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Redear Sunfish Have Bad Attitudes

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

Hefty Redear Sunfish from the Blanco River

Hefty Redear Sunfish from the Blanco River

Here in South Central Texas, we have many kinds of panfish, and they’re all fun on light tenkara gear. Bluegills, Redbreast, and Green Sunfish all provide plenty of sport on the right gear. A one-ounce rod and a six-inch bluegill is about all the fun an angler can stand.

There’s one panfish, however, that’s in a class by itself, and that’s the Redear Sunfish, or Shellcracker. To say it plainly, they have bad tempers and always wake up on the wrong side of the weed bed. When they strike, it’s like you owe them money. They don’t quit.

Lepomis microlophus are tremendous quarry for lightweight tenkara gear. I can always tell when I have one on the line because they hit hard and often run circles around me. They will bend a sensitive tenkara pole nearly in two. During spawning season they tenaciously protect their nests and will not tolerate any nymph that comes near.

Redear Sunfish are indigenous to the Southeastern United States, but their range is expanding. They usually inhabit slow moving warm water, often lurking on the bottom, near brush or rocky ledges. I have my best success with them by casting dark-colored nymphs as close to cover as I can, often right beside a log or beneath an overhanging tree. A weighted Hare’s Ear Nymph or a Utah Killer Bug, really fuzzed up, are perfect medicine.

Redears can grow to good size, with the Texas State Record weighing more than two pounds. Ounce-for-ounce, they fight harder than any other fish I know. Glamourous? No. Tough to land? You betcha.

The first photo above shows a mongo-size Redear that I caught in the Blanco River recently on a super-light, 8-penny, Nissin Royal Stage Syunki. It was one of the best tussles I’ve had in a long time. The second photo shows another nice Redear from the Cibolo Creek in Boerne, TX.

If you’re fortunate to have these worthy fish in your home waters, tie up some nymphs and get after them. Just beware of bad attitudes.

Comments for Redear Sunfish Have Bad Attitudes

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Apr 25, 2020
Nice fish!
by: bill piatek

Those are some really nice Shellcracker. I'm glad to see TenkaraBum getting a few posts again.

Apr 25, 2020
Redear fan
by: Alan Luecke

Redear are not native in the Kansas City area but are being stocked in some lakes and ponds. The few I've caught have been great fun. A fisheries biologist speaking at a fly club event mentioned that while Bluegill look up to hunt, Redear look down (for snails, etc.) so putting your fly towards the bottom is helpful.

Apr 25, 2020
by: Martin

Here in OKC area our close to home fishing ponds have redear, green, pumpkin seed and hybrid sunfish. Caught all of them on one of my Tenkara rods. I primarily use a dry fly indicator (size 12 or 14 parachute Adams or elk hair caddis type fly) and a size 14 or 16 dropper (standard or Tenkara style nymph). I use primarily a floating line for this rig. Had some 24+ bluegill days recently. Great fun! Be well! Fish on!

Apr 29, 2020
First Redear
by: Jeremy Drouin

I'm still looking for my first redear with a tenkara rod. I caught one several years back at James A. Reed on a 4wt, and thought for sure I had bass considering the fight it put up.

Where do you find the greatest populations of redear in the KC-area streams and lakes?


Apr 29, 2020
by: Chris

Alan and Jeremy,

I wouldn't publicize the names unless they are already widely known as red ear locations. With so many unemployed people now, lots of places are getting much more fishing pressure than normal. You're both welcome to send me emails if you wish.

Apr 29, 2020
Redear Locations
by: John Evans

Can't speak to KC area, but if you ever come to Texas, virtually all of the rivers and bigger, slower creeks, have good Redear populations. In most areas of Texas, there's plenty of room to spread out. Happy fishing, and stay safe.

Apr 29, 2020
by: Jeremy Drouin

Wise advice, Chris. I have a pretty good idea already which lakes in the KC metro area hold redear,so will keep hitting those.

Between the quarantine and the crappie spawn, all of the urban lakes here are receiving heavy pressure. I can't complain, however, as I'm contributing to that pressure (while still trying to keep a safe distance from others).

May 25, 2020
Finally Caught a Couple
by: Jeremy Drouin

Since my last post, I've been fortunate to catch a couple of redear in local lakes. One was a 9 1/2" slab, probably my largest to date. Both took a size 8 black woolly worm (w/red tail), which I was slowly swimming past weed beds parallel to the bank.

May 25, 2020
by: John Evans

Well done, Jeremy! I can feel those Redears on my tenkara rod right now. Now you just have to catch some more . . .

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“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin

"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." Col. Robert Venables 1662

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