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DNR urges anglers to throw big sunfish back

Surveys suggest that while anglers are generally satisfied with the number of sunfish they catch, they are unsatisfied with the size.
Credit: MN DNR
Releasing large male bluegills and other sunfish is the best way to preserve size quality and prevent stunted populations. As a general rule, sunfish larger than 8-9 inches are good to release.

ST PAUL, Minn. — There are some anglers who swear there is nothing as gratifying as reeling in a nice, fat sunfish. 

The Minnesota DNR fully understands and supports this, but the agency is now encouraging fishermen and women to toss the big ones back, and keep those a bit smaller to eat. 

When anglers keep only the largest sunfish, which are usually males guarding nests, the remaining small males don’t need to compete with larger males to spawn. Instead of growing to a large size, they instead devote their energy to spawning at younger ages and smaller sizes. 

“To maintain a high quality fishery, it’s important that anglers, guides and resort owners, all understand the important role these large nesting fish play, and that we all work together to exercise a conservation ethic that ensures these fish thrive,” said Grand Rapids area fisheries supervisor Dave Weitzel.

Minnesota angler attitude surveys taken between 1987 and 2017 found that while anglers were generally satisfied with the number of sunfish they caught, they were often dissatisfied with the size of those fish.

The DNR says spawning sunfish are particularly prone to over harvest because they are very aggressive while defending a nest. Anglers can help by releasing spawning sunfish, especially large, nesting males. Released fish have a high survival rate and will typically return to their nests to complete the spawning cycle. 

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