Bluegill - Big Bluegill

Do you love big bluegill?

Dave Genz is the father of modern ice fishing. He invented the flip-style ice shack and his tireless efforts, which still continue, have made ice fishing the highly effective, technical, active pursuit that it is today.

When I interviewed him for the Recycled Fish "12 Questions" series a year ago, he said, "Not over-harvesting panfish is important...Some say, “they’re only panfish,” but we’ve disrupted the natural balance of so many lakes, that we don’t get many large panfish any more. Most of our waters are managed for the larger predators – especially the walleye and musky up here in Minnesota. Everybody up here wants to say they’re a walleye or a musky fisherman, but at heart, we’re all pan fishermen."

I know what he's talking about. In my first outing on hard water this year, I had the good pleasure of hitting a private pond with my friends Chad and Bo Abresch from Nebraska Fish & Game Association.

The body of water we were fishing was chock full of spunky largemouth bass in the 13" - 15" range. I don't care who you are, a bent rod with a leaping bass is fun. When you jig them up with a vertical spoon through a hole in the ice, it's just as exciting.

But better yet, those densely populated bass make for some bruiser sunfish, and we found out that day. The bluegills were biting light - almost undetectably so - but when one would inhale a teardrop and waxworm, the fight was on.

These fish weren't the 10" specimens of lore, but once a 'gill breaks the 8" mark it starts to get respectable, and these 9" class fish certainly had our respect. They all went back into the lake after a brief photo - none were out of the water for more than a minute, most less than that.
A friend of mine from Illinois is just getting in to ice fishing. He's struggling out there because he's chasing walleye, pike and bass. My advice: the bluegill is DESIGNED for ice fishing. In the winter, what we're after is action and bluegill provide it.

Because of the cold, clean winter water and the fact that fish are on ice as soon as they come out of it, their meat is firm and clean tasting. It's hard to beat a few ice-caught bluegill in the pan.

But the 'few' does require mentioning. While selective harvest is an important management tool and keeping a few to eat is an important part of the legacy of our sport, keeping the 'selective' in 'selective harvest' makes sense too.

That's why I love this website - it seems to have struck the perfect balance in stewardship of these amazing fish. This post says it best, in my mind.

We've got a couple months left of 'hard water' depending upon where we live in the Ice Belt, plenty of opportunity to meet some big bluegill yet this year.

Teeg Stouffer
Recycled Fish
Anglers living a lifestyle of stewardship both on and off the water, because our lifestyle runs downstream

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Great write up! Gills Rule!! Hy-bred's ain't bad either
Teeg - top shelf read!
We've been practicing a self-imposed slot limit with the bluegill populations we harrass. PA has a few waterways that are managed as "Panfish Enhancement Regulations", which simply puts a minimum length and creel limit on the fish. To date, we can't say these waterways are showing any increased "enhancements" in regards to the bluegill.

What makes more sense to my feeble mindset is selectively releasing both ends of the size spectrum, and harvesting those in the middle. This is viewed under the understanding that male gills will only grow to the size needed to compete during the spawning season.
That being said, I'm still trying to understand the dynamics of waterway support (for both genders) and the interaction of the predator base - something not for the faint of heart to understand, as each individual waterway will have it's own set of conditions.

We also have been dealing with the recent introduction of gizzard shad in some of the "better" bluegill waters here - which is showing signs of being the kiss of death for teh panfishery.
It's a juggling act to decide if reducing numbers of trophy gills are due to past overharvest, an increase in species competing for the lower food chain, or a lack of predation to keep age classes in check.

The slot we (myself and anyone who fishes with me) settled on was to harvest fish in the 7½-8½" range. This size seems to fit well both on the dinner plate and within the structure of the waters we fish.
Alas, we're but a few.................will it make a difference?

Don't know, but until I learn more it feels like the right thing to do.
Nice approach Zig. I'll throw in my .02 since I've been studying this quite a bit. I think your last sentences sum it up. I believe it is the right thing to do, as I believe there is now enough science behind it to support the behavior. But will it make a difference...probably not. This goes to your "Alas, we're but a few" statement. I've studied the harvest rates here in Indiana and what has happened to some of our best bluegill waters, and I've reached the conclusion that the harvest mentality is just ingrained into too many people, and I don't think that can be changed. I see the exact same thing with our walleye anglers, 90% harvest and 10% conservation.

I believe if a body of water is open to the public, it is highly likely that any good bluegill fishing as relates to "big" bluegill will be fleeting at best, unless that water has some unique biological qualities that can overcome the angler harvest component. Such waters exist, but they are truly rare from what I've seen. Still, selective harvest and releasing the largest gills in a particular body of water is the right thing to do, regardless. At its peak, some of our best waters in the state were supporting harvest of 100,000 gills/redears a year. And being typical anglers, this was a top down harvest where larger fish are certainly kept along with anything respectable in size.

I also don't believe, as you have also observed, that any special panfish regs as applied typically will have any benefit on our waters. This has also been well supported in modeling and limited practical applications. Until a state agency gets creative and supports a maximum size limit on gills, nothing will change. Restricting harvest just isn't enough as it can be compensated for by both sheer volume of anglers as well as increased effort. The one exception to this is redear, where harvest restrictions have been shown in theory to be able to regulate size structure of a population. Not so with gills or sunfish though. And not likely to ever be put into place by an agency.

Your comment on shad being the kiss of death is pretty much right on also. There are a few waters that can potentially escape the impending disaster, as I've known of 2 here in Indiana where this has been documented, but they are the exceptions. One of the best bluegill fisheries in the Midwest at one time, Patoka Res. was decimated within a matter of 2-3 years after finding gizzard shad. History just isn't on the side of the bluegill in these cases.

Another issue that arises is the ice fishing. Bluegill compose the predominant amount of fish harvested around these parts through the ice, and most creel surveys never account for such actions in their modeling. A recent survey here in Indiana showed that on a calculated monthly harvest basis (as opposed to total numbers removed), ice fishermen harvested more gills than summer anglers and nearly as many as spring and fall anglers.

So it doesn't bode well for our little friends. I'm not sure exactly what the answer is myself, other than to enjoy and apppreciate the few public waters we have that produce big gills (9"+) on a regular basis. The search for such waters is almost as rewarding a challenge as the catch itself.

Zig and B. Waldman. Excellent commentary. When this site was conceived ten months ago, this is what we envisioned. Enthusiastic and intelligent anglers exchanging ideas and information. I sense and share your pessimism when it comes to creating trophy bluegill fisheries, but I'd like to propose to you that the movement starts here--on Big Bluegill--to change the public perception.

With bluegill you really CAN have your cake and eat it too. It just takes just knowledge in regards to harvest strategies.

If anybody reads this, and knows a biologist in a public service agency, email them a link to this thread.

Trust me; the biologist already knows of what we're discussing, but they may be surprised how many private anglers are on board.

Thanks again, Teeg, for starting this blog.

And thanks to every other Big Bluegill member who reads and considers what's being discussed.
I am very happy to have found this site as Bluegill are my favorite species to target through the ice in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I get more of a thrill out of icing a 10" Bluegill than I do catching a big bass. This site appears to have lots of experts on Bluegill. I am looking forward to learning a lot from all of you.
Great feedback, everybody.

I take a pretty optimistic view. We do have some issues to contend with now - angler attitudes and current perception; management strategies and habitat issues.

However, look back 30 years - it would have been nearly inconceivable to imagine going fishing and not keeping most or all of your catch. In the span of just 30 years, most anglers release most or all of their catch, most or all of the time (according to a 2008 survey of anglers across the US).

So much can change, and it takes presenting the benefits in a way that makes them palatable, and being consistent in doing so.

Let's keep fighting the good fight!
BW and Zig,

I really enjoyed reading your posts. I agree that harvest of 7.5" to 8.5" bluegill is a good idea, especially in bodies of water where they are stockpiled. I'd love to see regs established where all bluegill over 9" need to be released. Thanks again for your commentary on these issues.

Big lure sticking out of mouth would like to see lure close up
Pardon my thoughtlessness.Thank you for the great info and pictures!
Hi Everyone,
I am a big fan of catch and release bluegill fishing. I don't like to keep them because my gf doesn't eat them and I don't want to waste a fish life. I have gone bluegill fishing before but never really caught any big ones just ones I have always thorwn back.
Just my 2 cents
Thanks for the comments BSFW. You are a big part of the reason why bluegill are the perfect fish. They lend themselves equally well to catch and release fish, and to proper harvest. Everybody can enjoy the mighty bluegill!


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