Bluegill and sunfish are where it began for most of us, they were the first fish we caught in our younger years. Armed with a whippy little rod, a bobber and a tub of worms, we headed out to chase these fish with our friends. Bluegill are the targets when we take our children and grandchildren, and we want to give them plenty of action – and bring home some great table fair. In early summer, large bluegill can make for a great afternoon. The gear isn’t expensive and the fishing locations are plentiful.
One of the best to target are the redear sunfish, also known as shellcrackers. Shellcrackers are typically a faster growing panfish, with fish a pound or larger not being uncommon – and some reaching two pounds. Their primary food source are small snails and mollusks on the bottom of lakes and ponds that are crushed using adaptive plates in their mouth – hence the name shellcrackers. Other forage includes insects and larvae. Since they feed on the bottom, anglers must adapt by fishing red wigglers, grubs or small tube jigs and artificial baits along the bottom.
The best way to target shellcrackers is to use a modified drop shot rig similar to those used for bass fishing. Very light weight can be used such as 1/8 to ¼ ounce weights with a simple, small drop hook as close to the bottom as possible. A drop shot rig allows your bait to act as natural as possible, while staying in the target depth for shellcrackers. The hook should be on at least a 2 to 3-inch loop so that it can swing freely as well.
As for baits, shellcrackers will feed both on artificial baits and natural baits. Natural baits are typically red wigglers, segments of earthworms, grubs and meal worms. These are simply threaded on to hooks and fished in more of a vertical presentation making sure to keep tension on the line in order to feel the bites.
As for artificials, most common baits include various sizes and colors of tube jigs and marabou jigs. These fished on a similar style drop shot rigged are commonly bounced, or jigged, back to the boat. Be sure to not work the bait too quickly, small movements of the rod tip will provide plenty of movement to the bait. Other artificial baits include artificial baits like the Berkley Gulp alive baits.
Redear sunfish only spawn in the spring, afterwards, they will push back towards the deeper water off the shoreline and typically locate towards grasses or hard structure such as stumps. These fish prefer cleaner waters than other sunfish. Good bodies of water in Virginia to target shellcrackers include lakes like Cohoon, Meade, Little Creek, Chickahominy, Robertson, Lone Star and Briery – for rivers look at Nottoway.