There is a lifetime of fishing and fishery management knowledge to be gained from a pond, and you can improve your fishing skill and fishing opportunities while learning.

Mississippi has about a quarter-million acres of private ponds. Many of these ponds provide excellent fishing for bass and bream, but others need some management to produce braggin' rights fishing. Whether it's improving the fishing or maintaining quality fishing in a productive pond, management is by fishing.

The principles are few and simple:

1) any pond can support only a limited weight of fish,

2) fast growth and high survival produce big fish,

3) fast growth requires abundant food, and

4) control the numbers of fish to keep food abundant.

Good farm ponds have simple fish communities - largemouth bass and sunfish (bream). Desirable sunfish are bluegill or redear sunfish (shellcracker). No warmouth. No crappie. No green sunfish.

Minnows and golden shiners usually aren't a problem. Shad usually aren't a problem, and threadfin shad can be desirable in ponds larger than 15 acres, particularly if you are managing for big bass.

The bream eat benthic invertebrates - aquatic insect larvae and other invertebrates that live on the bottom. When benthic invertebrates are abundant, the bream grow fast. As the number of bream increases, the limited benthic invertebrates are shared among the growing number of sunfish, and growth slows. You manage sunfish growth by reducing their numbers.

Reducing an overabundant sunfish population may require removing more than 200 small bream per acre. Whether you use a seine or a hook and line, the task quickly gets tedious.

The solution is to let the bass reduce the number of bream. A bass eats its weight in bream each month from spring through fall.

Say you have a pond overcrowded with small sunfish. A 4-inch bluegill weighs about 1 ounce. Simple arithmetic predicts that a 2-pound bass will eat 32 4-inch bream in a month. Ten 2-pound bass will eat 320 4-inch bream in a month. So you manage the bass to manage the bream.

Bass, like bream, grow fast when they have abundant food. The number of bass is very important. If there are too few bass, their growth will be fast, but the sunfish will overpopulate and not grow. If there are too many bass, they will deplete the sunfish and have slow growth.

The number of bass is important, but so is their size. A balanced pond has a range of sizes of bream and a range of sizes of bass to eat the different sizes of bream.

You now have the basic principles to manage a pond. Here are three common pond situations:

• If you catch a lot of small bream and few large ones, you need more bass large enough to eat the bream. Reduce bass harvest.

• If most of the bass you catch are small or thin-bodied, you have too many bass. Harvest small bass. You may need to harvest 30 to 50 8- to 10-inch bass per acre. This will allow sunfish to increase in numbers and provide forage to improve the growth of the larger bass.

• If you catch a mixture of sizes of sunfish with good numbers over 6 inches and the bass are heavy-bodied, the pond is in balance and will provide good bass and bream fishing. But you must continue to wisely harvest bass to control the bream population. You are harvesting fish from the pond correctly if you catch a good size range of bream and the bass are in good condition.

Enjoy the good fishing that you can create by proper harvest.

Modern fisheries managers responsible for maintaining good fishing in our larger public waters now use computer models to help determine specific harvest regulations to maintain or improve fishing. But underlying these models are the same, simple principles used to produce good fishing in a pond - maintaining a balance between the fish and their food to keep growth rates high.

Some ponds can't be repaired by proper bass harvest. Ponds that have a lot of water less than 2 feet deep, a lot of weeds or undesirable fish like carp and gar will defy corrective management until these problems are fixed.

Check out http://msucares.com/wildfish/fisheries/farmpond/management/index.html for solutions to these problems and other pond management information.