All ponds produce some natural food for fish. The amount of food produced is a function of the pond’s productivity. Food quantity, in turn, determines what weight of fish the pond can support. The average amount of fish in a Kansas pond of average fertility is about 250 pounds per acre, of which only a portion (30-50% by weight) can be harvested per year. Fish populations in most Kansas ponds are not harvested heavily enough to overtax natural food production. Supplemental feeding is thus not usually required. In special cases where the harvest demand is high or where large fish are desired, feeding can be beneficial.
Formulated fish feeds in pellet form are available at most feed stores. The most common feed is formulated for catfish, but it is also suitable for bluegills. These feeds are available in the form of sinking pellets or floating pellets. The advantage of floating pellets is that the person feeding the fish can determine whether the fish are eating the feed.
Bluegills will eat artificial feed, but feeding alone will not usually increase the sizes of overpopulated bluegills. Adequate predation on small bluegills by bass along with the feeding can, however, result in increased bluegill growth rates and larger bluegills.
Channel catfish are practical to feed, either as the only species in a pond or together with other species. They quickly learn to eat artificial feed and their growth rate increases. Both catfish and bluegill should be fed no more than they can consume in 15 minutes, up to a maximum of 20 pounds per acre per day. If fish are overfed, decomposition of wasted feed can result in oxygen depletion, killing fish. It is a good idea to monitor water temperature and oxygen content. Feeding should occur daily or at least every other day when water temperatures are over 60°F. Once a feeding program has been started it should continue throughout the growing season unless the pond’s oxygen content falls below 5 ppm at the surface. If it is stopped, fish will lose weight.
Muddy ponds or ponds less than half an acre usually do not produce enough bass and luegills for consistently good angling. It is in such ponds that densities of 200 or more channel catfish per acre can be maintained through supplemental feeding.
Channel catfish can also be fed in cages constructed of 1/2- 3/4 inch mesh screen suspended from floats and anchored in a pond. A cage with a volume of one cubic yard can support 200-275 channel catfish 6-10 inches long. Diseases and oxygen deficiencies due to overfeeding are much more common with confined fish; no more than 1,000 fish per acre should be raised in cages. Food formulated for cage culture should be provided every day of the growing eason, but no more food should be furnished than can be consumed in 15 minutes.