By Barry W. Smith
The scientific name for this species of sunfish is Lepomis microlophus. However, it has many common names, depending on which region of the country you are in. It is known as shellcracker in most of the southeast. In Louisiana it is referred to as chinkapin. The accepted common name by the American Fisheries Society is redear. Whatever you choose to call them, you can recognize them by the prominent red mark on the back edge of the gill cover.
These fish, which are kissing cousins to the bluegills, are commonly stocked with the bluegill in new ponds. They are typically added at a rate of 5 to 15 percent of the total bream stocked. Redear not only look different from bluegill but they also have their own unique behavioral characteristics which we will discuss.
The name shellcracker was derived from the ability of this fish to capture and eat snails, clams, small mussels and other mollusks. Redear are equipped with a set of “crushers” in the back of their throat. These crushers consist of an upper and lower pad attached to a set of very strong muscles. These pads are covered with many small, hard tubercles that allow the fish to crush and grind the shell of their prey.
Redear eat aquatic insects and also eat some of the same food items as bluegill. The consensus among fisheries biologists is that redear stocked in low numbers do not compete significantly with bluegill because they generally feed on different food items.
Redear seldom respond to floating fish food, as do bluegill. They will also refuse a popping bug, but will eat a sinking fly such as a bead-head nymph or a black knat. Most redear are caught during the spawning season by fishing
with red worms on the bottom.
Redear will typically spawn a month earlier than bluegill. In most of the southeast this will occur during March and April. Unlike bluegills, that spawn every month from May through September, redear typically have only one major spawn which occurs during the early spring.
Redear typically spawn on underwater points and shorelines with submerged treetops. Several fish usually spawn in the same area creating beds which are very close to each other. Depending on the population density, there may be from three to twenty beds in the same area. If the adult redear are a pound or larger, their beds may be as large as two feet in diameter. The beds of the large redear are easy to recognize and are typically much larger than those made by bluegill.