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Sunfish Are Fun to Catch and Good to Eat

May 28, 2008

DALLAS – It’s sunfish time. In many parts of the United States, including Texas, May and June are prime months for catching the most common of freshwater game fish and arguably the fish that’s the most fun to catch, at least from a nostalgia viewpoint.

Bob Lusk understands the excitement.

For 29 years, Lusk has managed private lakes. Fishing in the best private lakes is like deer hunting in the king’s reserve, a distinct career bonus more relaxing than stock options for an overpaid CEO.

“What I really enjoy is catching bluegills on light spinning tackle _ four-pound test line or lighter,” Lusk said.

“Put a glob of night crawler on the hook, clip a bobber to the line and watch it disappear when a hungry fish takes it out of sight. That’s how I learned to fish when I was a kid. That’s how most anglers learn to fish.”

Lake managers appreciate bluegills because the prolific sunfish are considered the building block of forage species necessary to feed the largemouth bass that most lake owners covet as trophy game fish. Though this is the traditional spawning season for bluegills, Lusk said bluegills will spawn as many as five times a year, and he’s witnessed spawns in every season.

He’s also witnessed the hierarchy of sunfish spawning that starts with the dominant male bluegill.

“The dominant males start the spawning process by moving quickly in counter-clockwise circles to form a crater-shaped spawning nest,” Lusk said. “They spawn in colonies and prefer a gravel bottom or other hard bottom. I’ve seen colonies of more than 100 nests in one spot. They look like cattle hoof prints, one after another.”

Savvy anglers know to look for the dinner plate-sized spawning beds, which show up lighter than the surrounding bottom. What many anglers don’t know is that sunfish spawn in stages and use the same spawning beds over and over. Their timing is apparently an adaptation designed to limit hybridization of the various species.

Lusk said redear sunfish follow on the heels of the bluegills, then come green sunfish and longeared sunfish.

Sunfish the size of a man’s hand are considered the benchmark for big ones, but sunfish don’t weigh as much as most anglers think. The biggest one Lusk has caught was a 14-inch redear from the South Llano River. It weighed 1 pound, 5 ounces. The biggest bluegill Lusk has seen caught weighed 1 pound, 9 ounces and was caught in a private lake.

Using a shocking boat to sample lakes, he has handled about 10 bluegills that weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces apiece, a hundred others than weighed 1 { pounds and thousands that weighed between one pound and 1 \ pounds.

Though Texas fish records for public and private waters reveal the occasional sunfish with a thyroid problem, Lusk’s experience indicates that an honest one-pounder is a very big fish. Fish that size are routinely caught in private lakes.

The fastest-growing bluegills are those that have access to fish food. Lake managers use automatic feeders (like a deer feeder) to distribute feed multiple times daily. Lusk said bluegills that have ready access to supplemental feed will grow to one pound in three years. A bluegill in a totally wild environment may take twice as long to reach a pound.

Six years is the maximum life expectancy for bluegills, which explains why few giants are caught in public waters.

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SUNFISH CATCHING TIPS

Use a long shank wire hook and flatten the barb for easier hook removal.

Carry surgical forceps to help remove a hook from the small mouth of a sunfish.

Bedding sunfish will bite small lures like jigs or in-line spinners designed for trout but you’ll catch more fish on natural baits like worms or crickets.

Fly fishing is very effective for bedding sunfish. Use a light rod like a 3-weight or a 4-weight. Sunfish will bite a variety of flies, including nymphs, streamers, small poppers and floating or sinking spiders with rubber legs.

Wear polarized sunglasses to cut glare off the water and make it easier to spot spawning beds.

Keep enough sunfish for a fish dinner. They’re terrific to eat.




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