W.Va. biologists researching ways to grow bigger bluegill

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W.Va. biologists researching ways to grow bigger bluegill
Bluegill are a favorite lake and pond fish among West Virginia anglers. (Photo courtesy W.Va. Dept. of Commerce)

There's always a bigger fish, isn't there? That's what fisheries biologists in West Virginia are trying to determine as they research ways the state can provide anglers with bigger bluegill.

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Over the last few years, fish biologists with the state Division of Natural Resources have been focusing on how bluegill management in small lakes can improve habitat, promote better fish growth, and increase the number of large bluegill available to anglers.

David Wellman, a fisheries biologist in the north-central state, says the division is looking into which lakes have the greatest potential and what measures may be taken to ensure the best outcome.

“We are trying to determine what lakes have the most potential for growing larger bluegill and if they need special regulations and habitat enhancement."

Is bigger better?

Bluegill are freshwater members of the sunfish family. While their coloration varies, bluegill commonly feature deep-blue-and-purple markings on the face and gill covers, dark bands down the sides, and an orange or yellow belly.

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They eat aquatic insects and other fish and are often eaten by other larger fish, such as bass, catfish, and musky.

Research indicates that bluegill can grow larger in certain lakes if there is sufficient food, adequate habitat, and harvesting larger bluegill is limited,  according to Dustin Smith, an assistant district fisheries biologist.

It also helps if there is a dense population of predator fish to thin out mid-sized bluegill, Smith says, and biologists take into consideration how these conditions may affect bluegill populations when determining how to best manage these fisheries.

“There’s this misconception that you can’t over-harvest bluegill, but we are seeing that overfishing can drastically alter the size of fish available to anglers,” Smith said.

Improving bluegill fishing opportunities

Not every lake is set up for bluegill management, Wellman says. Some lakes are better suited for trophy bass or other species.

Thus, division biologists are taking time to look at data from the study to determine how to provide improved fishing opportunities.

Wellman says having more large bluegill in lakes around the state is something all anglers can enjoy.

Not only can the abundance of larger fish entice anglers to visit West Virginia, bluegill is a great fish for beginner anglers, he says.

“We look at bluegill as a gateway fish species because they are abundant in lakes and streams, like to bite, and are easy to catch," Wellman said.

"And you don’t need elaborate equipment. A cane pole with a bobber and a small hook with a worm will do. Bluegill fishing is a great way to introduce people to the sport.”


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