Know Your Pond Life: Growing Huge Bluegills
By Bob Lusk
“By the way, one of our fishermen caught a two-pound bluegill a couple weeks ago.” King Fisher Society’s property manager, Dave Buhler, said in a May, 2009 casual phone conversation. We were talking, making plans for my next visit to assist them with their lake.
My heart raced.
“Really?” was my response.
“Yeah, caught it on a crankbait down by the dam.”
“Got photos?” Surely, he took lots of photos. “Well, I think there might be one that Jim took with his cell phone.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” was the only response I could think of.
Buhler was beginning to catch my attitude.
“What’s the big deal?” he asked. I could hear him scratching his head.
“That guy caught the bluegill equivalent of a 15-pound bass…that’s all,” I told him.
He didn’t know.
If you are an aficionado of fine sunfish, a two-pound bluegill makes you foam at the mouth. That’s a giant fish.
Want to grow some? I’ll teach you how to do it. There are several keys to growing truly trophy bluegills.
Job One. You need bass. They are a must. Every single giant bluegill that I have seen or held in my hands lives with largemouth bass. Where you plan to grow giant bluegill as easily as possible, you’ll want stunted bass. What? Stunted bass, you ask? No one wants those. Yes, you do. Stunted, overcrowded bass eat baby bluegills but are too small to eat the larger ones. Minimizing competition among bluegill is a critical factor in the process of growing giant bluegills.
Job Two. You need good genetics. Personally, in the south, I prefer coppernose bluegill genetics compared to our native bluegills. Regularly fed Game Fish Chow from Purina Mills for years, I saw coppernose grow faster and reach larger sizes when compared to our native strains. But, that doesn’t hold true in other parts of the nation. A coppernose bluegill probably doesn’t stand a chance in Bruce Condello’s Nebraska ponds, but his native strains and good genetic selection for years has rewarded the Lincoln dentist with some truly trophy fish. If you can select your fish, pick the biggest, fastest-growing ones and give them a chance.
Job Three…protect your best fish. The biggest, best fish you have in your pond must be left there, even if you are tempted to pull them out and fry the creatures. Here’s why. Those big critters, the males, protect the nests. They push the younger males away from the reproduction table and do Nature’s bit to prevent the young boys from breeding. Because of that, those young fish continue to grow at big rates and will actually have a chance to outgrow ‘ol dad. That’s a good thing.
Let’s back up a bit. For more than 20 years, I had a standard comment to people who might ask about bluegill. When they say, “What’s the biggest bluegill you have ever seen?” my standard answer was, “I have held less than 10 as big as two pounds, seen maybe a thousand that range from a pound and a quarter to a pound and a half, but I’ve seen tens of thousands that pushed the heck out of a pound.”
All that changed about four years ago.
What gives with four years ago? Job One was easy. I’ve seen lots of ponds and lakes with overcrowded bass and bluegill as big as a pound and a half. Don’t get me wrong, a ten or eleven-inch bluegill drapes over a dinner plate. That’s an impressive creature. But, it’s not a two pounder. Not even close.
Even with Job Two…never saw many fish push to two pounds. Those were exceptional. When I combined jobs…One, Two and Three, still didn’t see many fish grow fat heads and thicken more than grandma’s sausage gravy as I do now.
Now, I’m seeing lots of bluegill twelve inches plus, with bulging heads and bodies that might be two inches thick, side to side. In 2010, I held more than 50 bluegills larger than two pounds and saw photos of at least ten more.
Job Four…is simple. But, this is the factor which takes good bluegill and gives them the opportunity to become great bluegill. Feed a better feed. Purina Mills developed a much, much better food for bluegills. Game Fish Chow is great for feeding a recreational pond. But, if you really, seriously want to grow some giant bluegills, try Purina’s AquaMax 500. Game Fish Chow is a grain-based feed. AquaMax 500 is loaded with fish meal, a much better protein source.
You see, bluegill are actually carnivores. They like meat. That’s why they attack a nightcrawler or a cricket. Their problem is that tiny little mouth. They have to eat tiny little hunks of meat. If a bluegill had a bass’ mouth, I wouldn’t let my grandkids go swimming.
Here’s a caveat. Don’t expect to grow giant bluegills if you simply think feeding a quality feed is THE answer.
You still need to follow Job One, Two and Three. Job Four expedites and completes the process.
Since bluegills naturally live to the ripe old age of six or seven, you need to act fast and decisively. Good genetics, selective harvest, and great food. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?