redear sunfish

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Shellcrackers are one of four common local sunfish species (the others are spotted sunfish, bluegills and warmouth).

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}If you’re looking for a place with hungry fish and easy access that’s protected from high winds, check out local freshwater creeks, lakes and canals. Kayaks, with their shallow draft and ease of launching from marginal spots, are excellent for this type of fishing. This time of year, shellcrackers are spawning, which makes them one of our top targets.{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}A favorite spot to find them is the Cocoplum Waterway in North Port. This canal runs for miles about a block north of U.S. 41 starting at North Port Boulevard east to Cranberry. From there, it follows Hillsborough Boulevard for miles, then turns north to reach I-75. Unfortunately, numerous spillways limit kayakers and boaters to specific sections.{/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}The city of North Port has installed kayak docks above and below some spillways to enable a portage around these structures. These launch docks are either a roller type or a slotted arrangement and each has issues. (See our Feb. 27 column for details on these docks and the challenges they present to kayakers.){/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}One particular stretch of the Cocoplum is accessible from Dallas White Park just off North Port Boulevard. There is a roller kayak dock here, but we much prefer to launch at the lightly used boat ramp nearby. A kayaker can back down to the water and easily launch from the concrete ramp. For sit-on kayak anglers, just wade out to calf-deep water and sit down on the kayak seat from the side. Swing your feet aboard and you’re underway.{/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}Most of the year, we enjoy fly fishing for bass with popping bugs along the banks of the canal. The abundant lily pads and cattails hold fish that have seldom seen a popping bug, and their enthusiasm can make for a great trip later in the afternoon. Spinning gear with a plastic frog or worm will catch a lot of fish too.{/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}This time of year, though, is special. Around the full moons in the spring, redear sunfish (commonly known around here as shellcrackers) are spawning — and they really like earthworms fished on the rocky bottom of this canal. These bream get larger than bluegill, with the state record approaching 5 pounds, and they are great eating due to their diet of snails and mussels. A worm delivered to their spawning areas is hard for them to refuse. Concentrate on spots where culverts or ditches periodically scour the bottom and create better shellcracker habitat.{/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}How do we find these spawning areas? Slowly drift along with a splitshot heavy enough to reach bottom and 6 to 8 inches ahead of a worm on a small hook. We seldom use corks and instead “feel” for the bottom. Most folks who are serious about shellcrackers use cane poles or telescoping fiberglass “bream busters” that extend to 10 or 12 feet but collapse into a size that is manageable in a kayak.{/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}Sometimes we take our tandem kayak so we can put a pole off both sides, allowing us to cover more area with our search. When fish are located, we anchor and work the area thoroughly.{/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}Another time tested method to find shellcracker beds is to sniff them out. We find that when we are paddling along and get whiffs of “fishy,” it’s time to pause and sink a worm to the bottom in the deeper water nearby. I’m not talking about a rotten fish or even a seafood smell. This is a clean fresh smell some liken to watermelon. (Editor’s note: Or fresh-mowed grass.){/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}Like most panfish other than crappie, there is a bag limit of 50 fish per day but no minimum size required. As you might suspect, we regard the 50-fish limit as a very generous number and release all that we catch except the few we expect to fry up fresh. Also consider tossing the smaller ones back, as it takes a 10-inch fish to make a decent fillet.{/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif;”}{span style=”font-size: medium;”}So, some windy day, give the Cocoplum Waterway, Shell Creek or your favorite freshwater launch a try. Take along some worms, small hooks and splitshot. Dodge these March winds and find some shellcracker. They pull hard and will spin your kayak. If they’re not biting, flip a frog or worm along the bank for bass, or bring a flyrod and cast a popping bug for some extra fun. Don’t let windy days keep you from kayak fishing in Southwest Florida.{/span}{/span}

Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.

Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.

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