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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Not sure we would get that many folks up here to sit on a bucket for hrs in potential sub zero temps, course we could get lucky and have a 20 degree day. It would be fun to watch tho!

I agree,Tony. If given the choice, I will always choose a shot at a trophy -sized fish rather than a bunch of 'good' fish, of any species. A trophy is a rare, and well remembered, catch. I can't recall too much special about any 8, 9 or even 10 inch gills and other sunfish species. But I can easily recount and reflect on those precious few that have exceeded 11 inches and beyond...just great memories.

But when I want food, those 8 inch fish are just perfect!

Guys,  What great responses. This site is awesome!  I just learned SO much.

Tony and Nathanael - I really liked your responses...very easy to understand and relate to.

One more question...I have a pond near my house that has a good largemouth bass and pickerel population and decent size gills (7-10 inchers).  How do you know the water is clean enough to eat the fish?  It looks fine to me, but people in the area say "I wouldn't eat the fish from here..." but they know absolutely nothing about fishing.  When I asked why they mention something about houses and runoff.  But what pond or lake doesn't have houses around it or have runoff?  At least around MASS that is the case with 75-80% of the ponds/lakes.  The fish population is healthy is that all that matters?  Any advice? 

BTW -  Happy Fathers Day guys!

Ralph,  if you want to be sure you might try submitting a water sample for analysis. Your local extension office could probably help you out in this regard. Sharing the water with horses wouldn't bother me personally, but the runoff could contain chemicals that might be a concern. Is this a retention pond of sorts?

  I agree about the water test if you are indeed concerned it may not be safe.  For me, if the fish population (and frog population) is healthy then I don't really worry about it. If the water was polluted you would get warnings from the habitat. With that said, our area in Mn has a hand full of lakes with high mercury levels which would limit the frequency you could eat a species (no more than one meal a week or no more than one meal a month ect.). This is just an example of something that could affect what or how frequent you may eat the fish but would not have an obvious "canary" warning you from the habitat that something is wrong.  Blue gills don't typically have high mercury levels in these lakes though, since they are "lower" in the food chain. Walleyes, Bass, and Northern Pike would be the species most likely have the higher concentrations of mercury. For peace of mind it wouldn't hurt to get the water tested, especially if you plan to eat a lot of fish out of there....

Tony - Thanks I was thinking of testing the water.  It is not a retention pond.

Great answers here from Walt and Tony. And like they say, every body of water is different.

I seldom keep large numbers of bluegills, and when I do it is from 10 to 20, depending on the plans for an upcoming meal. As a general rule it is wise to release...1) the majority of larger males in any system, 2) almost all bluegills exceeding 10 inches, unless you are keeping one as a trophy and 3) the top-end fish within 1.5 to 2 inches. IOW's, if the largest bluegills in the system are 9 to 10 inch fish, they are the ones that will sustain the quality size structure and are the ones to release. Keep the 7.5 to almost 9 inchers for harvest and fish frys.

Additionally, the smaller body of water, the more vulnerable it is to overharvest and top-end size depletion due to the removal of the bigger fish. Like Walt, I have seen premier bluegill waters, in excess of 2000 acres, decimated by armies of anglers who absolutely refused to embrace a catch and release ethic on the larger adult fish, then complain loudly about the fishing going downhill.

Few states and local fishery management departments protect panfish species and many have unlimited angler harvest regulations. Couple this with the erroneous and antiquated belief that panfish populations cannot be damaged by angling pressure and fish removal and it is a wonder at all that we have some of the outstanding bluegill fisheries that we do in North America.

Just use common sense and everyone can have some great fishing for big gills.

Down here in the Florida Panhandle bluegills and others of the bream (sunfish) family are highly sought after for sport as well as eating. "Keeper" size is in the eyes of the beholder.  Some like little bream for frying crisp and they eat bone and all. Others keep only the big ones for filleting.  A decent keep size is 6 to 7 inches for eating. The only time I might filet is when they are too big and thick to fry thoroughly through and through. Here is a box of 43 caught yesterday in the Choctawhatchee River in Walton County, FL and they will all go in the frying pan.

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