Program aims to improve bluegill fishing

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Program aims to improve bluegill fishing

Tim Renken Of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

02/07/2002

Many lakes are managed to provide good fishing for largemouth bass. Others are managed for channel catfish; some for trout.

Is there such a thing as a lake managed especially for bluegill? No, but there will be. The Missouri Department of Conservation has begun a program to improve bluegill fishing in the state.

It isn't that the waters of the state don't have enough bluegill. Many contain too many bluegill. But few contain big bluegill, fish of 8 inches or longer.

Bluegill are No. 3 in popularity among both Missouri and Illinois anglers, behind bass and catfish. Survey estimates show that more than 300,000 people fish for bluegill and other panfish in Missouri each year, spending some 3 million angler days doing it.

This despite the fact that Missouri waters provide relatively poor bluegill fishing. Illinois waters are quite a bit better. Even Missouri's smaller impoundments, which should be the best bluegill habitat, aren't very good. Just 3 percent contain bluegill of 9 inches or longer. Only a third of the Missouri's waters contain bluegill 8 inches or longer.

The program, scheduled to last at least 10 years, is aimed at developing ways to improve the state's bluegill fishing. The biologists already know this about bluegill:

* They do best in lakes and ponds with clear water and some submerged vegetation.

* They do best in lakes with fairly simple fish populations. Gizzard shad and common carp, for example, are a detriment.

* They thrive best in waters that have lots of predators, hungry predators like small bass. A few large bass can't eat enough to control bluegill numbers.

At present, the bluegill isn't classified as a game fish in Missouri. It is an "other" fish and anglers can keep up to 50 a day.

The study will try to find out if a change in regulations would improve bluegill fishing. Limits on both minimum-size and daily catch will be tried on heavily-fished lakes that have potential for producing good bluegill.

Other measures could involve dredging lake bottoms to remove silt and controlling shoreline and watershed erosion.

Managing for small bass will be a major departure on some lakes. Until now most lakes have been managed for large bass.

Will there eventually be lakes managed especially for their bluegill fishing? That's the plan. But more important is the possibility that the management techniques developed will be used to improve bluegill fishing if not everywhere then at many more places, according to management biologist Joe Bonneau.

"The knowledge we can get will be useful to private pond owners, too," he said. "The work we are doing now should one day yield enormous benefits on thousands upon thousands of acres of the best fishing waters in the state."
 

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