Jay B. HaffnerWrong Jay B. Haffner?
Supervisor, Vacant, Biologist
Alabama Department of Conservation
64 North Union Street
Montgomery, Alabama 36130
Company Description: The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama's natural resources through five... more
For bream fishermen, the full moon coming up in mid-May is the highlight of the year.
"Usually beginning in April with water temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees, bream are going to begin bedding," Haffner said.
"Primarily redear (popularly known as shellcrackers) are going to bed first.
That's what Haffner found Thursday when
"Shellcrackers were on the bed as thick as thieves at Lake LU," Haffner said. "Typically they are in a little deeper water. These redears at Lake LU were in water no deeper than a foot and a half.
"Bream went through the motions of spawning in the middle of April. They are going to go crazy in the middle of May."
Bream fishing traditionally peaks during the full moon in May when bluegills spawn in earnest for the first time.
But Haffner said it's not the only time anglers can catch bream.
"If you're a bream angler worth your salt in West Alabama, you're fishing around full moons or new moons," Haffner said. "But there are bream hatching out all summer long. I think that we get really, really big spawns in May and June. But they're spawning all summer long."
Haffner tests West Alabama ponds to determine if they are out of balance. It requires him to seine ponds throughout the summer.
"By June, I ought to be able to catch a 5-gallon bucket of bluegill fry when I use my minnow seine in a pond,"
Bluegill that have hatched out are the primary food for bass fingerlings,
"Bluegill need about a week of 80-degree water temperatures for bluegill fry to hatch out," Haffner said. "Bluegill bed in April, but I don't think many bluegill fry hatch out. I think it's May before we get those warmer water temperatures."
Bluegill primarily feed on aquatic insects,
"They're like bass, they want to keep debris and foreign objects out of the bed," Haffner said. "They attack that lure or minnow or jig or red worm just to get it out of their bed."
Most West Alabama anglers use crickets or worms with a small split shot and a bobber on a pole or rod and reel for bream. Others work beds with a fly rod and popping bugs or wet flies. Haffner prefers a 1/16-ounce jig on an ultralight spinning reel.
Just about every private farm pond is stocked with bluegill and many also contain shellcracker. Bluegill spawn so much more frequently than shellcracker that they often out-compete the shellcrackers for food in small impoundments. Shellcrackers tend to survive better in ponds with weedy areas.
There are also good opportunities in public waters.
The state lakes, Lake LU, Bibb County Lake, Dallas County Lake and Fayette County Lake all have good bream fishing.
Ponds in the Black Belt area are the most productive,
"When anglers are fishing the same reservoir or ponds, they eventually find the bream beds," Haffner said. "Bream tend to use the same places year after year."
There is also good fishing on the river systems. Anglers should look for sandy or gravelly areas.
"From Tuscaloosa south to Demopolis on the river is terrific," Haffner said. "The bream are prettier, they're bigger and there are more of them south of Tuscaloosa. Any backwater on the Warrior or Tombigbee south of Tuscaloosa is usually good."
This year, high, muddy water on the Tombigbee is making it harder to find beds, Haffner said. The Warrior's water is clearer and the beds are easier to find.
Finding bream beds isn't just good for bream fisherman. It's a good place for bass anglers to look for their favorite quarry.
"Bass are going to be where their food source is," Haffner said. "Bass love to eat bream. I typically see people fishing for bass on the deep edge of bream beds. The bream are hemmed up and adult bass slash through the beds and pick off a bream."
Ironically, ponds with too many bass are often great places to find big bream.
"In ponds that are crowded with bass 9-13 inches long, the bass are so plentiful, they've eaten up the bite-sized bream," Haffner said. "The bream that didn't get eaten by bass grow to a large size, because they don't have to compete with their fellow bream. And they get too big for the small bass to eat."
But bream never reach a size that they aren't vulnerable. Bass 8 to 10 pounds can swallow a pretty big bream, Haffner said.
Bluegills and shellcrackers aren't the only species of sunfish in West Alabama. Warmouth (goggleyes), green sunfish, pumpkinseeds and others swim in the area's waters.
"There are many species of sunfish," Haffner said.