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Redear sunfish still winning friends, influencing fishermen

By STEVE VANTREESE

While most fish spawning activity that makes for good catches is over for the year, at least some continues for a species still gaining new respect.

Everybody knows about bluegill, but redear sunfish in the region still are being discovered, so to speak. Most long-time anglers know there is such a thing, but the increase in numbers and size of redears on Kentucky and Barkley lakes continues to wow fishermen.

A relative trace population of redears â “ some say shellcrackers â “ began increasing on the big lakes as early as the droughty late 1970s. Clearer water and early influxes of aquatic vegetation apparently set biological changes in motion.

Since then, redears have flourished. And both redears and the ubiquitous bluegill have been growing larger. Hand-sized bluegill are now far more routine, and redears go them one better. These rounded sunfish sometimes rival a dessert plate in size and may top a pound in weight.

Redear sunfish have become important enough for Kentucky anglers, especially on Kentucky Lake-Lake Barkley, that nowadays a creel limit protects them from overharvest. A daily limit of 20 was set because the bigger sunfish draw far more attention from fishermen.

Late spring fishing for redear sunfish often focuses on spawning beds, which concentrate adult fish. Spawning has been going on for weeks, but likely some will continue for the next several days.

Anglers seeking spawning redears tend to find action along subtle bars where sandy bottom blends with pea gravel. The visual key usually is a gravel shoreline near the back of a bay. But redears hang out a step deeper than most bedding bluegill, so water that is back off the banks, areas of perhaps 4-6 feet deep, may be best.

After bedding subsides, even deeper water nearby may hold numerous redears, although they won't be so concentrated.

Anglers concentrating on redears have found fishing techniques focused on or very near the bottom to be best. Tiny jigs with or without a tipping of worm or cricket fished on bottom are a top choice. Also great is a bait rig â “ a long-shanked hook baited with a red worm, wax worm or cricket â “ suspended inches above the bottom.

Redears and the bluegill with which they share habitat make for great sport on light spinning tackle and 4- or 6-pound line. But when one of the bigger redears comes along â “ fish of near 2 pounds not being unheard of â “ you might question the good sense of dainty gear.

n Kentucky observes its annual Free Fishing Days â “ during which no licenses are required to fish â “ today and Sunday.

The annual Free Fishing Days are open to residents and non-residents across the state. Other regulations such as size and creel limits still apply, but fishing licenses are unnecessary for these two weekend days.

The license-free opportunities are provided by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources as encouragement for those who might be deterred by the cost of a license from sampling fishing. The KDFWR seeks to increase the pool of anglers who support and protect the fishing resources, and the thinking is that once people have a chance to try fishing, they'll recognize that the cost of a license is well worth the pursuit.

Private property is still private property, reminds fisheries managers. Anglers taking part in Free Fishing Days opportunities still must have permission to fish on privately owned waters or from privately owned shores.

n Dovetailing nicely with Free Fishing Days, the Land Between the Lakes today hosts its 37th annual Special Populations Fishing Tournament for physically and mentally challenged children and adults. The tournament runs 9 a.m.-noon at Honker Lake off Forest Service Road 135 near the Woodlands Nature Station.

The tournament, as always, is sponsored by the Kentucky Lake Bass Club. The event provides a fun outing for parents, caregivers, volunteers and the anglers, while it helps develop the participants' fishing skills.

n A volunteer work project on a Land Between the Lakes hiking/biking trail today has been canceled â “ but a guided hike on Long Creek Trail will go afoot as scheduled, beginning at 11 a.m. today.

The original plan for a work day on the Hillman Heritage National Recreation Trail has been put on hold. But the guided jaunt on the half-mile, paved Long Creek Trail still will be held to mark National Trails Day.

n Next Saturday, June 14, brings National Get Outdoors Day, and the LBL's Woodlands Nature Station will mark the event by waiving admission fees all day, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Visitors can check out the native gardens and see a variety of resident wild animals at the Nature Station. Programs during the day â “ also free for visitors â “ include a Nature Series for Adults program on purple martins 11 a.m.-noon and "Be an Outdoor Kid" program for youngsters 2-2:30 p.m. The Raptor Parade, the staff escort of hawks and owls to their evening quarters, will be at 4:30 p.m.

An after-hours sunset canoe trip, an outing hosted by Nature Station staff in search of wild critters along a nearby bay, will be 6-8:30 p.m. The paddle trip costs $25 per canoe and requires reservations by phoning 270-924-2020.

n Illinois hunters took fewer turkeys during the 2014 spring season that ended in May. Illinois' recent gobbler season harvest was 13,513. That was down from the 2013 spring harvest of 14,133.

The downturn largely mirrors what happened in Kentucky and elsewhere in the midsection of the nation. In Kentucky, which more than doubles Illinois' turkey harvest, the spring bird take was 29,893 this spring. In 2013, the Kentucky gobbler harvest was 32,444.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. E-mail outdoors news items to outdoors@paducahsun.com or phone 270-575-8650.

SNbS

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