Bluegill - Big Bluegill

Do you love big bluegill?

How does "Big Bluegill" feel about conservation?

Easy. We're all for it.

Big Bluegill members are a gang of anglers who know they're on to something special.

The bluegill is really the perfect fish when you think about it. Perfectly satisfying to fly fishermen and bobber slingers. Equally satisfying for ice fishermen and kayakers. Beloved by catch and releasers, as well as those who fish to dine. Targeted by the trophy fisherman, and the folks who just crave action.

The bluegill is all things to all people.

The perfect fish.

But how can we make the most of this great gift to anglers?

To start, we can learn all about it. You can't protect what you don't understand. Too many things in our world go away, right before our very eyes, simply because we didn't take the time to observe and study what we cherish most.

What sort of things have we learned about bluegill?

The bluegill is almost too good at some things. If given the chance, bluegill will produce astounding numbers of their own. Sometimes to the point that they become too small to catch or eat. A lake, stream or pond with untold numbers of tiny bluegill satisfies noone. In theory, the perfect bluegill fishery would never reach these types of numbers. The perfect fishery would have adequate numbers of appropriately sized larger predators to keep pressure on the fish under 6 inches, and adequate human pressure, when needed, to remove fish in the 6-9 inch range.

We've also learned the big male bluegills hog the best spawning areas. Agressive males that are protecting nests are easy to catch. The big male bluegill is true to himself. He'll sacrifice all to protect his young. We also know that when big parental males are left to protect their nests that younger males forego spawning, and instead invest their energy into growth. In theory, the perfect bluegill fishery would always have adequate numbers of these beautiful fish to cover the best spawning beds so that the intermediate size fish would grow rapidly into eating and catching size.

Another thing we're aware of, is that when properly managed, and when anglers show intelligent restraint, that your favorite water body can support fish that are great size for eating, and still leave enough fish to give an opportunity for trophy anglers to catch 9-11 inch fish--the so-called dinner plates that we all dream about as kids. And then dream about as adults. And then dream about as retirees.....

So back to Big Bluegill and conservation. How does this all fit together?

Start by learning the local regulations. Then follow them.

Next, try to take advantage of the local state fisheries biologists. They can be almost limitless sources of good information in regards to the status of the bluegill fishery in the water body you're about to fish.

Find out what sizes are present. Try to figure out what numbers. If a good number of bluegill are present, and you want to keep fish, that's great. It's legal, ethical and delicious. But try to avoid going all out on the bigger spawning males. Of course, that can be hard to do, but when restraint is shown in harvesting these biggest, most agressive males, all of the smaller males are going to put on the feed bag, and put on weight so they can be caught and kept for future meals. Those biggest, brightest, most beautiful males are the ticket to future success. Protect them during the spawn, and you'll have more good sized fish in the future.

This probably goes without saying, but make sure to evaluate how many bluegill are actually needed for consumption. Too many people clean and freeze fish, but never end up eating them. If you've read this far, you're probably not one of these people. But spread the word--take what you can eat, but don't waste.

If you're releasing fish, bluegill lend themselves well to barbless presentations. It's not so much that the barb damages the fish. It's more to do with the fact that it's difficult to retrieve a barbed hook from such a tiny mouth. Carry some small curved hemostats, and if that barb has been flattened, even a little bit, you can get that hook out much easier.

Bluegill are absolutely delicious, and a very renewable resource when handled properly. People who harvest 8 inch bluegill, and throw back most 9+ inch fish and nest guarding parental males, are not only protecting their own resource, but they can also feel better about returning larger, rarer gamefish, because their freezers are already adequately stocked. Maybe that's the true beauty of the bluegill. If you keep bluegill, you really don't need to keep as many smallmouth or largemouth bass, or northern pike or walleye. Everybody wins.

Take a moment and look at the following website.


These people have got it all together. One of them is even a valued member of "BigBluegill". They discuss great ways to keep your water clean and your shoreline uncluttered. They care about your kids, and making sure they have the opportunity to catch big bluegill just like you.

Recycled Fish and Big Bluegill and other organizations are about to take the world by storm. It's time to act. There are people who want to take away your right to fish. If we're all shining examples of what it really means to be a sportsman, they'll never have a chance.

OK, let's briefly review the BigBluegill stewardship credo...

* Learn all you can about the behavior, lifestyle and feeding habits of bluegill and redear sunfish

* Find a harvest strategy that allows for bluegill to thrive, both in individual size and numbers

* Enjoy the fruits of more and bigger fish of all species through bluegill management

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Comment by Jim Gronaw on February 14, 2009 at 7:02pm
Very well said, Bruce. The very notion of releasing big panfish is still foreign and old-school to most panfish anglers, nationwide. I know of only a couple of local panfish freaks that will put back a 10 inch gill. Shame, cos thats what most fisheries need today. I hope that the downturn in the economy will enable people to enjoy, not keep, more panfish than they truely can eat at a meal. Doesn't mean don't eat some, just release most of the 'boys' to keep the cycle going.
Comment by Jim Gronaw on January 25, 2009 at 4:16pm
Great piece, Bruce. Two years ago I had a feature in the In-Fisherman 'Humpheads' where I tried to emphasize the release of big gills. For some reason, most anglers are still old - school; in keeping as many big fish as possible, not that keeping a trophy is bad or even unethical. It just makes sense to release the quality fish. Sometimes, we get caught up in the moment and keep too many big fish, We've all been there, done that. It has only been in recent years that I have brought myself to the release of almost every bluegill I catch over 10 inches in length. Hopefully, this may lead to the capture of that coveted 12 inch, 2 pound brute I have been looking for. And if I am smarter yet. I will get a replica mount of that special fish, and let it go for someone else to enjoy.
Comment by John Cachel on January 20, 2009 at 11:40am
Great job!
Big bull 'gills depends on us for the future!
Like 50 " muskies is rare in 20 years ago until now many over 50 " muskies..... thanks to release! It can happen to big bluegills! Release big bluegills to give us good chance to catch 2 lbs plus bluegills in the future!
Comment by Michael J. Searl on November 8, 2008 at 7:58am
Very well written article. This information should be posted at every lake and pond.
Personally I have no set length. The largest males are returned, no matter the length for that particular area.
I haven't went with the barbs compressed yet, but will start in the spring. My style of fishing results in mostly lip hook.Never to old to learn or add new challenge. ole Mike
Comment by Bruce Condello on November 8, 2008 at 7:34am
"How good will they taste when they are gone"..ROFLOL. :-)
Comment by Bill "Musky" Modica on November 7, 2008 at 11:33pm
I agree....selective harvest is key.
Comment by Eric White on November 7, 2008 at 11:26pm
That is 100% true when i catch fish over ten inches or close too i release them...unless they swallow the hook, last year ice fishing i was catching 10 plus inchers i would throw them back and i could see people giving me the eye, then when they would walk over and say why are you throwing them back they are big, i would say to them what do you think spawns more a 10 incher or a 7 incher....only comment i get is they all taste good...well duh but how good will they taste if there gone.
Comment by Bruce Condello on November 7, 2008 at 11:08pm
Recycled Fish is a great organization. Protecting the fishing resource means protecting our children's and grandchildren's opportunities to fish when we're gone.
Comment by Alex G. on October 6, 2008 at 6:30am
Bruce, I don't believe anyone could have said it better. I think so many people are concerned with the big predators that the mighty gill is often overlooked. So many youngsters get their start in fishing by catching gills, usually small gills. But if the efforts of groups like Big Bluegill and Recycled fish could produce bigger gills for the youngsters to catch, I think more kids would continue to fish into their teens and adulthood. Looking though the member list, I see that many of the Big Bluegill members are already members of RF!!!!!! And thats a very good thing.
Comment by Teeg Stouffer on September 29, 2008 at 7:46am
Artfully stated! Thanks for the plug, too.

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