Ultralight Shellcrackers

ultralight shellcrackers

Ultralight Shellcrackers

Give ultralight shellcrackers a try for springtime fun and great eating as well. In my pursuit of trying to target the elusive redear sunfish (shellcracker), I have found the process a bit daunting. I fished Lake Barkley with fellow writer Ken McBroom. We caught very few. His and my opinion was we were a bit early for the spawn; now, I’m not so sure.

The day after I left, Ken caught 15 redear in one spot. “They are just starting to come in,” he said. The next day I talked with a guy at Cabela’s who told me he caught more than he wanted to clean on Barkley the second week in April. This is confusing. Were there two waves of spawners or was one time the spawn and the other a shallow feed?

Learning To Catch Ultralight Shellcrackers

I learned a lot on Google Search. After the eggs are laid and fertilized it takes as little as 50-hours for the fry to hatch. Redear can spawn in water 65 to 89 degrees but prefer 70-75. The water temp on Barkley was about 68.

I can go to a local pond and bail myself out, but I want to succeed on a larger body of water. Steve Jett and I launched his boat on Geist intent on locating spawn or pre-spawn shellcrackers using ultralight tackle. After catching one ultralight shellcracker in one cut, we found a dozen in a shallow bay with a maximum depth of four feet. There were a few close to shore, but most were in the middle. I caught four from one spot.

We were using homemade jigs tipped with wax worms or Berkley Gulp Alive Waxies. We ran a bb size split shot above the 1/32-oz. jig, tight-lining.  On a trip to Kentucky Lake 12 years ago, the shellcrackers were hot on a Charlie Brewer Panfish grub.  A small hook tipped with a piece of nightcrawler might be the best bait of all.

Redear Are Bottom Dwellers

Redears are bottom feeders and number one on their menu is snails, small mussels and clams. Most consider this species to be a bonus fish most often caught when fishing for bluegills or crappies. I want to learn enough to be able to catch them anytime.

One thing helpful would be to know the depth and type of bottom the snails prefer.

One thing for certain, the females were bulging with eggs. I believe there could be as little as a three-day window for the aggressive spawn bite.

One thing that impaired the redear bite was a multitude of small bluegill smashing our offering. We could tell the difference between the solid hit if a nice shallcracker and the rat-tat-tat of the gills. We quit setting the hook on the latter, but often they hooked themselves.

Out of the 50 or so bluegill, we landed only eight were large enough to keep. A few small crappies, four golden shiners, and two perch also fell for our offering.

Right Line For Ultralight Shellcrackers

The equipment I prefer for ultralight shellcrackers is an ultralight spinning rod 6’6” and a small 100 series spinning reel. I can’t find three-pound test (one pound mono diameter) Berkley Fireline in stores, but it is worth the effort to order it online. The small diameter makes a huge difference in the distance you can cast without adding a lot of extra weight. This line is expensive but it last a long time. I use mono backing to save money and fill more spools. Berkley Fireline is great for ultralight shellcrackers

Find The Snails Find The Shellcrackers

There are several varieties of clams and snails that redear will eat including zebra mussels and Eurasian clams, but for most freshwater lakes small black or dark brown snails are the main food source.

Freshwater snails can be found in shallow water out to about 14 feet depending on the clarity of the water. Snails feed on vegetation as well as bottom decay. They need oxygen from the water to survive, thus, will not be found below the thermocline. A friend of mine, who fishes natural lakes, finds ultralight shellcrackers along weed line edges in 10 feet of water. He prefers a 1/32-oz. Roadrunner tipped with a black/chartreuse stinger grub.

If I never fully figure out these fat fighters there is sure to be a lot of fun had along the way.

Sharing The Outdoors With Old Friends

I received a call from old friend Freddie James, last week. He was selling most of his fishing stuff and wanted me to have first bids. Freddie is 90 years young and was a good friend of my late Uncle Art Smith and wanted to be a part of sharing the outdoors with old friends. I bought a few lures and he gave me three old spinning outfits to give to kids. After reflecting on the past, our conversation turned to wild black raspberries.

“I begin picking June 23 every year,” said Freddie. He had a secret spot, near Elwood, that always produced plenty of big, juicy berries. As per his prediction, I found some ripe berries on the said date and called to let him know.

It was about 8:30 am, the next morning, Freddie was on the line with a sad story. His patch was overgrown with weeds and brush. Most of the raspberry canes had been choked. He only picked a handful of fruit.

There are several things I don’t share: places where I hunt, fish, gather morels and pick berries. “Do you have a place you will share with me?” he asked. I gave up a good one that is really there for anyone. It is along an abandoned railroad.

Be warned, if you hunt berries along active tracks you are trespassing. Fencerows are excellent areas to find black raspberries as are the bases of high tension towers. Wood edges, along crop fiends, sometimes benefit from fertilizers that assist the berries in becoming quite plump. I like shaded berries too.

I have a new place to look, I found it last deer season. Looks like I will have to check it out.

Berry pies are easy to make, more so if you use Pillsbury fresh (two rolls in a box) pie dough. Find them in the dairy case. There are good recipes to be found online. I like the ones that call for flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter.

West Nile is becoming quite a danger. Spray open skin with repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts. Also, wear a hat.

I’m not a catfisherman, but have been learning a lot from anglers I speak with at Cabela’s. One lure I’m hearing mentioned a lot is Sonny’s Super Sticky Channel Catfish Bait. Anglers coat it on a bait dip hook which is a round piece of plastic that has chambers to hold the stink bait and is rigged with one or two triple hooks.

This bait is expensive and not to be confused with Uncle Sonny’s. Check it out on youtube.

Two separate parties fishing Reelfoot Lake, Tenn reported catching several hundred in a week’s time using Sonny’s. Two teens like to use it on the White River, as well.

These lads spend the night on White River and also like to use small bluegill to bait limb lines. “We have it all to ourselves,” one told me. They have caught blue and flathead catfish that exceed 30-lbs.  They eat small ones and release the monsters.

Flatheads like a hard bottom and often stay close to wood drifts.

On Memorial Day at Clay Lake, Vermillion Bay Canada, Henry Diedring was fishing with Joe Royer. “I have been going there for over 25 years with a great group of guys from the area and my dad before he passed away. This day, I caught my all-time best walleye at 11-lbs and 31.5 inches,” said Diedring.

Learn More About Shellcrackers And Redear

sharing the outdoors

About Rick Bramwell 31 Articles
Grew up in rural Indiana fishing farm ponds and hunting woodlands. Bramwell has been writing outdoors for 48 years. He harvested the record typical whitetail for his county and hunts rabbits with his beagle Tramp. He fished bass tournaments, including Red Man, until 1989. Bramwell has put together an ultra-ultra light system for catching panfish that mostly involves tight-lining a small jig. He attended college at Indiana State and Anderson University. Bramwell has two sons in their 50s, Brian and Gregory. A daughter Jourdan age 27. His greatest memory: fishing trout, salmon and halibut in Alaska. Bramwell's passion, apart from the outdoors, has been coaching high school age fastpitch softball.