Bluegill - Big Bluegill

Do you love big bluegill?

Hi all. I didn't join the forum right away because...

...I don't have any bluegill!

I've always loved BG and someday I'll have them, but for now I'm trying an experiment with my new pond. I'm managing this pond for trophy Redear Sunfish (RES). Besides RES the only fish I've stocked are Fathead minnows (FH). The idea is to keep a balance of the two species so that there is a constant supply of FH forage for the RES.

The Pond -

Built January 2008
1/3 acre
8 feet at deepest
Average depth about 5 feet
6" siphon system
Structure is several submerged stumps.

It's got a fairly large watershed and I've had water go over the emergency spillway 4 or 5 times already. Once the water was 4" from the top of the dam and that was only a few weeks after it was built. I'll be replacing the 6" pipe with 8" pipe. There is a 12 year old pond upstream about 1000 feet and I think that has helped give my pond a more "aged" quality to the water. Visibility is 12-18".

The Fish -

300 - 400 large Fathead minnows that were trapped from a nearby pond and added at the end of January 08, a few weeks after the pond was finished.

100 RES @ 1.25" stocked March 20, 2008 followed a few weeks later by 10 more that had been held in an aquarium for observation.

24 RES adults ranging from 5-7" transferred from a neighbor's pond from late April - early May.

Spawning -

I saw FH spawning behavior in early March and I first noticed FH fry at the same time I stocked the fingerling RES, on March 20. I didn't track the spawn exactly but it seemed like they continued for several weeks. The few hundred adult FH produced many thousands of fry. A pellet thrown anywhere in the pond will normally attract a FH in less than 20 seconds.

The 24 adult RES were added in late April and at the time local reports had the RES on spawning beds. I'm not sure if mine were spawning at that time but I'm still seeing my RES on beds. In fact I observed the most concentrated bedding activity beginning a few weeks ago (mid July) and they are still at it. I've tried trapping to observe the RES year-of-young but the trap has always filled up with FH quickly and there haven't been any RES in it. It's been several weeks since I tried this and I'm due to try again.

Some of the 1.25" RES stocked this spring are now almost 4" long and a few are also on beds. I can't say I've seen eggs and milt, but I've seen obvious spawning behavior from these small ones complete with a female on her side under a male. In one case an 8" RES was charging into the mix every time the female would lay over. It looked pretty rude actually. :)

Goals -

As mentioned above I want to raise large RES. I hope to have a good population of 1-2 pound fish in a few years. RES around 5 lbs have be caught in my area and I believe that by focusing on them as the target gamefish it shouldn't be too hard to grow them to 2 lbs.

Management -

I hope to maintain a steady population of FH to serve as the main forage for the RES. I'm feeding about 1 lb. of Grower 500 by hand every day. I've seen great growth all year and I hope for a big spawn this fall. It's likely that the RES won't control the FH enough and I'm prepared to trap out the excess. If the population declines I'll increase the feed. I have the impression that I can control the FH to a fair degree by trapping/feeding to adjust for whatever impact the RES have on them.

With RES as the top predator I will eventually need to harvest which I'll do by angling or possibly by trapping. My pond isn't set up for seining so I might have to get creative. Most likely I will end up keeping all but the largest RES that are caught. I might even be more aggressive about it and keep all hooked fish. It shouldn't be hard to enlist help with angling if I let people keep the big ones too. :)

Besides the FH I've also stocked a few dozen native crayfish, and I supplement with black soldier fly larvae (BSFL). I'm currently feeding about one cup of larvae each day to the 24 adults which are all concentrated in a small area of the pond on spawning beds. There are also a few dozen of the 3-4" RES on beds and they're also eating the BSFL. As the small fish grow I hope to increase the larvae to 2 lbs per day. As it stands now the fish eat the larvae until their bellies bulge and the feeding slows down. I haven't noticed snails in this pond or any of my neighbors ponds.

At some point in the future I will probably add many more species to this pond, primarily indigenous fish. LMB are native to my area but I doubt I'll stock them because of the small size of the pond. Larger predators will most likely be chain pickerel and Florida or spotted gar. I like those fish because they don't get as large as LMB and they don't spawn as heavily. I will also collect every species of small sunfish and minnow that I can.

Birds, nonvenomous snakes, and turtles are all welcomed in the pond.

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First of all, I'd like to state that I'm in love with redear sunfish. There--I went and said it. I am IN LOVE with redears.

They fight like maniacs. They're beautiful. And they have the potential to grow huge. Big redear sunfish would be a blast for anybody to have in their pond.

Some initial observations on your situation.

Your pond filled quickly, and water is replaced probably at a high rate compared to some other ponds. This is a good thing if you're feeding your fish. This will keep some nutrient levels and other wastes at a minimum.

I've often had difficulty getting YOY's (young of the year) during the first year after stocking adults. This might not be the case with you. I'll be interested to hear if you find any.

This project of yours is somewhat unique. I'll be watching it with interest because we only really learn when we try things that are a little "out of the box".

Keep in mind the "double-edged sword" of fathead minnows. They will provide additional forage, but they will also compete with small RES for invertebrates. You will need to monitor this situation. Hopefully some of your RES will convert to pelleted feed. It is my opinion that a fish such as the RES will grow to it's maximum potential if it utilizes plenty of natural feed in addition to any pelleted feed that it consumes. At least this seems intuitively correct, and matches my personal observations.

Your use of black soldier fly larvae will help to offset any loss of invertebrate forage from FHM competition. I think this is very wise on your part. Nutritionally speaking, I think that any predictable large invertebrate source is the holy grail of growing large redear sunfish, and large bluegill as well.

Good luck. We'll need plenty of updates, including redear sunfish pictures and observations of length, weight and body condition of redears.
Bruce, I also stocked the small pond that's upstream from me with some of the same 1.25" and adult RES. In addition this other pond received a similar stocking of Warmouth fingerlings and adults. I sampled that pond a few months after stocking and I was shocked to find fairly large YOY of both species. The WM I saw were about 1" and the RES were slightly smaller and both had filled out to their typical adult silhouettes. I wouldn't have believed they were YOY except that I'm sure this pond was devoid of fish before I stocked it. The adults we transferred to both ponds seemed ready to spawn and it's pretty certain they did, at least in my neighbor's pond.

When I caught the adults for transfer I used barbless hooks, didn't touch the fish with my hands, and kept them in an aerated live well. I think they were in very good condition when stocked and their new pond was teeming with FH of all sizes at the time. My neighbor's pond also had a healthy crayfish population.

I'll be traveling for a few days but when I get back home I'll get serious about sampling my pond.
GW, have you considered stocking any large invertebrate forage for the RES? Stuff like snails or ghost shrimp?
Theo I would definitely like to do that. When I have some time I'll try to scrounge up some snails. I'm not sure about ghost shrimp, but I'll investigate.
Interesting, GW. I've also found that ponds without an existing fish population seem to "stimulate" quicker spawns. I've even stocked a new pond with bluegill in August, and by the next April had a population of two to three inch fish--presumably from a late fall spawn.
I was thinking that the over abundance of forage might have been a factor also.
I've been finding snails in every one of my ponds. They just appear, and that's a really good thing for me--and my redears. Redear sunfish, theoretically can help control parasites in bluegills, by controlling the snails that harbor these parasites during part of their lifecycle. It seems intuitive to me that if you wanted to grow huge bluegill that it would be nice to minimize the presence of parasites. Redears are almost certainly a tool in that regard. I think you should collect some of your aquatic vegetation some time and see if the snails are present yet.
The pond is so new that I don't have any aquatic plants other than algae yet. I've seen some discussion of American Pond weed at Pond Boss and I plan on looking into it for my pond.
I put out a minnow trap today and I was surprised that I only caught one fish. A month ago I was bringing up loads of FH. I've noticed the FH aren't feeding on the pellets as much either. Does that have anything to do with the heat? I still see FH everywhere but now I wonder if something reduced their numbers or if their behavior has just changed.

The one fish I did trap was a RES YOY.

I'm curious what you experienced pond guys can tell me about this fish. I trapped an almost identical fish from my neighbor's pond about 2 months ago. (That's the pond that has a similar stocking history as mine with the exception of having Warmouth in with the RES.)
One thing I would do is evaluate (in theory, at least) what the dissolved oxygen profile of the pond is.

I've found that sometimes people place traps in areas of a pond, in the summer, that are mostly devoid of oxygen.

Something to think about, anyway.

Some of my young-of-the-year redear sunfish and bluegill are over four inches already. The full width of my hand!

That's an awfully late spawn RES. Sometimes bluegill and redears have multiple spawns in a year, especially in the southern U.S. Nature's insurance policy perhaps?
My RES are still showing some spawning behaviors and I'm wondering if they might go for it again with the coming full moon.
I would be grateful for an update on the progress of your pond. Did it get overpopulated with a particular fish? Are they eatable size yet? Are the RES stunted?


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