Redear Sunfish in Texas Waters | How to Catch Shellcrackers Now

by Dalvin
A nice redear sunfish from a tiny creek
  1. Redear Sunfish a.k.a. Shellcrackers are Identifiable by Their Distinctive “Redear” opercular flap.
  2. Redear Sunfish Congregate Around Cover in Deeper Water with Hard Bottoms.
  3. Think Shellcracker when Choosing Baits: Mollusk, Crayfish, Worms, and Even Zebra Mussels.
  4. Tackle Can be Upsized from Bluegill but Downsized from Bass.
  5. Why Redear Sunfish are Great for Texas Waters and Texas Anglers.

What Are Redear Sunfish?

The largest of the sunfish species, redear sunfish are a great challenge for anglers of any skill level.

They are identified by their red tip on the “opercular flap” shown below. I could go on but a picture is worth a thousand words:

Redear Sunfish ID Pectoral Fin Red Dot

Another great identifier is the pectoral fin. It is longer than other sunfish species and when forward it extends past the eye almost to the mouth.

What is a Redear Sunfish

These fish are surprisingly heavy. If you are pulling in a light colored “bluegill” and think, “Wow! This bluegill is heavy!!” It’s a great time to look for the key identifiers above to confirm you aren’t holding the muscular Shellcracker.

Where to Find Redear Sunfish?

Redear are found in all types of bodies of water. Lakes, ponds, creeks, and rivers in Texas are plentiful with this species. Redear can also thrive in marshes and bogs where crayfish and other crustaceans are plentiful.

When pursuing any species of fish the old saying is true: “10 percent of the fish are in 10 percent of the water.” Going after any species without first studying their feeding patterns and preferences means you will likely catch 90 percent less fish. That is one reason many people who give up on fishing or find it boring are failing.

Redear are usually deeper than most sunfish species. When targeting these bruisers on any body of water look for cover slightly deeper than the bluegills usual haunts.

How to Catch Redear Sunfish?

They don’t have the name Shellcracker without reason. When targeting any species of fish the old saying is true. You must: “Match the Hatch”.

In the case of Shellcrackers, this means crustaceans and imitations of crustaceans are your best bet. Redear have very strong jaws. They use these to break open the shell of their prey species: small crayfish, worms, and even snails stand no chance against their powerful jaws.

Anglers pursuing Redear Sunfish will have the best luck with live baits like crickets, grubs, or worms. Our personal favorite is using Berkley Gulp products. Anglers can catch fish using Gulp maggots or worms. The advantage here is less mess, easier storage, and less waste. At the same time, you get the scent a Redear relies on for feeding.

What Kind of Tackle do I Need?

Spinning rods and reels are the norms for any sunfish species. Due to the deeper location and type of food they pursue, you can usually increase your line size. In particularly muddy water with lots of stumps, we have gone as large as 12-pound test while fishing for redear.

Hook sizes can increase as well. We typically choose a 4 or a 6 size hook.

It’s always a good idea to have a strike indicator. While tight line fishing is effective in some scenarios, casting past the structure or cover and slowly reeling back to it with a cork bobber, can be a great technique to increase bites.

Why Redear are Great For Texas Waters

These sunfish can grow big! The largest sunfish recorded in Texas is a 2.99-pound redear. Look at most other southern states and you will find the same.

While Texas state records may not be a huge deal to purists. It can be a shot in the arm for a young angler starting out. Many lakes in Texas don’t have a standing record for Redear Sunfish. As a result, if you know how to identify them, it might be something you could do for your kid they could talk about for years. Setting a record on a Texas lake. What a great feeling of accomplishment for a kid!

Their ability to grow large means they are a great species for stocking in tanks and lakes alike and not just for fishing. As a prey species, they will do ample work to help sustain a bass or catfish fishery.

A new potential reason to stock them in Texas lakes is their fondness for Zebra Mussels. Even non-anglers have heard about the threat of the invasive Zebra Mussels to water treatment facilities and fisheries alike. “Clean and Drain” commercials are the norm across the state. Field research into Redear done by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Reclamation project concluded:

Both laboratory and field experiments suggests that redear sunfish may help to reduce quagga mussel colonization in areas where the two species co-occur.

from “Reclamation Managing Water in the West

While the study showed they won’t eliminate the Zebra Mussels alone, they can help to control populations of Zebra Mussels until more permanent and eco-friendly solutions can be implemented.

One Last Cast

A nice Redear from a Texas Soil Conservation Reservoir

So there you have it, the Redear Sunfish a.k.a. Shellcracker. The more I have learned about them through the years, the more I love them. Now that you know what you are looking for, get out there and catch a few. Better yet, take a kid fishing and catch a lake record. That’s the stuff legends are made of!

If you would like to learn more about sunfish identification check out Types of Sunfish: This Guide Will Make You an Expert.

As always, tight lines. It’s fin time. We hope to see you out on the water as we all pursue ThePerfectCombo!

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