Tim Slone has caught a variety of fish in a variety of sizes over his lifetime, but he still comes back to hand-sized bluegill or redear sunfish as his favorites.
“For their size, they’re one of the hardest fighting fish around,” he says. “If they got up to 15 pounds, they’d probably eat people.”
Bluegill and redear sunfish—also known as “shellcrackers”—may look similar, but there are some important differences. Bluegill spawn several times a year in shallow water, and they willingly feed on the surface or anywhere down to the bottom.
Redears usually only spawn in spring, and they tend to feed only near the bottom. They have teeth in the back of their throats, allowing them to crush the shells of their favorite food, aquatic snails. Redear sunfish have an orange-red trim around their earflaps and grow larger than bluegill. Both species live throughout the state.
While you can catch small bluegill off the bank all summer long, you’re better off scouting deeper water in early morning and late evening if you want to catch bigger fish during the heat of July, says Kentucky Fisheries Director Benjy Kinman. Move away from the bank and try fishing water up to six feet deep in farm ponds, and up to 15 feet deep in lakes. Look for fallen trees, brush, and underwater plants near deep, open water.
Kinman suggests testing the waters by casting a pearl-colored, 2-inch grub on a light lead head jig. Once you’ve found the fish, drop a Popeye jig tipped with a red worm, wax worm, or mealworm. Good jig colors to use include pink, chartreuse, and black. Suspend your bait underneath a small bobber and keep adjusting its depth until you find the right spot.
If you can’t find a Popeye jig, then try worms on a thin wire hook.
Farm ponds will always give you the best shot at the largest fish. If you want to try bigger water for bluegill, then visit Lake Malone, Elmer Davis Lake, Herrington Lake, or the slack bankside water in Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley tailwaters. For trophy-sized redear sunfish, Kentucky Lake is well worth the trip.
You still have until the end of the month to apply for this year’s Kentucky elk hunts. For $10, you can add your name to the drawing for one of 300 elk hunting permits being issued this year. You can apply three ways: wherever hunting licenses are sold, online at www.fw.ky.gov, or by calling (877) 598-2401.