Bluegill - Big Bluegill

Do you love big bluegill?

I am a complete newbie to gills.  After thinking about it for the last couple years, I went for the first time the weekend before last and I am hooked!

One question (of many) I have is how big does a gill have to be before I should consider keeping it?  I ask from the standpoint of cleaning effort versus size of fillet. Maybe the better question would be; how small of a gill would you keep?

Keep in mind that from the research I've done, it seems like a 10" gill is pretty big up here in North Dakota.  And my question is coming from a "selective harvest" mindset.  Since gills are an afterthought -if thought of at all- for most anglers up here, I want to do my part and thin out the runts so the big ones can get bigger.

Now, being one guy in a small minority of anglers fishing for gills might mean that whatever I do will have no affect whatsoever.  But, I'd rather just do the "right thing" and hope everyone else does too.

Am I overthinking this? (I have been known to do that before!)

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 Mike , just remember that it takes a lot of smaller ones to make a mess than it does to make a mess with bigger ones. LOFR

Keep enough to eat and freeze for a winter store. As for size a 6 incher scaled a fried whole is big enough for me. 7 1/2 and up I fillet. I keep a mixture of sizes to make a mess.

mike;; if I catch a small one; and its hooked to deep for it to survive;; I keep it. rather have it for dinner than to just let it die. also; if I keep catching 6 inchers; and just over; I keep enough for a meal.

Great question Mike! And like a lot of other questions we encounter in life, the answer is usually "it depends"

No two bodies of water are the same, and trying to apply a one size fits all harvest strategy to every pond or lake can be problematic. Fortunately however, there are a few constants that can help us decide on an appropriate harvest strategy..

Personally, I don't think you can ever go wrong from keeping the smaller gills' and releasing the largest ones. I have yet to see a BOW suffer from having an overabundance of large gills. On the other hand, I have fished a great many that contained stunted, smaller fish, and in extreme cases the only solution was to kill the pond or lake off and start over. It's very difficult, (but not impossible), to turn a stunted BOW around without resorting to drastic measures.

Studies have shown that the most critical bluegills to have in a given BOW are the large males. Bluegill growth is indeterminate, meaning they will continue to grow throughout their lifespan, if the conditions that support such growth are present. However, once a bluegill becomes sexually mature it's growth rate slows waaaayyyy down....the energy (food) that was being utilized towards growth is now channeled into reproduction. A bluegill can be mature, and be on the nest at 4" in length. That fish will never realize its ultimate potential, growth wise, as it matured too early. The key then, becomes finding a way to delay sexual maturity for as long as possible in order for that fish to continue growing.

Fortunately, the bluegill's own reproductive strategies gives us a clue in how we might accomplish that feat. If we examine their methodology, a few things become apparent:

Male bluegills are responsible for building and maintaining the nests, as well as tending to the fry.

Bluegills tend to nest in groups, or colonies.

The largest, dominant males command the most premium nesting spots within the colony. (usually in the middle of the colony...offering the most protection for the eggs/fry).

Females will seek out the premium, protected nesting spots to lay their eggs...again, as insurance towards survival.

So knowing this, we can envision a group of smaller, immature male bluegills observing the proceedings from a safe distance. They want a shot at the ladies, but they notice that all the girls want to spend time at the safest, most protected nesting sites....and who has those all locked up? The biggest, baddest, male bluegills in the BOW. They are unable to compete with THAT, so they delay sexual maturity and hit the gym....bulking up, until such time as they can challenge those big males for premium nesting sites.

So those skinny, 98lb weakling bluegills continue growing, in order to dethrone those 10" class fish that are getting all the action. They reach 8-9" in length. Then, the unexpected happens. Anglers descend upon the lake, and fill their freezers with a great many of those vulnerable, 10" males guarding their nests.

Now, those 8-9" males have become the dominant size class. There's no need to continue growing, as the competition has been removed. Mother Nature declares that survival of the species is paramount, they become sexually mature, and away it goes.

Until next spring, when those same anglers remove the 9" class fish. Now it's the 7-8" males who are smiling....things are looking up....but not for the fishery as a whole, if large bluegills are desired.

Okay, I admit that it took a while to get to this point, and I have taken things to the extreme. But the point remains, nonetheless.

For me then, the decision as to what size bluegills to keep depends on the water I'm fishing. Personally, I like a fish around 8" for fileting. If the BOW I'm on has a dominant size class of 10" bluegills, then keeping a mess of 8 inchers for the occasional meal shouldn't be a problem. But if 8" IS the dominant size for that area, then I should probably stick with smaller fish for the frying pan. I tend to let the conditions dictate what I keep. Since no two ponds/lakes are the same, I base my decision on what I find when I get there.

Mike, Tony makes some good points.  Another factor to consider is the sneaker phenomenon, which biologists only discovered recently; a certain percentage of the bluegill in any population mature sexually at a much smaller size, but without the characteristic physical features males normally display such as a larger opercular, the hump on the forehead, black scale tipping, etc.; so they're able to approach a bed being guarded by a larger male, and they appear to be a female to the larger male, which lets them on the bed, at which point they fertilize the eggs.  

However, if there are lots of mature males within a population, the sneakers have less success spawning than if there are few to no mature males; and of course, if there are lots of mature males, they're fertilizing eggs too, and they're going to get first choice of the true females. But if the mature males are removed in large numbers, the sneakers get free reign. 

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that overharvest, rather than underharvest, is more likely to be the problem with the size structure of a public body of water's bluegill population.  Biologists believed for many years that bluegill could not be overfished, and that whenever their average size was small in a body of water that that invariably meant they just needed to be thinned out.  But there have been many studies done in the past forty-odd years that demonstrate that excessive harvest can deplete all of the desirable-size bluegill from a public lake in a very short time span, and that more often than not when this happens, the bluegill size structure in that lake never recovers.  There is still clearly a mentality among many anglers in this country that when they happen upon a big concentration of big bluegill they must fill the cooler, without any regard for other anglers who might wish to catch those fish in the future.  

Here are a couple links to studies regarding the negative effects of overharvest on size structure in bluegill populations. The second article notes that 13% of the bluegill over six inches were caught from a public lake in Michigan, Mill Lake, and another in Wisconsin, Mid Lake, within three days of the lakes being opened to fishing for the first time. In another Michigan lake, Third Sister Lake, 24% of the legal-size bluegill were removed in the first three weeks of angling. 35% of all the bluegill over six inches were removed from Mid Lake in the first month of angling; within three years all of the larger bluegill had been caught out such that the lake's size structure was identical to nearby lakes that had been open to the public all the years Mid Lake was closed:

Can We Build A Bigger Bluegill?

http://people.bethel.edu/~kisrob/bio...leBluegill.pdf

TONY BEST ANSWER I'VE EVER READ ON HERE AND COMPLETELY AGREE WITH ALL YOU SAID..... I HAVE A QUESTION FOR YA TONY? HOW BOUT KEEPING LARGE FEMALES ABOUT TO SPAWN ?

THANKS IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR ANSWER.......

I would much rather keep females, even those carrying eggs, than males Tooty. In a one acre BOW, 10-20 females are all that's needed to replenish the population. I used to discard all females I caught, here in our own ponds. Now however, I will throw back the girls that are exceptional....but only if they are really exceptional.

Plus, I LOVE fried bluegill eggs! Delicious!

THANKS TONY . MIKE KEPPLE TOLD ME THE SAME THING ABOUT THE LARGE MALES IN A LAKE AND NEVER HAD CONSIDERED IT BEFORE. LOTS of us folk are uneducated when it comes to what to keep and what to throw back. Personally some of the BOW that I fish I keep most gills between 7 1/2 -9" . Not many smaller than that . Some of the BOW support llllllllarge numbers of gills between 8-9 1/2" or so and keep allll them cause I know bigger ones are swimming. Also most places I fish now have daily creel limits . I don't get to fish the bigger gill waters cept maybe once a year and don't feel bad about taking my daily limits every day. THE BIGGEST OF THESE is a 1000 acre city lake and seems to have an abundance of larger gills , but weather in the spring here is so unstable can't always hit the bite right.

  THANKS for the answer and leaves lots of room for thought.....

Wow!  Very good and well thought out replies!  Thanks guys!

Since gill fishing is not very popular up here, it's proven difficult to get info on what constitutes a big gill in the few lakes that have them.  In the one lake I fished so far, the only info I have found is on the Game and Fish website: "Bluegill common, with some up to 10 inches".

So, I guess until I fish it enough to see something to contradict that, I will keep 6-7" and maybe an occasional 8".  Sounds like the general consensus is 6" is the smallest you would want to fillet.  And I like Tony's idea of only keeping females.  I'll try that out as well.

I'm also going to start a fishing notebook to keep track of what I'm catching.  This way I can figure out local gill patterns on my own.  Any of you guys do this?

   Mike, you got some of the best answers you will ever see from some very knowledgeable Blue Gillers. It just shows the strength of the information this site can provide. My answer is along the same lines as Tony and Walt (though I learned a few things with their answers:).  I have one lake where I throw everything over 8.5" back and another that I throw everything over 9" back as their class structure is different from each other.

  Let me give you a "searching for lakes" tip. Since the size question I believe was already answered really well.  Not sure how the ND Dnr sight works as far as lake information but in Mn they give all the survey info showing you what species are in the lake and an idea of size structure for each. There are 3 things I look for in a lake. First is the obvious, is there any gills in the lake?  If so what is there size structure. Ideally you like to see fair amount of #'s in the 8"+ range. If you see a lake that shows all the Gills under 6" you shouldn't rule it out completely but chances are good the gills are "stunted".

Second, I look at the Largemouth Bass population. Again I look for a healthy larger population. Preferably a good amount of fish over the 14" range. Why is this important? A couple reasons, the first being that they predate on bluegills and do a good job at keeping the gill population in check (eating the smaller ones allowing the bigger ones to be the spawners as Tony explained so well). My experience has been that if there is a healthy population of Largemouth then there is usually a healthy population of gills. Another reason I look for bass is that they live and spawn in the same habitat as gills. So, again, if there is a healthy population of bass then there is probably adequate habitat to have a healthy population of gills. 

Lastly, I look at the Actual area vs the Littoral area of the lake (usually shown in Acres). The actual acres is the total space that the lake actually takes up, from shore line to shore line. Lets just say a lake you are looking at is 500 actual acres.  Next they will have a # shown as littoral area and in our pretend lake lets say its 380 acres.  This means there is 120 acres that has emergent vegetation or submerged vegetation with 380 acres that does not have weeds. This is important because bass and panfish need weeds for cover/growth/and food. With that said, for us northern lakes, it is also important to have at least one deep area (15'+ preferably) for wintering reasons. It helps for a place to be if the oxygen levels get rough and also will usually hold schools of minnows and a some good larva for munching on....:)  

  Now rewind a minute to the first item I mentioned (bluegill size class).  Sometimesthe if the #'s only show 6" and under fish this can be misleading if the rest of the lake features I look for seem to show the blue gills should be healthy. Then I may fish it just to see for myself.  One of the best lakes I fish was found this way. The DNR #'s show a poor size class structure but the Bass are healthy and there is really good weed cover and deep areas that should foster gills so I tried it. That lake turned out to have a very good population of 9"+ inch gills and has plenty of 7-8.5inchers to eat.  It may have some 10inchers in it but I have yet to find them...:) 

  Good Luck this summer and update us on your success. I think I can speak for everyone on this site by saying we love to know when people are doing well and catching their fair share of gills (even though we may get jealous of the big ones:)   Thanks for the good answers fellas!  

Thanks for the great info Nathanael!  Unfortunately, the ND Game and Fish website hasn't "matured" to the level of the Minnesota DNR site.  The info they do have is laid out nice, but they could add much more content.  But I will certainly use the info you gave me and see what I can find.  There are a few lakes that are supposed to have only small gills in them.  I will just have to research them myself -and fish them if they look good- and see how accurate that is.

I have one question for a fellow northerner; do you find that the same baits and techniques that our southern brethren use work well up here?  Nearly all the info I find on gill fishing techniques are by people fishing down south.

Sorry if I step on any toes , but down South we have to figure out how to keep fish from jumping into the boat so we don't go over the daily limit. we have a longer growing season down South and all fish are on the journey of getting big so that's why we start culling fish at 8 inches, so they can grow up and get bigger, and we just harvest the bigger fish, Yes northern fish would jump at the baits that Southern fish get to see, northern fish always wanted to be Southern Fish !   LOFR

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