Fishing The Florida Bluegill- Shellcrackers
Shellcrackers are the best tasting freshwater fish in Florida, which makes since they’re just a large Bluegill and we know Bluegills are the best tasting panfish in the Mid-West. The Shellcracker is also known as the Redear Sunfish and will average between one and two pounds during spawning.
So when is the spawning season, where do they spawn, and what is the best bait to use for catching them?
When Do The Florida Shellcrackers Spawn
Data shows that the period extending one week prior to the full moon to one week after the full moon sees the strongest feeding and spawning activity, but which full moon? This data is also supported by the Florida Fishermen I have gotten to know over the past 20 years.
So we know the full moon phase plays a major role in determining when the maximum spawning activity occurs for Shellcrackers, but we must also consider the water and air temperatures. The full moon that will activate the spawning of the shellcrackers is when the night temperatures stay in the high 50s, and the days are seeing 75 to 77 degrees.
My best recommendation is to focus on the week prior to through the week after, both the March and April full moons. If you can only fish one choose the full moon closest to the first week of April.
Tips On When To Fish For The Shellcracker
1. Shellcrackers spawn about 1 month before the Bluegills (Copperheads) spawn.
2. In South Florida, the shellcracker will typically spawn around the 3rd & 4th week of March.
3. In Central Florida, the spawning occurs between late March to late April.
4. Daylight temperatures need to range from 75 to 77 degrees.
5. Night time temperatures need to be in the upper 50s.
6. Shellcrackers start biting after sunrise, so 9 am to 6 pm is a great time to fish.
7. Shellcrackers do not typically bite early morning or early evening, so focus on Crappies during these times.
8. The most active/peak times of feeding are around the full moons of March and April, during the spawning cycle.
*I can not stress enough the Full Moon is the key!
Where Do The Shellcrackers Spawn
Shellcrackers bed in depths of 3 to 7 feet of water and can be found in shallow bays, channels, and protected flats. They like hard bottoms with a mixture of sand, decayed organic matter, and the roots of cypress trees. The bedding areas usually have thick cover, such as water lilies (Lily Pads) and water hyacinths.
In the past few years I have fished in Tavares Florida on Lake Eustis, Harris, & Dora, so this is what I will use as a reference in this article for the Shellcrackers. For the spawning beds here you will not be able to see them due to the darker water, but this is not bad, as you can place your boat directly over them and catch one right after another.
Look for the Lily pads on the shorelines in the channels between Eustis and Dora or Harris. The round Lily Pads that lie flat on the surface are not the ones you are looking for. The lily pads you want are those that stick up and out of the water. If the Shellcrackers are in and there is no wind you will be able to see the pads shake, which is due to the aggressive Male Shellcracker. These pads will produce the most Shellcrackers and they will be easy to find since all the boats will be shoulder to shoulder fishing. Just pull in beside them using a trolling motor (no anchors) and start fishing.
When fishing the Lily pads work the outer edges, which are 4 – 7 feet, to the inner edge of 2 feet. Use a long pole with a bobber, a high pound monofilament or cord line, and a jig, fishing straight up and down between the pads. You may want to bring along a tool to cut lily pads as these one to two pound Bluegills will wrap you up. Shellcrackers are more bottom oriented feeders so you will want to fish just off the bottom. So move your bobber up until it floats sideways and then back it off 4 to 6 inches.
What is the best Bait For Catching Shellcrackers
Shellcrackers eat a variety of invertebrates such as snails, mussels, & clams, and this is where they get their name from, but this is not what to use for catching them. The best bait is Freshwater Shrimp, which we show how to catch in the video (can be purchased as well). If you can not get freshwater shrimp then use worms or crickets.
I prefer using the 1/32 ounce Gumball jig tipped with a freshwater shrimp. This way I can add a crappie tube on it and fish early in the morning for Crappies, before the Shellcrackers start to bite.