Lake Cumberland is the latest reservoir in Kentucky to be stocked with redear sunfish.
“Our goal is to establish a viable, self-sustaining population of these high-quality panfish,” said Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We’ll have three years of redears stocked in the lake by 2013.”
Lake Cumberland received 103,400 redear sunfish this year. The fish were up to 3 inches long. “Fish were stocked at four locations-Lilly Creek, Caney Creek, Beaver Creek and Otter Creek, ” said Buynak. “Last year, 219,000 were stocked. Some were up to 4 inches in length, but most were 1 to 2 inches.”
Kentucky has also stocked these fish in Dewey, Fishtrap and Yatesville lakes in recent years.
Native to Kentucky, the redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) is found statewide. Their preferred foods are snails and clams. Specially adapted teeth in the back of their mouths are used to crush the shells of snails and clams, hence the common name “shellcracker.”
They resemble bluegills in body shape, with dark, olive green backs and upper sides, green and yellowish lower sides, and whitish bellies. Males have a distinctive black gill cover with a blood red edge. The female’s gill cover has an orange edge.
Redear sunfish can grow to enormous size and in quality populations: 10-inch fish are common. Kentucky’s state record redear sunfish weighed 3 pounds, 1 ounce.
The timing of the stockings at Lake Cumberland could pay big dividends if repair work on Wolf Creek Dam is completed on schedule. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dropped the lake by 40 feet while repairs to the dam are underway. Plans are to raise the lake level back up to its normal summer pool by the spring of 2014.
With many shallow embayments now grown up in brush since the 2007 drawdown, there would be plenty of flooded cover for the redear sunfish. “If the lake comes back up as scheduled, we could have some 10-inch redear sunfish in Lake Cumberland by 2014,” said Buynak.
While there is no size limit on shellcrackers, anglers can keep no more than 20 a day.