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home : columns : ron kuecker
September 27, 2020

7/15/2020 11:13:00 AM
Big bluegills have decreased for too long

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

When our third son was born Dianne and I soon realized grandma's two-bedroom cabin wasn't big enough. One day, with spring born Dan in her arms and me herding the other two, we went for a walk and spotted a for sale sign. It was only seven cabins down, we bought.
We decided to start our own colony on a clear and pretty lake surrounded by mature burr oak trees. Another reason was that numerous and good-sized bluegills lived there. When walleye weren't biting we could count on some bluegills for a fish fry.
Bluegills, along with crappies, are America's favorite pan fish, so named because they fit nicely in a frying pan. They are fun to catch, easy to catch and a great fish to get kids started. Sure they give kids a good fight but maybe even better than that, watching a bobber disappear into the water.
Better yet, you can catch them off the dock.
Well, that was 45 years ago and things have changed a lot regarding bluegill fishing on that lake and many others. Quite simply put, the size of the bluegills has been decreasing. Since then I have watched from that cabin and another directly across the lake where we moved to a point on the west side.
We have fished for bluegills both places and I have watched even more as the fishermen pass by. Now they start in mid-June and continue through July. They first cruise slowly by, peering into the water on a calm day, with their polarized glasses, looking for spawning beds of the bluegills.
The 'gills usually spawn when the water temp hits 70 to 75 degrees. Then the males select a firm bottom site, get above it in a five to six-inch spot and begin fanning. Soon they have an area suitable to hatch the 20 to 30 thousand eggs per nest.
Sometimes they fight other males for the nesting site. Then they display their spring colors, a nice blue, ear-like spot above their gills, a copper-colored area below their mouth and a beautiful body.
The females make their choice, move into the home, drop their eggs and the male fertilizes them. Then he guards them, fearing nothing, not even a fishermen's lure. That makes him vulnerable to fishermen.
It's exactly what they have been looking for, a spawning bed with maybe 15 to 20 in a small area in five to 10 foot of water. The fishers have been told, almost forever, find those spots and catch the big bluegills. Take 'em home, have a fish fry. Limits of 25 to 50 per person are quite common in many states.
The bluegill seekers have also been told if there are a 'lotta' little bluegills in a lake, they are stunted. We need to get them 'outta' there.
Well since the era of heavy fishing began, with more people fishing and seeking out the spawning beds, bluegill size has decreased. When you think about it, it becomes realistic, pull the genetically biggest fish out and fry too many of them, small fish may result.
Wisconsin research
Then along came Andrew Rypel, a Wisconsin researcher with the DNR. So far he has observed that decrease in size across many lakes they have studied. His first research with decreased limits of fish has shown an increase in size. Now he's on a 10-year study with limits decreased to five, 10 or 20 on several lakes.
If I were czar of Minnesota fishing I would suggest we drop limits from 20 to 10. Maybe even five if the public would accept it. I'd also begin an extensive education program to avoid those spawning beds from mid-June to July.
You are disrupting a process that is designed for producing bigger bluegills.
I guess we can't hate anything anymore. So let me put it this way. I don't like cormorants. And, it has nothing to do with their color.
They multiply into huge numbers when protected by law. They do compete with humans for the fish available. They do defecate a highly nitrogenous waste that kills trees. Nesting colonies leave behind a ground bare lakeshore that easily erodes.
We are going to have to confront that soon, when you fully protect certain species they can get out of control.
Dang deer flies
We are seeing a year just right for some bug species. One of them is the pesky deer fly which I have confronted on several occasions. They are recognized by their size, almost like a honey bee. Their wings are larger than a bee and the abdomen is a bit slimmer.
The most recognizable characteristic is their dark bands on a translucent wing. They are fast, their compound eyes work very well, so they are hard to sneak up on and swat.
Next column I'll write about some repellents that work for various unwanted bugs.

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