Bluegill are the multi-purpose fish for pond stocking. They are abundant, fun to catch, great to eat and excellent forage for largemouth bass and crappie. Bluegill have a long spawning season resulting in a reliable supply of small and intermediate sized forage. Spawning in the southeast begins in April/May and may last until November. When water temperatures reach 70 degrees males construct saucer shaped nests in shallow water a begin courting females. Females join the male in his nest and lay adhesive eggs in the bottom of the nest.
Bluegill females may spawn six to eight times a season producing as many as 20,000 eggs per spawn. Once the eggs are fertilized the male guards the nest from predators and aerates the eggs with his tail until they hatch. Depending on water temperature eggs hatch in 5 to 7 days. Baby bluegill remain in the nest for several days before swimming from the nest in schools guarded closely by the male. Baby bluegill begin feeding on zooplankton then switch to insects by the time they reach 2 inches.
The small fingerlings will range in size from 1 inch to 4 inches by fall providing a wide range of forage for bass and crappie. Bluegill are capable of growing 1/4 pound per year after the first year, reaching average sizes of 1/2 to 3/4 pound with some reaching 1 to 2 pounds if well fed and live long enough. Maximum size and rate of growth is a function of food availability, competition and age. Genetics are a small part of the equation and are linked geographically to climate.
There are three recognized strains of bluegill. (See map.) Coppernose bluegill are native to Florida and the Atlantic coast north to North Carolina. Northern bluegill (also called native or straight bluegill) are native to the Mississippi River Basin in the central US from Louisiana to Canada. A lesser known smaller sized strain of bluegill also exists in the dry land river drainages of Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico but is not recommended for pond stocking.
Coppernose bluegill are the largest strain of bluegill reaching large sizes with the year round growing season and mild winters of their native climate. Coppernose bluegill farther north along the Atlantic coast may not grow as fast or reach large sizes due to the shorter growing season and colder winters. Northern bluegill may not have the warm climate of coppernose country, but they still provide quality fishing throughout the central United States. Maximum size is a function of food availability, competition and age; genetics are linked geographically to climate. Northern bluegill are capable of reaching trophy sizes. A well managed bass/bluegill pond will routinely produce 3/4 to 1 pound bluegill.
Many pond owners request coppernose bluegill because they can grow to large sizes in southern climates and are thought to grow faster than native bluegill. While both coppernose and northern bluegill can reach sizes in excess of 1 pound, research has shown that coppernose only grow faster than northern bluegill during the first few months of life. This short lived growth advantage allows more coppernose to survive their first summer and reach intermediate sizes (3 to 4 inches) which are preferred by large bass. However, coppernose are less cold tolerant than northern bluegill and experience has shown mortality under ice cover in northern climates. In central Arkansas, we experience significant mortality of coppernose bluegill under ice cover. We also do not see a distinct difference in maximum size between northern bluegill and coppernose bluegill. Both grow at similar rates and reach similar maximum sizes. Both feed aggressively on artificial feeds.