Get ready for some ice fishing in Minnesota
Are you looking forward to ice fishing?
You’re not alone.
Like you, I look forward to waves resulting from a long siege of ice. In this case, the bluegill is the fish you, me, and others catch and hold the most. And because that’s the case, I thought I’d give some insight into bluegills and ice fishing.
Ice fishing is more popular than ever in Minnesota. Anglers fish longer because of comfortable bike and pop-up houses. They also fish smarter because electronics keep getting better. The ability of anglers to immerse themselves in the structure of fish keeping has never been so good.
How many bluegills are caught in a year?
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the conservative estimate is about 14.1 million. That’s a huge number, but not surprising given that Minnesota has about 1 million resident anglers, 400,000 visiting anglers, and many young anglers under the age of 16 who do not need a license. In addition, you can fish for bluegills all year round, which is far longer than many other game species.
Since it’s hard to imagine what 14.1 million bluegills look like, let me help. If you assume the average “keeper” is seven inches long, that’s 1,546 miles of sunfish placed from head to tail. That’s roughly the distance of a road trip from Minneapolis to Maine.
As a result, it is also not surprising that the average size of sunfish in most of Minnesota’s lakes has decreased over the past 50 years. The two main reasons are stunting and over-harvesting. Stunting occurs when sunfish numbers are high, food supplies are low, and predators are few. Overharvesting occurs when large sunfish are harvested faster than nature can replace them.
You and other anglers can take these steps this winter and next spring to better fish bluegill by:
- Release (or keep a few) large bluegills to keep them growing and reproducing.
- Nesting sites for sunfish fishing. Adult bluegills are particularly vulnerable to anglers in the spring.
- Protecting the Bluegill habitat by conserving native plants along the coast.
Please state the above items seriously. Today, the average sunfish is about six inches long and weighs about a fifth of a pound. According to the DNR, less than three percent of lakes contain bluegill 10 inches or longer. So have fun this winter, but be thoughtful. An 8-inch bluegill is the same as a 22-inch pikeperch, 30-inch pike, or 18-inch largemouth bass.
Don’t forget to get your MN fishing license online before your next fishing trip.