Bluegill/Shellcracker Spawning Underway: The Bite Is On
Written by Steve McCadams | Originally published 05/07/2015
Magicians are at work on Kentucky Lake. For the last week bobbers have been disappearing before the very eyes of anglers everywhere. It is indeed amazing. Bedding time for bluegill, commonly referred to as bream, is underway. Shellcracker, whose biological name is properly known as redear sunfish, are also spawning. If you’re waiting for good fishing opportunities to arrive wait no longer. Warm weather arrived late last week and it has stayed around, heating up surface temperatures daily. A full moon earlier this week coincided with the nice weather and that combination really flipped the switch for active spawning phases from these two popular panfish. Hefty stringers have been taken this week as anglers have been out in force, partaking of the ideal fishing conditions once the word got out that bluegill and shellcracker were biting. Good news indeed travels fast. Each year the bite gets underway in early May, although weather is the big factor and there have been times when spawning phases kicked in during late April. Cool conditions and nasty north winds lingered through late April this year, pushing the initial start of spawning time back to the traditional early May kickoff. Surface temperatures this week have been climbing daily as warm sunny days really heated things up. At midweek readings were in the 74 to 76 degree range, which is up 8 or 9 degrees from last week at this time. That sounded the alarm and the fish wasted no time in blitzing toward popular spawning areas. Big bull bream have really had an attitude this week. Hormonal changes have them sporting a beautiful dark color with bright orange bellies and they have been quite protective of their bedding spots. If a cricket or worm approached their restricted areas it was met with a swift bite that jerked the slack out of your line and submerged bobbers in the blink of an eye. Big male shellcracker have a handsome appearance too as their olive drab complexion sets them apart from bluegill or the female shellcracker which are light green on the dorsal area and light orange on or pale green on the belly. Females in both species are normally light colored. Right now the females are bulging with eggs too so they have a bloated appearance. Depths of 2 to 5 feet have been the prime bedding areas but a few fish choose to lay out from shorelines and set up housekeeping on shallow flats in 5 to 7 foot depths at times. Water conditions are quite clear at the present time and that allows sunlight to penetrate to deeper depths; thus the reason some bluegill and shellcracker are doing their thing back off the banks. Although they do indeed mix and share some of the same territory at times, shellcracker have an affinity for grassbeds and buck bushes. They seem to be a bit more structure oriented than bluegill, which means they hide in spots that are difficult at times to access for the average angler. Some of the better stringers of shellcracker taken earlier this week came from bushes and grass mixed together as they moved up during higher lake levels into cover behind the outside bush line. A slow drop in lake levels this week did pull a few fish to the outside and out away from shoreline habitat. Known to be a bit more finicky and illusive than bluegill, shellcracker usually outweigh their panfish partners by a few ounces. Their bite is subtle; their fight consist of tackle testing sprints with a lot of torque, especially once they see the boat. Another entry in the plus column for these feisty panfish is they can be caught in big numbers for the next several weeks, not to mention being great to eat. What their fillets lack in size is overcome by numbers. Yet the long list of attributes for this spring fling doesn’t stop there. Usually anglers find the larger adult fish guarding the spawning beds, namely the males. The unwritten code among the ranks of veteran bluegill and shellcracker anglers is to toss the females back, allowing them to spawn. Males are the most sought after and they bite with a vengeance not only from hunger but in defense of the nest. The tiny craters are fanned out from the mud and gravel substrates. The bulls feel it their duty to ward off intruders, which come in many shapes and sizes. Once something enters the forbidden zones it comes under attack, which is why many anglers feel this is fishing’s finest hour. Crickets are the bait of choice but redworms, mealworms, or various larva type baits work great. Artificial imitations such as small grubs also produce at times. Casting ultra-light and slight spinning tackle with monofilament line in the 4 to 6 pound test range is the ticket. Bobbers help regulate depth and signal light strikes. Seeing it vanish never goes out of style. Many have searched the world hoping to find the “Fountain of Youth. Nothing returns the spirit of yesteryear quite like the peak of bluegill bedding time. Whether you’re eight year young or eight-eight years old makes no difference. The enjoyment knows no boundaries. You’ll be young again once the bluegill and shellcracker go on a rampage. That time is here. Better take advantage of it before you get too old to go!
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