Bluegill - Big Bluegill

Do you love big bluegill?

HBG are predominantly male, however females certainly do exist... here is a pic of 8 pretty ladies caught in one of my own ponds. All gravid, all weighed between 12 and 18 ozs. Since I do not desire any offspring from these fish, they were not released... That decision was not easily reached...

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Comment by C Barb on May 3, 2012 at 6:18pm

Tony and David these were some very informative post. Thanks

Comment by Tony Livingston on December 13, 2011 at 11:05am

No offense taken here, Tim. And I'm probably one of the strongest proponents of hybrid fish on this site. I firmly believe that HBG have their place, and when used in the correct context, will fill their niche better than a native strain could. That's not to imply that I consider HBG to be a better kind of Bluegill, rather, just a different kind.

I don't have a problem with commercially induced hybridization, as long as no genetic enhancements are required to complete the process. In other words, If the two fishes can reproduce/cross naturally, as they occasionally do in the wild, then I see no difference when the procedure is performed in a hatchery. The end result is the same.

I too enjoy the "pure" strain fishes, although where BG are involved, I'm not so sure that pure is an accurate adjective, especially in an older pond or lake.

 

Comment by Tim Overbaugh on December 13, 2011 at 10:01am

Hybridization does happen unnaturally in nature and doesn't "usually" pose any long term problems with wild pure strains.  However I have witnessed in a certain natural body of water, a pumpkinseed/green hybrid mix that has been breeding over the last decade.  This hybrid is going strong and has virtually kicked out the pure green and pumpkinseed specie.  This makes me nervous.

I don't breed fish.  My observations are from wild fish, and I do know, when established, hybrids are aggressive.  

I'm no expert on this, but my gut says swapping eggs and sperm in a controlled environment is wrong.         Don't ever kid yourself Frankinstien won't get loose.

I hope my fellow Bluegill enthusiast don't take my opinions personally,  I just love the natural diversity of the pure strains.        

Comment by David, aka, "McScruff" on December 9, 2011 at 7:17pm

You do make an excellent point Tony - Nature does what she wants in her own time. It's interesting to note that 99% of all species that have ever live are now extinct. Lets just say Mother Nature has a lot of patience!

There is little doubt that future fish will share something with today's fish. But as you note, it takes an almost astronomical twist of chance to create an improvement in Nature. We try to beat that with our man-made hybrids - which we find are only better for a generation or two.

Comment by Tony Livingston on December 9, 2011 at 5:05pm

I've caught a few naturally occurring BG x RES hybrids in my ponds before. Most of them were of good size, and quite striking in appearance. I think I may have a few pics of one, I'll dig around and see ...

David, you bring up an interesting point. Most of the hybrid sunfishes we are likely to catch can, and do, hybridize naturally, without human intervention, in the wild. If this hybridization truly produced a superior fish, I would tend to think that after all this time, mother nature would have recognized it as such, and enabled it to pass on it's superior genes to it's offspring, creating a new species.

I don't believe that nature stands still, life is constantly evolving, adapting, and changing in pursuit of the perfection of it's species. Perhaps, eons from now, mother nature will have worked the bugs out of our hybrid fish, and some future angler will cast his line out in pursuit of them....

Comment by David, aka, "McScruff" on December 9, 2011 at 3:12pm

Bluegill x redear hybrid sound interesting, Bruce!

It is an uncomfortable fact of Nature that she does not like us tampering with her work. Well, uncomfortable in that it requires determined effort to successfully remain outside her order. If we are to do well in our hybrid "experiments" with any animal breed - fish included - we have to keep our hands in.  This entails the segregation and proper, healthy maintenance of three separate populations, at minimum:

1. Parent stock #1 (pure breed or trait selected)

2. Parent stock #2 (pure breed or trait selected)

3. Resultant filial or 'F1' hybrid offspring.

AS you might imagine, this takes a good bit of work and sincere dedication (our entire agri-biz culture, in fact, is built for one main purpose - to support hybridization).

And once you DO breed some hybrids, you shouldn't just release them into other uncontrolled populations - the whole 'toss and walk' notion that Tony rightly denounces.

Hybrid groupings, or F1 populations, are really distinct and should be treated as such. Doing otherwise is a recipe for mediocre results at best. I can see where this could be a real problem with fish like pond-kept HBG, since they are "out of sight, out of mind."

For example, chickens run around the yard where you can see them. The results of cross-breeding in the hen-yard are immediately apparent. But just attempting to sample across a population of fish is a lot of effort. Because of this, you are likely to end up with ALL your fish degraded and not know it until you realize that you're only catching punky, weak little fish.  You stand there wondering what the heck is going on, when you caused the problem in the first place!

I know all this sounds a bit preachy.... remember my interest in the profitable management of poultry-as-livestock. But, well, there it is. It's universal, no matter what you are breeding. In fact, it was the same message delivered in "Jurassic Park," as I recall. :-)

Comment by Tony Livingston on December 9, 2011 at 11:08am

David I agree with you, but I would like to expand on something you mentioned in your last paragraph. "Left to their own devices, there is every reason to expect them to recede, and/or taint the entire population for many generations to come." Therein lies the fundamental problem, at least where HBG are concerned. These fish should not be left to their own devices, it's simply not enough to throw some in a pond and assume your bluegill woes are over....far from it.

Many new pondowners fall victim to the old school hype, that is occasionally still attached to this fish,  many years after it's commercial debut. I still hear things like, "they grow bigger than regular BG," or "they grow faster than regular BG," "they won't stunt and take over your pond", etc. Yes and no.. those three statements do not tell the whole story... the part that's sometimes left out by the hatchery, is what the pondowner needs to do to help these fish realize their full potential.

Initially, this fish was pratically touted as being the crowning achievement in BG development, a fish with all the BG's positive traits, and none of it's shortcomings.  Many BG enthusiasts began their quests to grow trophy BG with this fish, possibly some on this very site. However, what was discovered was somewhat disappointing... the fish simply could not live up to the hype surrounding it. Adding to the problem, were the thousands of folks who dropped HBG into ponds with existing populations of stunted, native BG and very few Bass, and walked away thinking their problems were solved. Thus began the HBG's fall from grace.

Now, I believe we may be on the eve of a HBG re-awakening of sorts. Thanks in large part to the internet, there is a wealth of information available to everyone, and fact is a little more easily separated from fiction.  The average pondowner is more aware now, of a hybrid's possible role in his/her BOW, and most understand that a hybrid of anything, is just that - a mix of two species, and not a species unto itself.

I agree with you wholeheartedly when you state that selective control is paramount to success in a hybrid breeding program. Since, however,  in most cases HBG are "free range" in a pond, it falls upon the pondowner to exercise the only available option left to him/her... taking positive steps to eliminate, or greatly reduce the numbers of viable offspring.

There are murmurings that would seem to imply that perhaps, the F2 and possibly even F3 generations of HBG possess enough of the positive traits of the F1's to warrant their use as a sport fish. As of yet, I believe this is solely based on observation, and I do not know of any scientific studies  that support this hypothesis. I look forward to following up on it however.

By the way, awesome info there, David!

Sorry for the long post everybody....

Comment by Bruce Condello on December 9, 2011 at 9:09am

Great post, david.  I'd love to talk to you in person or by phone sometime.  I have some observations that I've made over the last ten years in regards to white bass X striped bass hybrids, bluegill X redear sunfish hybrids, and bluegill X green sunfish hybrids that support everything you're saying.  Thanks for taking the time to explain.

Comment by David, aka, "McScruff" on December 9, 2011 at 8:42am

To add a small bit to the conversation, I've been acquainted with hybrid critters through studies in poultry husbandry. Cross-breeding, a.k.a. "hybridization" when done deliberately, has long been a practice in the domesticated animals we keep around us. Nearly all of the pets and farm animals we take for granted are crossbred hybrids, long since become standard. The difference is this breeding has also been long pursued with great deliberation.

But hybrids that continue breeding past the first generation without precise, selective control, lose the traits they were bred for in the first place. Eventually, they revert back to either something akin to the parent stock or to ever more random "sports," really unlike any singular member of the species. We always expect they will turn into some mutant beast, knocking down buildings and taking revenge on humaity... but that is the rarest of occurrences!

Pertinent to this discussion, is another, more severe problem - reduced vigor. This is the insidious side of hybrid recidivism. This appears as the tendency of reverted hybrid populations to die sooner/easier, AND worse, not survive well as offspring. As you might imagine, size and vigor are most important in fish intended for sport and food.

There are exceptions, on rare occasions. The feral hog comes to mind here. Most of us have seen the massive "Hogzilla's" in the news. These animals are domestic pigs gone wild. They retain enough of their domesticated traits so as to grow much larger than wild pigs. Essentially, they are uncontrolled hybrids which have been selected AT RANDOM for size. However, even this does not last over the many successive breeding generations and they eventually go back to ever smaller, less vigorous forms. Long-bred feral hogs soon become almost indistinguishable from their native cousins.

SO while we like those big, bulky hybrid bream, odds are that they won't remain so for successive generations.... unless we intervene with controls. Left to their own devices, there is every reason to expect them to recede, and/or taint the entire population for many generations to come.

Comment by Tony Livingston on December 9, 2011 at 5:45am

Jim, most of the studies I have read do show a low survival rate of yoy HBG. Traditional thinking implies that each succeeding generation will show less hybrid vigor, until finally, the most desireable qualities of the hybridization process have become obscured. Like you, I have not seen any indications of successful recruitment, but I maintain a heavy Bass presence alongside the HBG, and, have witnessed HBG feeding on fry and small minnows several times. They are quite cannabilistic, to the point that they may be helping to control their own numbers.

My culling of female HBG is strictly a precautionary move, intended to prevent any recruitment of what was originally considered to be an "inferior", (F2's, F3's,) fish. Interestingly enough, there are a few signs now that seem to indicate that the first couple generations removed from the original F1's may in fact, be capable of growing into respectable fish in their own right. Perhaps, a re-thinking of my strategy will be in order down the road.

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