Small waters management – hybrid sunfish

Small waters management – hybrid sunfish

Jun 30, 2013

Consider lake goals before you stock hybrid sunfish 

By Mike Pehanich

Hybrid sunfish charm lake and pond owners with their size, beauty and variety, and they are occupying much of the fisheries management discussion today. But lake management expert Nate Herman suggests that you consider important facts about hybrids and the sunfish family before you give your lake the “hy-sign!”

Hybrid fish species have added excitement to small waters fishing in recent years. They’ve also sparked curiosity and added variety, anticipation and even mystery to the bread-and-butter world of traditional bass-bluegill or bass-bluegill-catfish pond populations.

This hybrid green sunfish/bluegill grew fast with the supplemental feeding provided in Nate Herman's home lake. But their average lifespan is considerably less than that of a bluegill.

According to Herman, redear mix frequently with bluegill  when there’s limited access to spawning areas. “That happens a lot, and it is probably the most common cross,” he adds.

But the green sunfish is the species driving the most interest among fisheries managers today — arguably as much for the aesthetic appeal of its offspring as for growth and rearing attributes. Many lake and pond owners are adding hybrid bluegill/green sunfish to their waters with favorable if not spectacular results.

Boys club

Hybrid bluegill/green sunfish grow fast and frequently grow large as well.

Contrary to popular belief, however, hybrid bluegill/green sunfish are not sterile. They are perfectly capable of producing offspring. Still, lakes stocked exclusively with them show poor reproduction.

So what’s the problem?

“About 97 to 99 percent of these hybrids are male,” explains Herman. “With only one to three out of 100 being females, the males have few eggs to fertilize. And the offspring of two hybrids is an F2, which does not have nearly the potential of the F1 generation, the initial cross. And three to four generations down the line, they lose the bluegill characteristics and are pretty much back to being green sunfish.”

To cross or not to cross?

But the hybrids grow big and handsome, don’t they? And they won’t overpopulate as bluegill or crappie do in the absence of a sufficiently large predator population.

Bruce Condello hoists a magnum hybrid.

True on both counts. But Herman urges caution. Hybrids are perfect for “a lot of action and meat on the table,” he says.  But he advises lake owners and managers to think about their fishery’s goals before stocking hybrids.

Hybrid sunfish can put your lake's potential for bull bluegill like this one in jeopardy.

“I never recommend stocking hybrid sunfish in a lake unless you are providing supplemental feeding,” proclaims Herman. “They have bigger mouths than regular bluegill, so they will outcompete bass and bluegill for food. Furthermore, they don’t reproduce enough fry to provide forage for the pond so they mess up the predator-prey relationship.”

In summary, without supplemental feeding, hybrids may win you the negative Trifecta:

  1. Hybrid sunfish don’t enhance the gene pool of the pond
  2. They don’t add to the forage base, and
  3. They don’t improve the bluegill fishery – an important consideration if having a pond full of big bluegill is one of your goals.

“Grow ‘em and eat ‘em. That’s the purpose of hybrids. Otherwise they only compete and take food from your bluegill and other fish in the pond,” says Herman. “The marketing hype for hybrids and what actually happen in your lake are two different things.”

He points out that the state record hybrid sunfish is smaller than the record bluegill in every state.

“They grow fast to about a pound, but they max out early and only live about five to six years,” says Herman. “In contrast, a normal bluegill will lie six to eight years, depending on the body of water, diet and geographic area. As a general rule, the faster fish grow, the shorter their lifespan.”

Hybrids like this can add variety and excitement to a fishery, but be aware of their potential impact on other species and the management requirements they may demand before you decide to stock them in your lake.

SWF note: I must point out that I caught my largest sunfish ever at Nate Herman’s home lake while researching this feature – a hybrid estimated between 1.4 and 1.7 pounds. So hybrids can and will grow large. But this slab hardly fought at all. It was clearly near the end of its life cycle. — MP

The fact that Herman stocks hybrids in his home lake and has added them to other waters as well shouldn’t cloud his point. Keep in mind Nate’s initial premise: stock hybrid sunfish only if you can consistently provide supplementary feeding – in his case, a highly nutritional pellet supplement of his own special blend.



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