The Toughest Sunfish Of Them All

by Don Jordan

Just 60 days ago, we were wallowing in cabin fever. Today, morels are up in the woods; crappie are spawning in our lakes; wild turkey hunters are in the field; and, the most illusive sunfish of them all, the redear, is about to make itself available to your frying pan.

Of the favorite panfish in this state (crappie, bluegill, perch, redear), there is little doubt, in my mind, that the redear is both the most highly-prized and hardest to catch, but this is the time of year they are easiest to catch for most anglers.

First of all, finding redear isn’t all that easy. There are a few places where they are abundant, but those spots attract redear fishermen in large numbers. If you know a farm pond stocked with them, by all means fish there, because your chances are so much better of catching a mess of good slabs.

If you don’t have access to a good farm pond, there is some good public water. Number one is West Boggs Creek where 12-inch redear turned up in coolers last season.

Number two used to be Indian Lake, located in the U.S. Forest Service recreation area off I-64 across southern Indiana. I haven’t fished there since the forest service turned the place over to private industry for management, but I suspect the redear are still there.

Number three is Lake Lenapi at Shakamak State Park where the water is usually extremely clear and the redear and bluegill are just a tad nervous.

Number four is Lake Griffy on Bloomington's north side where redear make themselves available to bank anglers.

Number five is Dogwood Lake at the Glendale Fish and Wildlife Area.

Just in case you aren’t familiar with redear, this is a member of the sunfish family that we so love to catch and eat. Other members include crappie, bluegill, largemouth, smallmouth and all the other so-called “black” basses and assorted smaller sunfish like the punkinseed.

What makes redear stand out is the small red-colored “ear” or tab located on the rear tip of the fish’s gill cover plate. It also can get very large. The world record redear (called “shellcracker” in the South) weighed 5 lbs., 7.5 ozs. It was caught by Amos M. Gray at Santee-Cooper Diversion Canal, South Carolina, in August, 1998.

You can see a picture of this fish on the internet at

Indiana’s record redear is a 3 lb., 10 oz. monster caught by Robert Peckham of Nashville from a private lake in Brown County, way back in 1975.

Redear are bottom feeders, although I have caught some on the fly rod over the years by casting a sinking fly into visible nests. That is a rare thing in my experience, and the one time I caught several using flies, the remaining fish spooked and never returned that day.

Most of the time, redear do nest in shallow enough water to spot beds if there is decent water clarity. Their beds look just like bluegill beds, except in most cases there won’t be as many nests as there might be if they were bluegill beds.

The thing about redear is that they are shy and a bit finicky about what they eat. Since fresh water shrimp aren’t on the bait list for most Hoosier anglers, redworms, bits of nightcrawler, and sometimes crickets will do the job.

Redear are not as prone as their relatives to hit an artificial lure, so if you’re out after this species, be prepared to fish bottom with live bait. Don’t’ make a lot of noise or commotion if you’re fishing for redear, or you won’t catch many.

There are plenty of different ways to rig tackle for bottom fishing with live bait, and the type of rig you decide to use should depend on how deep you are fishing. If you are fishing extremely shallow water, you can’t beat a casting bobber with about three feet of line affixed to the running end of the bobber.

Don’t use any weight on this rig. Use a No. 10 to No. 6 hook, depending on how big the redear might be where you fish. Bait up with either a piece of ‘crawler, a redworm, beemoth or cricket. Crawlers and redworms have always been best for me on Hoosier redear.

If you are fishing slightly deeper, you can try a clip-on or a slip-type, stand-up bobber and adjust your depth to match the water’s depth. You will need a small split shot to carry your bait to the bottom with this rig.

The other alternative is to tight-line your weight and bait with no bobber. This is the most effective, but it also means more snagging, and it requires a lot more attention than a bobber does.

Variations on this rig include the Carolina rig where a weight is fixed to the line about two feet above the hook. The idea is that the weight drags bottom and the bait sort of floats along behind it. Be sure to stick with light wire hooks so you can pull lose from snags without breaking off every time. The Carolina rig works great in streams, as the current keeps the bait off bottom. Redear do not hit hard.

They don’t tease as much as crappie, but they don’t rip the rod out of your hand like a big bluegill or a smallmouth can. Keep your finger on the line, and most important, keep your line tight or you will miss bites.

posted 6/1/01

©Copyright 2002. Jordan Communications

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