Bluegill - Big Bluegill

Do you love big bluegill?

You’ll have to overlook my ignorance and no, I’m not too proud to admit it. Growing up; I always thought a bluegill was a bluegill and a shell cracker was a big ole bluegill. I had no idea there were red ears and red bellies and bluegills and coppernose and pumpkinseed and orange spotted and red spotted and green sunfish. Seems there’s a whole rainbow assortment of the sunfish family. All I knew was spring was the time to start hunting down the bedding areas in East Central Alabama on Lake Martin, and loading up on “Bream”.

I knew the world record came from Alabama in 1950 and it had beaten out the previous world record also caught in Alabama, from the same pond. I was only introduced to the coppernose in 2013, and it has grasped my full attention.

I have researched raising them, growth potential and breeding habits. Now I’m reading that this fishery has a special strain and that hatchery has a special strain of coppernose that will grow a pound a year.

If dog years are 7 years to 1 human year and they can live 15 years; I look at the max life span of a coppernose, 10 years in much the same way. 1 human year would be equivalent to 8 coppernose years. If that’s the case, wouldn’t a human who maturely peaks at age 20 in growth be the same as a coppernose peaking at age 2 to 2 ½? This means, using myself as a reference; the coppernose would no longer grow at the advertised exceptional rate but slow down just packing on weight and girth. 

I read of people feeding them and growing monsters, people catching and releasing 3 to 3 ½ pounders but they have yet to give a lifelong detail of the fish. When it hatched, what it ate, water temperature average each year, water quality, water depth, size of the lake it lived in, estimated population of the gills versus bass and so on. So I decided that it was time. I purchased a 2.3 acre pond a couple months ago; loaded with 6-10" bass but very shallow on the upper end. I plan on renovating 1/4 of it in November so there is a  minimum 3 1/2 - 4 feet depth, installing 2 automatic feeders, building a pier then adding about 2000 CNB 3-6" in March.

I will be sharing everything I learn as I grow my fish and ask that you all please share any information or knowledge you have and lets see if we can't break that old world record.

The largest coppernose I’ve ever witnessed personally was a hair over 3 ½ pounds. It was grown in a pond… a goldfish pond, 40 x 30 feet x 5-6 feet deep with a concrete backed wall, muddy bottom and rock ledges. There were no spawning areas. This pond was built by a hotel as a Koi pond with a waterfall across the parking area running under the pavement that dropped off about a foot into the pond keeping great oxygen saturation in the water. A simple pump circulated the water from the pond back to the top of the waterfall and so on and so on. The hotel owner fed his fish religiously every morning and every evening during check in and checkout times for the guest to admire and eventually, somehow by the grace of God; someone decided to drop a few half pound gills in they had caught from a local private lake.

These coppernose began feeding on the high protein food with very little competition and no predators allowing them to grow from the half pounder to the size where I saw them in just over 3 years. I know given the right environment, food and cover, a coppernose can become a bull in no time. As my grandmother always said “proof is in the puddin’.”

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Best of luck Shannon! We'll be watching and pulling for you. I can tell you, from years spent studying, raising, and interacting with bluegills, that growing monsters takes a great deal more than food. Embarking on a quest to grow monster bluegills can be both rewarding and frustrating. I am confident you will learn a lot, and  come away with even more appreciation for this remarkable fish.

Part 2:
Luckily enough I came across some property for sale in the summer of 2015, with a two acre pond. A small town outside of Alexander City, Alabama, by the name of Kellyton, would be my new hobby farm. The listing read, “A great home site on 11 acres, planted pines 15 years old with a 2 acre pond loaded with bass”. Immediately the add struck my interest with the pond and caught my attention with the bass. Soon I was signing papers and the cash was changing hands.
The next day I visited the place; other than a quick peek at the photos or standing along the roadside, to find a pond where the upper quarter had washed in to no more than 3 feet deep.
Nevertheless, smiles came when I saw dozens of beds in the shallows and large, hand sized panfish streaking through the water chasing off largemouth intruders.
Sadly there was much unwanted growth covering over three quarters of the bank choking the ponds’ edge. Large, heavy trunked bushes gripped both sides of the dam which we all know will cause leaks. I’ve read blogs where people unknowingly suggest that bushes and trees be left to grow around ponds and on dams, “bugs live in the bushes and trees and fall in the water which the fish eat”, I’ve heard stated.
As with many people born in this great country; especially those us from the south, I came to know fishing at a very young age. Be it with my mom and dad at age 4, fishing for crappie from that old bridge in the gap until the early hours of the morning or sneaking off to the creek with my cousin as a young teen to catch those yellow bellied bream or Red eye bass on homemade cane poles, I was hooked.
As time progressed and I grew older my skills became sharper or the baits got better but just like with everything else in life, as soon as I thought I had it all figured out I was shown otherwise. I have lost more big ones than I have ever landed. Everyone who has ever hooked and lost a heavy fish swears it to be 3 or 4 times larger than it actually was and we all know, the big one always gets away right?
In 1982, I caught my first bass weighing two pounds. Fishing early one morning from the pier of my aunt’s cabin I got my first taste of the largemouth addiction on a willow fly and bream hook from Lake Martin in Alabama. It was soon hanging on my wall as a birthday gift. A couple of years later fishing in a pond on a golf course in south Florida, while my great uncle Tommy, played the back nine, I landed a five pounder on a top water popper. I wanted to mount it as well but he refused and taught me that a bass should weigh in the eight pound range or more to be considered a trophy but a trophy is different to each of us. I fished around, not professionally of course over the next years catching numerous bass up to the six pound range but never more.
At age 20, fishing one evening after I got off work, I pulled a nine pound four ounce bass from the bed. A couple weeks later I took another bass to the taxidermist weighing in at eleven pounds two ounces. Two great trophies in 2 weeks. That’s the stuff people only dream of. Odd thing though, I caught both bass from a private pond and the second came from the same bed where the first had been caught. The pond I was fishing had been abandoned several years before in preparation for a new subdivision. Getting in there through the under growth was hard enough and casting a line was even harder but the rewards were great. Later that same spring I walked away with a stinger full of red ears or shell crackers as the country folk’s call them, weighing over thirty pounds. All summer, knowing they were going to drain and fill in that pond, I took home catfish and crappie along with bass ranging in the two pound up to six range and more red ears than I could carry.
I have continued to fish over the years teaching my kids in the late 90’s starting them off at age three on the small little bluegills in my uncle’s catfish pond before moving them up to larger fish like those ten pound cats. I started taking my granddaughter at age 3, who immediately became my fishing buddy, now taking my little 2 year old grandson and needless to say; I think they are hooked although the little man seems to get bored rather quickly.
As I walked around the pond through the waist high weeds and briars, red bugs and ticks; I saw numerous small bass under twelve inches and dozens of two inch fathead minnows skirting the edges followed by several four inch panfish. I turned my attention away from the growth around the pond and the work to be done, went back to the truck and collected my fishing gear.
When I returned from the truck, I fished with my favorite ZOOM, salty worms and caught dozens of bass; none over twelve inches. I knew then with this stock of bass that my dream of owning and producing a trued trophy coppernose pond could easily be a reality.

Going to drain, kill off, and start fresh?

Tony, there were no bluegills in the pond. I may have made a mistake but we added about 200 we caught from a friend's pond 2" - 3" long plus about a dozen that were 6" to 8" long. I also caught 40 coppernose from another pond ranging from 8" - 9" and put them in as well. I'm thinking about taking the kids and catching everything out in the way of bluegills and shell crackers but I don't want to lose the bass I have and they are way to small to try to eat. I truly hate starting fresh but if I have to I will. What do you think I should do?

Well, as the saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Pond management is a lot like that, with different strategies employed to end up with the same results. Still, in my opinion it's hard to beat starting with a fresh slate. I'm sure that is the least desirable option for you, but it does make a certain amount of sense to kill and drain, make improvements to the pond and structure, (deepen those shallow areas?), and most importantly from my point of view, re-stock with the best genetics you can find.

Your stated goal is to try and grow trophy coppernose bluegills, so why take the chance on fish with an unknown pedigree? Sure, they may grow into trophies, but then again their genetic makeup may not favor that at all. Feeding is a huge part of growing giant fish, but having the right genetics cannot be overstated....a fish needs to be genetically predisposed for exceptional growth to make the most out of all the hard work you're going to put into that pond. Plus, once the pond is killed off you won't have to guess about what you THINK is in there, you will know, because you're the only person stocking the pond. Or at least you need to be. Many a future trophy pond has been disrupted by well meaning intentions on the part of the pond owner, or want-to-be-helpful friends/neighbors/family.

I know it's not what you want to hear, but my recommendation is to start fresh, and do it right the first time.

Ok, I will make plans to drop the level of the pond and apply rotenone this winter and start fresh.

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