Bluegills exhibit some unique talents when spawning

A male bluegill, right, guards his nest, but also brings in fresh water mussel shells to provide additional structure for the eggs to stick to while they are reared. Bluegills are one of the most prevalent fish species in Nebraska and have a very elaborate spawning ritual. Nature is amazing.

The Marine Corps has a mantra: Improvise, Adapt and Overcome. I got a chance to see this in action recently, but in a very atypical way — some bluegill building their nests.

A landowner called me and wanted to show me something he had never seen. He has a pond on his property that has bluegills. It is spawning time for bluegill and he saw fish building their nests, but they were lining the nest with fresh water mussel shells. He told me he had never seen the bluegills do this before. In fact, he had never seen freshwater mussels in his pond until it was inundated with the floods we had in 2012.

Bluegills may be the most widely spread fish species in Nebraska. They are typically found in shallow water environments where they use vegetation, rocks, fallen tree limbs or any other structure as protection. A bluegill’s diet is made up of insects, zooplankton, worms and smaller fish, like minnows. They are schooling fish so where you find one you normally see others.

Male bluegills make their spawning bed or nest in water at depths of two to three feet deep. They use their tails to brush out a shallow depression in the lake bed where they are living. The male bluegill will aggressively guard his nest until the right female comes along.

When a suitable female arrives and the pair decides to spawn, they will center themselves in the nest and rub bellies. Up to 60,000 eggs can be deposited in the nest and the male fertilizes them. The female then leaves and the male rears the brood.

A good nest can be made in mud or sand, but it does need a bit of small structure in it for the eggs to “stick” to and not float away. What I was looking at was a typical sand pit lake like you find here in the valley. The bottom is very clean and the nests were just depressions in the fine sand.

Now, I’m a biologist by degree, but not a fisheries biologist. My guess was that the bluegills were adding the mussel shells to their nest to create the irregular bottom that the eggs would need to stay put. That was an educated guess, but I called a real fisheries biologist to validate my theory.

Daryl Bauer is a senior fisheries biologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and currently has the title of Fisheries Outreach Program Manager. I told Bauer what I had observed and what I surmised.

“Well, you are exactly right,” Bauer began. “Bluegills do like to have a good substrate in their nests to hold their eggs. They will begin adding rocks that are a little bigger than the nest’s sand or gravel bottom until they feel they have a good base. I suspect that the mussel shells were something that was handy for them.

“Bluegills have a very interesting and elaborate spawning cycle and routine,” Bauer continued. The male bluegill takes of very impressive breeding colors. They are a lot of fun to study.”

Best places to fish

If you are wondering where to go to fish, and have a high potential for a good catch in our region of the state, check out these spots:

» Bluegill: Duck, West Long and Watts lakes on the Valentine Refuge.

» Channel Catfish: Sutherland Reservior, Midway Lake, Big Alkali, Enders, Red Willow and Johnson Lake.

» Crappie: Wellfleet Lake.

» Largemouth Bass: Duck and West Long lakes on the Valentine Refuge.

» Walleye: Merritt Reservoir, Lake McConaughy, Elwood Reservoir, Big Alkali Lake, Johnson Lake and Lake Maloney.

» Wiper: Johnson Lake, Red Willow, Medicine Creek, Jeffrey Lake, Swanson, Elwood, McConaughy and Calamus

» Crappie: Wellfleet Lake.

Get out and do a bit of fishing this weekend.

FNRA banquet

Mark your calendars: On Aug. 10, you are invited to attend the Platte Valley Friends of the National Rifle Association banquet, in Ogallala. The event will be at the Quality Inn, 201 Chuckwagon Road. Doors will open at 4:30 p.m. (that’s Mountain time); dinner will be at 6:30 p.m. There will be a cash bar.

All the money raised by the FNRA goes to promote and support local shooting sports. For example, over a quarter of a million dollars has been distributed to local shooting organizations through this banquet event! If you own a firearm, or do any kind of shooting, you should attend this event!

In addition to the dinner, there will be an auction for some outstanding items, including many guns and games for the whole family. Tickets are $30 per person or you can purchase a Sponsor Pack for $275 and get lots of added benefits. If you purchase your event ticket or the Early Bird Package by Aug. 1, you will be entered into a drawing for a choice of a Glock 43 or a DPMS Oracle AR-15. For more information, or to purchase your tickets, call 308-660-1937 or 308-284-8997. I hope to see you there.

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