April 17th, 2000

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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By Steven H. McGarthwaite (aka: Parnelli)

In Minnesota, Walleyes may be King, and Muskies and Northern Pikes, Queens and Jacks. But the most angled for fish in the early spring is the Bluegill. Bluegills are of the Sunfish family, which also includes Largemouth Bass, and Smallmouth Bass. Minnesota's State Record for largest Bluegill is a whopping 2 pounds 13 ounces. That is one huge Bluegill, bigger than any I have ever seen, and sadly, most of us will never see again. The reason for this is, Runts!

The typical angler in Minnesota is not a fly angler and does not care about the same things we do. It is mostly slab fishing, seeing how big a stringer you can get, and bringing in your limit. The limit in Minnesota for daily possession of Bluegills is 30 fish. No other fish has a daily limit of 30 fish. The Bluegill is always legal to take 365 days a year, and is not even offered protection during spawn.

Bass, Walleye, Northerns, Muskies, and Trout are off limits during their spawning season. Yet Bluegills are even denied this basic protection. Because of this, we anglers have contributed to the decline and have damaged, maybe forever the gene stock of the Bluegills.

The Bluegill sexually matures at approximately 5 to 6 years of age, when they are a nice 1 to 1 1/2 pound size. The adult Bluegill can live to an age of 11 or 12 years. The males build nests in the warm shallows of the lake and guard their territories against all intruders. The females lay their roe and the male then fertilizes the roe and guards the nest.

The "Runt" is a Bluegill that sexually matures at the age of two years and only lives to the age of 6. It is smaller than the normal Bluegills so it is unable to make a nest, let alone guard one during the spring spawning. It hangs out on the perimeters of the spawning area, waiting for a chance to dart in and fertilize an unattended nest of freshly laid roe. The result of this is a degradation of the gene pool, and the runt gene passed onto the next generation.

Over a period of time the Bluegills size is reduced and all that are left in the lake for catching, are the "Runt" sized Bluegills. The damaged is done, it cannot be altered.

Some may say, "well I don't fish for Bluegills, I am a Trout only, or Bass only angler." Well, the same can happen to both if we interfere there too, in ways we really don't understand, or are aware of.

The Minnesota DNR doesn't have an answer to the problem, yet they are doing a limited experiment. On certain designated lakes they have reduced the limit on Bluegills from 30 daily to 10. The thinking is, more slab-sized Bluegills must be returned to the water to perpetuated the species, and to keep the stock pool strong. The DNR has not restricted fishing for Bluegills during the spawn, because all the Walleye, Bass, Northern, and Musky anglers, fish for Bluegills until their respective seasons open 1 to 3 months into the future. Besides, it is so darn easy to catch Bluegills on the spawning grounds.

I am not going to tell you what you should do, but think it over. Maybe you can come up with an answer to a question that is troubling many of us. We see more and more people fishing a finite source. ~ Steven H. McGarthwaite

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