May and early June are top time to catch redear sunfish on the beds
Dennis Daniels displays two reader (also known as shellcrackers) hr caught in Florida.
It’s one of the top times of the year in southern Indiana for redear sunfish. So what are they and how do you catch them.
The name redear sunfish pretty well describes them, but you also say they are much like a bluegill on steroids. They look much like a bluegill only usually are larger and often hit a bait like a fish twice their size.
Redear are called by many names. In the south, they are known as shellcrackers, and in some areas are called Georgia bream, cherry gill, chinquapin, rouge ear sunfish, and sun perch.
Redear can be found in many lakes and streams, including the embayments off the Ohio River,and have become popular for stocking in ponds.
Redear generally are bottom feeds and one of their favorite foods is snails. They get their southern name, shellcrackers, because of their ability to crack open snail shells, including the sound it makes. Some are powerful enough to crack open small mussels.
During spawning, the male redears congregate and create nests close to each other in colonies, and females visit to deposit their eggs.
The spawn occurs at various times, depending on location and water temperature. Where I winter fish in Florida, the shellcrackers usually congregate just before and after the first full moon in April, however sometimes it is March. And the crackers, seem to return to the same beds.
When they are on the beds, you can watch them bump lily pads and they work the bottom in about four feet of water. If you find them, you can catch them by the dozens. But you can move 100 yards away in water the same depth and the same type of lilly pads and catch nothing.
The fish will hit worms fish right near the bottom, but you can fish a foot too high and have little or no action.
A recent news release prepared by Kevin Kelly of the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources quotes Neal Jackson, western district fisheries biologist, describing catching big redear.
“When you factor in the roundness of the fish, it’s the size of a small plate,” Jackson said. “That size sunfish is something a lot of people haven’t ever seen. When you catch one it just blows you away. Even the smaller ones, the 10 inchers, are really impressive.”
Jackson said redears colonize like bluegill, but nest in deeper water. To locate shellcrackers, look for bedding bluegill up against a bank. Then focus your attention on deeper water a little farther out from the shore.
Shellcrackers often gather in the backs of the bays in areas with gravel bottoms and vegetation like milfoil or mustard flowers.
“The redear seem to key on the aquatic vegetation,” Jackson said. “I assume that’s got to do with the fact they feed on snails and mussels.”
A period of stable weather and consistent lake levels help improve an angler’s odds. The spawning seems to peak in this area when the water temperature reaches about 70 degrees.
Good baits include red worms, wax worms, mealworms and crickets, or small artificial baits like a jig in black or brown that mimics a snail or small insect. Fish these underneath a bobber and close to the bottom.
Another option is crawling a red worm. Tie a hook a few inches above a 3/16-ounce weight – anglers call this a drop-shot rig – then slowly move it along the bottom until you locate fish.