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Redear sunfish spawn upon us

Redear Sunfish Spawn Upon Us 


By Lee McClellan

It is just about the time of year when the big “bull” redear sunfish move shallow to spawn, sending a shiver of excitement through many Kentucky anglers. 

When the big redear sunfish move up to spawn, they produce some of the best fishing of the year. The ability of hefty redear sunfish to use their saucer-shaped bodies to pull against a rod is legendary. If this species grew to 10 pounds, it might be nearly impossible to land one.

The forecast for what would have been Derby weekend looks like spectacular weather with air temperatures approaching 80 degrees across much of Kentucky on Sunday.

A stable weather pattern with warming air temperatures and water temperatures ranging from 65 to 68 degrees make ideal conditions for redear sunfish. The last week of April and into the first week of May usually is the timeframe where you see redear sunfish spawning.

Water temperatures on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley at 63 degrees, a little lower than usual for this time of year, but the warm weather in the forecast should push those water temperatures into the preferred zone.

Redear sunfish are commonly called “shellcrackers” because they feed on small mussels and snails on the bottom. They have a plate of teeth in their throats that can crush shells.

Kentucky Lake and its twin to the east, Lake Barkley, are head and shoulders above other waters in Kentucky for trophy redear sunfish. These huge reservoirs hold many redears longer than 11 inches, the kind of fish that feels like you are holding a small plate in your hands when you land one.

Smaller lakes offer productive redear sunfish fishing as well. McNeely Lake in Jefferson County, Briggs Lake in Logan County, Three Springs Lake in Warren County, Lake Reba in Madison County, Pennyrile Lake in Christian County and Marion County Lake all hold good populations of redear sunfish. 

Corinth Lake in Grant County once boasted some of the best redear fishing in Kentucky until an accidental introduction of shad into the lake eventually blunted the fishery. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife eradicated the shad and Corinth Lake is on the way back to its old glory days.

Catching redear is relatively easy, but finding their spawning beds is not. The location of bluegill, who also nest this time of year, indicate where to search for redear sunfish. 

If you catch some bluegill while fishing for redear, try fishing near that spot, but deeper. 

A size 6 or 8 Aberdeen-style hook tipped with a quarter inch chunk of red worm or night crawler with a BB-sized split shot about a foot above the hook works great when fished on the bottom for redear. Many anglers tip a small 1/32-ounce yellow or black feather jig, commonly called a Popeye jig, with bits of nightcrawler, wax worms and meal worms and suspend them under a bobber just above bottom.

Tackle shops around Kentucky Lake sell “bluegill bugs,” a soft plastic grub with rubber strands run through it. Anglers tip these with wax worms and fish them on the bottom under slip bobbers for large redear sunfish.

Redear do not feed anywhere but on or near the bottom.  Redear sunfish are community nesters, so stay in the same spot once you locate some and fish it hard.

Ultralight spinning tackle spooled with 4- or 6-pound monofilament line makes great sport for redear. Anglers tend to prefer ultralight rods less than 6 feet long. Those fishing weedy lakes may fare better with 6-foot light power rods and spinning reels spooled with 6- or 8-pound monofilament.

The redear spawn is here. Hit some of these waters and catch a mess for a tasty feast. The flesh of a redear sunfish is as good as any fish in Kentucky waters.