Why you should consider tossing back male bluegills
I set the hook and knew that the fish wasn’t a panfish. I suspected a bass, and it pulled like a bass.
Only I was using my special panfish pole — a seven-foot ultra-light extra fast action. Its purpose is to make panfishing fun again. Instead of a mini spinning reel designed to use two pound test line, this ultra-light allows you to use a spinning reel like the old Shimano Sidestab 1500 with six-pound test line.
This little bass was about the first of five that I would boat this evening. It had my prize panfishing pole bent over. I backed the drag off and played him a bit, than brought him up to the boat. It was close to the limit, but I rarely keep bass, so it went back into the drink just like the next four.
It was my third fish of the trip and our second lake. When we got to the first lake the landing was like Coxey’s Army with people parking several hundred yards down the road, four rigs waiting to launch and three waiting to land. We decided to head to another lake and its landing was also very busy.
My partner for the trip was my grouse hunting partner, Clyde Sippel. As we fished on, we needed to keep moving and looking for fish. He loves fish and was hankering for some fresh ones. So I told him that he could take any fish we caught since he has not taken fish on several other trips over the years. Besides, I would be burning the candle on both ends if I would be cleaning these fish. I had an early appointment the next day and several things beyond that.
We talked about all the reduced lake bag limits, like the 15 panfish limit with only five coming from any species. We talked about why, with bluegills, it is important to let the big males go and actually keep the females. The reason comes from the spawning behavior of bluegills.
Yes the females produce the eggs, but each female spawns a lot of eggs. But just like us everything that swims in the lakes likes to eat bluegill too. When the bluegills move to the shallows to spawn, so do the predators that like to eat bluegill and the scavengers that like to eat the bluegill eggs. With bluegills, only the male stays behind and protects the nest from predators.
Say a male gill about three to four inches is guarding the bed; it’s perfect bass and snake northern eating size. It’s likely to get eaten and the unguarded bed has all its eggs in it eaten by a cigar perch. Small males don’t get to do so much breeding if there are other larger males to claim the spot and drive the smaller males off. Those big bull bluegills are an awesome fish with beautiful colors. But it tastes like heaven on a plate. Every nest we take a large bull bluegill off of its a bed that will be destroyed. Keeping large females isn’t a problem since smaller females lay eggs as well. In other words, bed survivability is determined by the number of beds that are protected by male bluegill; the larger the male, the greater likelihood of success.
Other factors can affect a year class. Bluegills have evolved to overcome natural events, but overharvesting is something they don’t have the ability to resist. But reducing the bag limit to five fish per panfish species is hugely dissatisfying for a lot of people I’ve spoken with. I also find it harder to swallow. But I can tell you that, after just a year or two of those regulations on an area lake, there are more panfish in the lake.
We ended up catching several panfish with a limit of bluegills each. We also caught northern and bass. We caught several of them. It is a lot of fun boating and landing a bass on an ultralight pole. We had ducks passing over head and landing around. Eagles drifted about overhead as our outing came to an end.
It was a great evening on the water and hopefully will lead to many more. In the meantime, consider tossing back a few of those big males.
Tight lines everyone.
CHUCK K OLAR LOCAL OUTDOORSMAN