Common Names – Widely known as shellcracker because of its fondness for snails. Also called bream, yellow bream.
Description – The redear is similar in shape to the bluegill, but lacks the dark spot at the base of the posterior portion of the dorsal fin and has a red or orange border around the “ear” flap. The body coloration is light olive-green to gold, with red or orange flecks on the breast. The breast of a mature redear is typically a rather bright yellow. The body is heavily spotted and they have long, pointed pectoral fins. Five to 10 vertical bars are more or less evident on the sides, depending on the size of the fish. Males and females are similar in appearance, although the male is generally more colorful.
Subspecies – There are no recognized subspecies. Known to hybridize with other members of the sunfish family.
Range – Found throughout Florida and the southeastern United States. They are also one of the dominant sport fish in the vast Everglades marshes.
Habitat – Redear are found in almost every freshwater aquatic system in Florida. They are typically found on sandy or shell-covered areas of ponds and lakes, and are often located near grasses. Redear spend a great deal of time offshore in open water, particularly in the winter. Other redear found in rivers prefer, quiet waters and have a tendency to congregate around stumps, roots and logs. They are common in lower, more slowly flowing reaches of rivers. They tolerate brackish water better than other sunfish. Like black bass and spotted sunfish, they may be abundant in tidal areas near the mouths of rivers.
Spawning Habits – Spawning occurs during May, June and July (March through August in central Florida) when water temperatures reach 70 degrees. They prefer water three to four feet deep, and a firm, shelly bottom, often near a dropoff. Nesting sites are often near aquatic vegetation such as water lilies, cattails, lizardtails, and maidencane. Breeding behavior is similar to other sunfish, with the males doing the nest building and guarding the young. A female may lay between 15,000 to 30,000 eggs during a spawn.
Feeding Habits – Redears are opportunistic bottom feeders, foraging mainly during daylight hours on a variety of invertebrates. Important food items include snails and clams which are crushed by grinding teeth in the throat; larval insects, fish eggs, small fish, and crustaceans. In some areas snails may be secondary to insects as a food preference.
Age and Growth – Redears grow faster than any other true sunfish. The maximum age is about eight years old. Nine- to 10-inch redears are common throughout Florida.
Sporting Quality – Strong fighters, but more difficult to catch than most other sunfish. The redear does not readily take artificial lures but is easily taken on natural baits. Most fish are taken on cane poles with small hooks, corks, and split shot for weight. Favorite baits are worms, crickets, grubs, and shrimp fished in the spring and summer during the bedding season. Later in the season they move to much deeper water or into heavy cover, where they are difficult to locate. As a sport fish, specific bag and size limit regulations apply, and you can register a qualifying catch as part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s “Big Catch” program.
Eating Quality – Similar to that of bluegill, with white, flaky, sweet-tasting meat. Prepared the same as bluegill.State and World Records 4 pounds, 13 ounces, caught in Merritt’s Mill Pond, Florida, in 1986. World record is 5 pounds, 3 ounces.