Do you love big bluegill?
Three lakes that seem to be super hot right now are Western Branch in Virginia, and Barkley Lake/Kentucky Lake down at LBL. Western Branch has recently produced two crackers that I'm aware of that were 14inches apiece and 2.5-3lbs apiece. You can view these fish over on Crappie.com under the Virginia state board. The crazy thing about WB is that it's a smallish lake at about 800-1000 acres tops. It must have just the right mix to grow studly crackers.
Barkley/Ky Lake has come on STRONG the last ten years with their cracker population. Now these bodies of water are tremendously large, covering over two hundred thousand acres between them. They are connected by a channel at the northern end of the two lakes. These lakes seem to produce lots of solid 1-1.5lbers with quite a few fish pushing the 2lb mark being caught every year. 12-13 inch trophy fish populate these lakes according to the Ky DNR.
My goal is to go and catch that 1.75-2lb cracker and have it mounted. The crazy big redear seem to be out west and down in South Carolina/Georgia on that river Kelly Nobles fishes.
Troy...I have been following the Virginia board on crappie.com for a while now...great info on big crackers and high-end crappie as well for those tidewater lakes of southeast Virginia. From what I have been seeing, this is one of the top panfish regions in the nation. My grand mother lived in Norfolk and as a boy we used to fish Lake Prince and catch big gills on catalpa worms...great childhood memories!
Cahoon, Burnt Mills and Western Branch produce hundreds of citation 'sunfish' per year for the statewide award program. A complete listing is available at VDGIF fish citations and you will be amazed at the numbers of big fish from these lakes. Check it out!
I've been a member of crappie.com for years, even though I'm a terrible crappie fisherman. I like to follow the conversation and usually there's some pretty good bluegill/shellcracker talk on the Virginia and Kentucky boards. I've seen some awfully impressive shellcracker on the Virginia board in the last couple of years and they seem to be coming out of Western Branch the most.
hey guys, I live about 35 miles from western branch res. and it does produce a few big crackers, but this lake is nowhere near as good as it used to be 20 years ago. the lakes over there including prince also are having water pumped to them from 90 miles away and it has no oxygen in it when it gets there, this required the water authorities to put aerators in western branch and prince, the whole eco system of these lakes has changed because of this and the shellcracker fishing has gone downhill because of it. the shellcracker fishing spots where you can actually catch some are closely gaurded by those who know, there is a whole lot of water in the lake where you'll never catch one. don't mean to sound like doomsday, just being realistic, I know lots of old timers who won't even go over there any more , because they can't catch any in their old hotspots. kip
More on Western Branch...
I checked the Virginia State Citation listings for Western Branch for 2011 under 'sunfish' citation listings. These are fish that exceeded 11 inches in length, and I imagine that the majority of them were shellcrackers, but some of them may have been bluegills. Here's the scoop...
Total number for WB...75 in 2011
Number of fish over 2 pounds... 22
Biggest in 2011... 2 pounds and 12 ozs.
These numbers may pale in comparison to years gone by, but I would still view this lake as a worthy body of water to try for big fish. I can't help but imagine that angler harvest may also have an effect on public lakes like Western Branch. Of note, there were lots of other citations for many other species here as well.
I've been fishing the Suffolk lakes for the last few years and have had some success. I believe that the reason the citation numbers are not as high as in the past is because they now charge $5.00 a piece for the certificates, in the 80's / 90's they were free. And most of my shellcracker addict fishing buds don't want any recognition. Recognition = heavy pressure and a depleted resource without catch and release. Alotta of monster fish don't get reported. If anyone on the board is ever in the area, especially during the bedding season which runs April - June, let me know, I'll help you out.
Daniel...I have seen your pics of those outstanding shellcrackers, and indeed, there is good reason not to report the successes due to increased angler pressure and harvest.
Trophy crackers are a tough gig anyway you look at it. They are traditionally fewer in number than bluegill and other sunfish species, just about anywhere. Throw in the 5 buck fee for a citation and I, too, would likely only register a single fish per year, if not any at all. Yet there are numerous anglers on the list who have entered many fish during the season...an expense I can surely due without.
Thanks for your input on this topic!
These are impressive numbers because there's no telling how many folks catch big fish and simply don't report their successes. But for reported numbers, these are very good IMO. The middle number is ridiculous, 22 crackers over two pounds?? Wow, that lake is a dandy. Any shellcracker I catch that's 1.12ounces or above, is probably bound for the wall. I've spent a lot of money chasing that wall hanger so it'll be a GREAT day when I finally boat him/her.
I told myself that the first BG that I managed to catch that went 1.5 lbs was going on the wall. Now that I'm nearly there however, I no longer desire it. I see nothing wrong with keeping a once-in-a-lifetime fish, I just wonder how much bigger it will get if I release it.
When I mounted my gill I didn't hesitate cause I figured I'd never have that chance again . That was 15 years ago and no regrets. It hangs above my fly tying bench and see it ever time I'm down there.
Still looking for my two pounder and it will go on the wall too, much better than eating it! I can go to the store and buy fish to eat if I wanted , but truely big gills are rare for most of us. What if the fish you released to grow bigger died with in an hour anyway. NOW that is a real waste, no memories of the fish or something to look at on cold winter days etc.
What you say is true David, the fish could very well expire, especially if it were hooked deeply. Still, I now favor photographs over a mount.....just my personal feelings, not meant to influence anyone else's decision at all.
When I catch a large fish, I take numerous photos of it, including some on a scale and against a rule. Take a few more with myself or someone else holding the fish for perspective, and I'm satisfied.
I used to be all into quantity, with large catches and big numbers of fish providing the benchmark by which I measured my success. Not anymore.
The truth? I would rather grow Bluegills than catch Bluegills. If I were to give up BG fishing tomorrow, I've been fortunate to have caught enough for several lifetimes. Now, it's about big fish, not big numbers. And a big fish, is a rare fish.
Bob Lusk once mentioned that catching a 2 lb. BG is the equivalent of catching a 15 lb. Largemouth Bass. Kinda' puts things into perspective. I've seen too many trophy walls, with more than one big BG hanging on them. There always seems to be a bigger fish caught down the road, one that negates the smaller fish already mounted, fish that might've reached a greater size had they been released back when.
As I mentioned, my original goal was a BG weighing 1.5 lbs. However, after watching a fish grow from 3" to 10.5", and seeing what it takes for a fish to reach that size, my desire to hang it on the wall is gone. I would love to catch a 2 pounder, and I tell myself that if I do, I'll keep that fish. But deep down, I know I won't. And I won't be unhappy with that decision.
"To each his own". I am a firm believer in this philosophy, and encourage every angler, as well as BBG members, to harvest as they see fit, within the legal guidelines. And this includes keeping fish for the wall. Life is short, and happiness sometimes hard to come by....make the most of your fishing, take someone else fishing and share what you love, and if you catch a biggun' for the wall, post a photo right here.... I would be thrilled to see it, (as would we all! )
I have said the same on a big gill. I will have a fiberglass replica made of my first 2lb Gill. So far my best has been 1lb. 10oz. on a postal scale, and that was about 20 yrs. ago. I am still looking for that magical 2lb.'er. Maybe a trip over to Santee Cooper will be what it takes.
western branch as well as the other four lakes within 5 miles of there all contain big shellcrackers, and a couple of those lakes to me are alot better than branch. I'm not bragging but Iv'e never registered a cracker for a citation, and have caught hundreds over a pound. If ya want to come down here and try for them, the dead heat of the summer is the time when you stand a better chance of scoring a big one. the mistake alot of people make is fishing those beautiful shorelines and nothing else. the best fishing Iv'e had is in about 12-13 ft of water, they like that depth alot there, as the visibility is pretty clear. oh, redworms are tops for bait, put two or three on a size 4 or 2 lite wire crappie hook, with two or three large split shot up the line about 2 or 3 foot, throw several lines out, let them go to the bottom and watch your rod tips. If you are hanging up on wood, leave the bait there, they hang around stumps and debris on the bottom.