not only do they provide great entertainment for all levels of fishermen and go along great with some hushpuppies, but they are also the most critical forage species in the majority of fisheries. If your goal for your fishery is to produce trophy largemouth bass or even channel catfish, the forage base must be diverse, and bluegill will be the backbone of that forage base to produce trophy largemouth bass. If your bluegill population suffers, then largemouth bass growth will suffer. 

Redear Sunfish: Due to their diet consisting primarily of snails and mollusks, redear sunfish are often referred to as “shellcrakers.” Several fish parasites use snails as a host during their life stage and since redear sunfish feed on snails, they can help reduce the incidence of some fish parasites. Redear sunfish will also produce additional forage for predators, such as largemouth bass, but they are not as prolific as bluegill and will not contribute as much forage as bluegill. However, redear sunfish play an important role, are fun to catch, great to eat, and we highly recommend stocking them in most situations. 

Golden Shiner: No hard spines in their fins, slender body, and growth size make golden shiners a phenomenal forage species for largemouth bass. Golden shiners not only need submersed cover/habitat, such as submersed vegetation, for seeking protection from predation, they also need it for spawning substrate. Golden shiners will struggle to establish a large population in lakes that are void of such cover. But for lakes that have ideal habitat for golden shiners, your largemouth bass are going to love them. 

Threadfin Shad: With regards to the forage base in your lake, threadfin shad are “The Little Engine That Could.” Only growing to 6-8,” threadfin shad do not look like much, but man do they pack a punch. Under the right conditions, threadfin shad will establish a large population in just one growing season. They are filter feeders spending the majority of their time in open water and perform best in fertile environments. However, threadfin shad are one of the more economical forage species and due to this, can be considered for stocking in smaller and/or non-fertile lakes on an annual basis where establishment will be limited.

Gizzard Shad: If you are serious about producing trophy largemouth bass in your lake, then you need to get serious about stocking gizzard shad. Gizzard shad are similar to threadfin shad, but gizzard shad grow very large (>12”) which means they produce a larger forage item for largemouth bass and are the ticket to producing trophy largemouth bass (>10 lbs). There are some requirements that must be met prior to stocking gizzard shad which our biologists are more than happy to help with. 

Crawfish: Crawfish are more than ugly little creatures with claws and bad attitudes. They are full of protein that’s comparable to rainbow trout, and when stocked in late spring they help the largemouth bass recover weight lost during spawning season and help get them geared up for the long hot summer months. Bass absolutely love them, and most lake owners notice an increase in the bass catch rates after a crawfish stocking. Establishment is unlikely and we recommend stocking crawfish on an annual basis.

Goldfish: Goldfish are not just for your fishbowl on your kitchen counter. These plump, deep-bodied fish provide a lot of calories for largemouth bass. They are not the most graceful swimmers in the world which makes them easy targets for largemouth bass. Stocking goldfish provides a quick jolt to the forage base and keeps the bass growing in the right direction. Goldfish are not stocked for establishment; we want them to get eaten up within a growing season. Typically stocked in the summer months, stocking goldfish every year is a great way to keep your bass from losing weight over the stressful summer months. 

Grass Carp: They resemble carp, and are called carp, but they are not carp. Grass carp are just a very large minnow related closer to goldfish than any carp species. However, grass carp are one of the most valuable and effective tools in the Southeast US for controlling submersed aquatic vegetation. Grass carp can consume submersed vegetation up to three times their body weight in one day making them highly effective. As they grow older, their metabolism slows, and they become less effective. But to keep submersed vegetation under control, we recommend stocking grass carp on a 3–5-year rotation. 

Largemouth Bass: The reigning undisputed heavyweight champion of sportfish in the Southeast US is largemouth bass. In most lakes and ponds in the southeast that are managed or not managed, largemouth bass are the top-end predator. Largemouth bass are aggressive, will consume anything that can fit in its mouth, hard fighting, and you look great holding a big largemouth bass on Instagram. Largemouth bass must be fed and fed a lot in order to grow. Not only is a strong and diverse forage base critical for the success of largemouth bass, so are genetics. There is the Pure Florida, Pure Northern, and F1 Hybrid which is the initial cross of Florida and Northern bass, then there is the Fx or native bass which isn’t a genetically pure fish. They all have their pros and cons, and our biologist can help you determine which strain of largemouth bass is best for your lake and fishery goals. 

Hybrid Striped Bass: Want to see how reliable that new fancy rod and reel Instagram convinced you into buying is? Then this is the fish for you. Hybrid Striped Bass are hard fighting and pull like a mule. Hybrid Striped Bass are a cross between a white bass and a striped bass and are incapable of reproducing, which makes them easy to manage. They can be stocked in a ½ acre pond that has a supplemental feeding program up to large reservoirs with healthy shad populations.  No matter what your goals are, hybrid striped bass are a great addition.

Black Crappie: They’re great to eat, fun to catch, and when you get on them you can catch a mess of them in no time. They are a predator and perform best with the presence of threadfin shad or  golden shiners for forage. They can overpopulate quickly and are not for all fisheries or lakes. But if they fit your situation, they are great to have. 

Channel Catfish: Having relinquished the throne of being the most sought out fish for stocking in smaller lakes to largemouth bass, the ugly old channel catfish still holds a special place in most of our hearts. Most think that catfish “feed on the lake bottom and help clean up a lake bottom” which they do not. Channel catfish are extremely effective predators and have a diet that rivals the diet of a largemouth bass. They will consume fish food, but they will also feed on smaller largemouth bass, bluegill, shad, and anything else that fits in their mouth. Channel catfish do not guard their young and it is rare to see successful channel catfish reproduction in ponds that have largemouth bass. This makes them relatively easy to manage and stocking them every few years is needed to maintain an adequate population. Channel catfish are often overlooked these days, but if you want a fun afternoon of fishing, they are great to have. I have had the drag on my reel scream more from catfish than any bass. 

Rainbow Trout: There is no need to go freeze your buns off waist deep in a little mountain stream to catch some trout. Stock some rainbow trout in your lake and you can enjoy them anytime you want for up to six months out of the year. Depending on the location of your lake, they will not live all year due to water temperatures getting too warm for them. But from fall to spring, you can stock them and have an aggressive, easy fish to catch and they are great to eat. We have trout available that are large enough to catch right away. We also have smaller trout that we stock to provide additional bass forage. Rainbow trout have slender bodies and no hard spines in their fins which makes them easy for largemouth bass to consume. An 18” bass can easily consume a 12” rainbow trout— and man talk about weight gain from a forage item of that size! 

One of the most common mistakes we see is that lake owners will stock their lake and assume within a few years they will start catching trophy fish. Lake or fishery management is much more than simply stocking it with some fish. Yes, stocking fish correctly is critical but for a fishery to flourish, it must be managed continually. This can be anything from designing your lake or pond correctly, providing aquatic vegetation management, water quality management, and fish habitat management, to supplemental feeding and harvesting fish properly. If you learn anything today, remember that stocking a lake is just the start of the journey in producing a flourishing fishery and AES is the provider near you to travel with you along that journey and help you with all your fish stocking and lake or pond management needs.