Biologists are often torn between a public that wants unlimited panfish harvest, and folks who value the larger specimens. Different anglers often have different goals.
Who's right and who's wrong?
Really, nobody is wrong. If anglers can be educated, then they can achieve both objectives--satisfying both the desire to put filets in the freezer, and the dream to catch a trophy fish.
It's becoming more and more common to place daily and possession limits on bluegill, redear sunfish and other popular panfish. In Nebraska, anglers are restricted to thirty fish in any given day, combining crappie, bluegill, redears and other panfish.
It's extremely rare for me to hear a complaint about this regulation.
It used to be that if I was really nailing the bluegill, and there was no daily bag limit, I would continue until the stringer was ready to break from the sheer weight. The time it took to filet these fish was ridiculous, and I ended up regretting my gluttony.
Now, stopping at thirty fish is easy and convenient. Less cleaning time, and more time for a good night's sleep afterward.
I've also found that once I've captured and cleaned that many panfish, that it's still a while before these fish have been completely consumed. Once they've been eaten (and they're usually fresher now), I simply start planning my next trip.
No more freezer burn, and no more guilt.
Now I understand that many of you have no such restrictions, and it is completely legal, ethical and respectable to keep more fish.
But what can you do to preserve the fishery and improve the chances for fish to grow to a large size?
One possibility is to limit the number of large male bluegill that you harvest off of nesting grounds. These bluegill serve a two-fold purpose.
First of all, they have good genetics, and a good start to achieving trophy size, but that's not all.
They actually create a situation where smaller males are unable to occupy prime spawning grounds, so this forces those smaller bluegill to commit more energy to growing, and less to reproduction. End result--big fish get bigger, and smaller fish get bigger. Seemingly a "win-win".
During the spawn, you can fish for females that are just off the nesting ground, usually in slightly deeper water. It is typically more difficult to overharvest females.
You can also fish during other times of year when these dominant males are more spread out, and you will end up diversifying your capture to include more females and more immature males.
Another thing you can do is have a self-imposed harvest slot.
I often fish for bluegill in small private waters and make the conscious decision to only keep bluegill between 7 and 9 inches. This way I get plenty to eat, but also protect some of the larger fish.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating entire catch and release of big bluegill.
You have every right to keep large bluegill for the table, and for the purposes of getting a mounted fish. There are plenty of big bluegill out there and people have been keeping big ones for decades. Bluegill taste great and should be featured on the dinner table often.
But in general, especially in smaller water bodies, there are ways to temper your harvest to allow for plenty more big fish to survive.
Just something to think about.