Managing big bluegill

Managing big bluegill

Sep 5, 2012

Bull Bluegill a rare breed indeed!

By Mike Pehanich

“One-pound bluegill!” cried my boyhood fishing buddy, Bill Auten. He had just returned from his aunt’s cottage at Camp Lake, Minnesota, and, with youthful zeal, we were already plotting a  sales pitch to our dads to fish there together the following June.


Exclusive Small Waters Fishing “bull bluegill video on this post!

Amazingly, the plan came to fruition. My dad and his friend Jerry shoehorned four kids from 9 to 13 and all our gear into a station wagon. (Knowing how much gear I lug for a single day’s bass outing today, I wonder why one of us wasn’t strapped to the car top!)

Bull bluegill don't come by accident on Nate Herman's lakes. Photos courtesy of Steve Ryan and Nate Herman

And we found the bluegill on our very first afternoon as we waded chest-deep around the docks and shoreline near the cabin.

Good bluegill, they were. But one pound? No way! Nice ones. Keepers. Meal producers…and even a couple of beauties that may have edged to 12 or so ounces.

A one-pound bluegill is a true “bull,” a rare and wonderful creature that none of us would see for a number of years.

But I’ve seen them now! One pounders. Thirty ouncers. Even bigger specimens!

Have I touched an honest two-pounder yet? No. But I’m “bullish” about my chances, thanks to the company I keep!

No bull from Bro

Now huge bluegill have become an endangered species in many areas.

Cory Schmidt hoists a bull bluegill on one of Brian "Bro" Brosdahl's local waters near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Brian “Bro” Brosdahl is a bluegill specialist from the Grand Rapids, Minnesota, area. A dedicated “bull bluegill” hunter, he’s skeptical about the future of native bull bluegill fisheries.

“Once you take giant bluegill out of the system, it’s doubtful that the fishery will ever bounce back,” he rues.

Although the catch-and-release ethic has helped preserve gamefish populations in many areas, panfish anglers in general have not embraced it – particularly as state and local regulations have reduced panfish possession limits.  Putting fish in the pan is usually the panfish angler’s goal! And big bluegill fill more and bigger bellies than  little ones do!

“We have to release those big beauties,” preaches Bro. “It’s the only way to preserve these populations.”

Bull rancher

But while catching giant bluegill on public waters has become an increasingly challenging task, rearing bull ‘gills has become art and science for some experts.

Bringing a bull bluegill fishery to life is both profession and passion for Nate Herman, co-owner of Herman Brothers Pond Management  in Peoria, Illinois. Herman will tailor a fishery to almost any species that climate and water quality will allow, but he’s not shy about his preference for bluegill.

See exclusive Small Waters Fishing video interview with Nate Herman…and his bluegill!


“The bass, musky, walleye, hybrids I work with…I get my fish fix just working with them,” he says. “But when I go fishing, it’s usually for bluegill and crappie.”

Ty has caught many bluegill like this off Nate Herman's "lab" lake.

But “catching” only touches a part of his passion. Nate likes to grow ‘em – and grow ‘em big! Doing so takes knowledge, planning, persistence, and consistent attention to the many factors affecting fish populations and their growth.

He will supplement the diet of the fish with pellet feed where appropriate, but he quickly dismisses the notion that “feeders” comprise a “magic bullet” solution.

His studies always begin with a study of water quality and available habitat.


“I’ll identify the limiting factor for the fish in that particular body of water,” he says. “Whether that is temperature or water quality or preferred food source at different stages of its life cycle, we’ll identify those limiting factors and address them so we can grow what is not natural in a natural lake or pond.”

Bluegill expert Steve Ryan with a Nate Herman "bull"

One of the biggest factors limiting bluegill growth is competition from other bluegill. Many of the waters he manages host a predator-heavy population that keeps bluegill numbers in check. The bluegill that survive the “forage” stage with the mix of predators grow big and fast, provided they have plenty of food available to them.

Most anglers tend to view “habitat” issues from the perspective of where they catch adult fish. But Herman repeatedly underscores the importance of prime habitat for that species at each stage of its development, and those habitat needs will change as it goes from fry to fingerling…on up through adult and bull brute stages!

We’ll learn more about big bluegill from Nate Herman and Brian Brosdahl – and how to raise and catch them – in coming weeks.

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