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Common Names - Widely known as shellcracker because of its fondness for snails. Also called bream, yellow bream.
Description - The redear is similar in shape to the bluegill, but lacks the dark spot at the base of the posterior portion of the dorsal fin and has a red or orange border around the "ear" flap. The body coloration is light olive-green to gold, with red or orange flecks on the breast. The breast of a mature redear is typically a rather bright yellow. The body is heavily spotted and they have long, pointed pectoral fins. Five to 10 vertical bars are more or less evident on the sides, depending on the size of the fish. Males and females are similar in appearance, although the male is generally more colorful.
The Bluegill and other species of the sunfish family make up some of the most common and fished for fish in the US. Although relatively small (usually less than ten inches, rarely over a pound) bluegills and other sunfish are easy and fun to catch. You will often find them in large schools, and can catch dozens of them. They have an extremely good flavor meat when cooked, and you can find them in just about any pond, lake, or river in the US. They are one of my favorite fish for their easiness to catch. Usually if I'm not catching much else I can still catch sunfish. Larger ones of more than 6 inches can be fun on ultralite tackle. Fishing for any species of the sunfish mentioned above is pretty much the same as the techniques mentioned for Bluegill below.
Habitat - Redear are found in almost every freshwater aquatic system in Florida. They are typically found on sandy or shell-covered areas of ponds and lakes, and are often located near grasses. Redear spend a great deal of time offshore in open water, particularly in the winter. Other redear found in rivers prefer, quiet waters and have a tendency to congregate around stumps, roots and logs. They are common in lower, more slowly flowing reaches of rivers. They tolerate brackish water better than other sunfish. Like black bass and spotted sunfish, they may be abundant in tidal areas near the mouths of rivers.
Spawning Habits - Spawning occurs during May, June and July (March through August in central Florida) when water temperatures reach 70 degrees. They prefer water three to four feet deep, and a firm, shelly bottom, often near a dropoff. Nesting sites are often near aquatic vegetation such as water lilies, cattails, lizardtails, and maidencane. Breeding behavior is similar to other sunfish, with the males doing the nest building and guarding the young. A female may lay between 15,000 to 30,000 eggs during a spawn.
Feeding Habits - Redears are opportunistic bottom feeders, foraging mainly during daylight hours on a variety of invertebrates. Important food items include snails and clams which are crushed by grinding teeth in the throat; larval insects, fish eggs, small fish, and crustaceans. In some areas snails may be secondary to insects as a food preference.
Sporting Quality - Strong fighters, but more difficult to catch than most other sunfish. The redear does not readily take artificial lures but is easily taken on natural baits. Most fish are taken on cane poles with small hooks, corks, and split shot for weight. Favorite baits are worms, crickets, grubs, and shrimp fished in the spring and summer during the bedding season. Later in the season they move to much deeper water or into heavy cover, where they are difficult to locate.
Techniques - First of all you don't want to spook the fish with heavy line, don't use line over four pound test. Look at your summer fishing tackle and make everything smaller. Use smaller hooks with wax worms. You may want to use a small ice fly tipped with a wax worm. Experiment with colors of the ice fly until you find one that triggers a bite. Another way to trigger bites from inactive sunfish, jig your lure slowly and then allow it to sit still because the sunfish won't hit it when it is moving. And finally an important part beginners often overlook is bobbers. Don't use that clumsy red and white bobber. If you must use a bobber make it as thin and small as possible. Some people prefer sponge bobbers or slip bobbers but I like to use spring bobbers.
Eating Quality - Similar to that of bluegill, with white, flaky, sweet-tasting meat. Prepared the same as bluegill.
World Record - 5 pounds, 3 ounces.
Fishing for Sunfish
use ultralite tackle and light line (2-6lb test)
Most of the year sunfish stay in shallow water. Sunfish stay in shallow water throughout the spring and summer usually going no deeper than 20 feet deep.
In the late fall, winter and/or ice fishing season look for them in deeper water (9-30 feet deep).
In a lake that has a variety of other sunfish it is almost impossible to try to single out and catch one of the species. Sunfish will stick in the same areas and eat mostly the same food.
Often the most effective bait and rig for sunnies is a bobber or slip bobber rig with a #6 or #8 hook with corn, worms or a small leech. Make sure the bobber is small and sensitive, using stick like bobbers rather than round bobbers will improve your results.
Sunfish will also feed off the bottom, especially the larger ones. Use a small 1/8-1/4 oz. sliding sinker and a 12 inch leader of the same or lighter line, or use a few small splitshot and no bobber. This method is often more effective when the water is choppy and/or the fish are sluggish. Corn or worms are the best choices for this type of rig.
When aggressive enough, the leech is a better option, it will stay on the hook better and often discourages the smaller ones and entices the larger sunfish to bite it. Make sure it is small (about an inch in length).
Earthworms are also a good choice, they are less expensive and easier to get/keep than leeches and are better for sunfish when they are picky. It is easier for them to pick the worm off the hook and you will catch a lot of smaller ones this way.
Corn on a bobber or bottom rig works too. It is a good choice for larger sunfish. Not as productive as leeches and worms, but a lot more economical and easier to keep, it is often a good bait to use. Smaller sunfish have a problem getting the corn in their mouths, but its often not as effective as live bait. Canned sweet corn, or sweet corn off a fresh cob (make sure the corn is soft) usually works the best. Put 2-3 kernels on a bobber rig or bottom rig mentioned above. Frozen and field corn aren't generally very productive so try to avoid using them.
Crappie minnows can also work. Fish them much the same as you would for crappies. This bait will catch mostly bigger ones only.
For artificial baits, small tube jigs, flu flus and beetle spins are good choices for sunfish (1/32oz-1/8oz). Make sure you use an ultralite rod so you can cast these tiny baits and also feel when a sunfish strikes.
Sunfish are common and fun to catch through the ice. Use a very small jigging spoon (1/32 or 1/64 oz even) or small jig and tip it with a wax worm, maggots or a small minnow. Use a very small slip bobber much smaller than you would use for regular fishing. Set the hook earlier then you normally would, they aren't as aggressive and less likely to pull it as far under the ice. During ice cover they tend to stay close to the bottom; from a few inches off to about 3 feet. Also use extremely light line no more than 4lb test in the winter because they become very spooky and can see an notice heavier lines.
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