When you go fishing you only catch the big ones, right?
Yeah. Me, too.
But in those rare moments when we find a small one at the end of our line, the Minnesota DNR says “keep it.” At least when it comes to sunfish. Welcome words. It takes a lot of the “should I keep it or should I throw it back?” anxiety out of the panfish angling equation.
The DNR says keeping smaller sunnies has a minimal effect on their population. In contrast, when anglers keep only the large sunfish, which are usually males guarding nests, the small males remaining in the population don’t have any need to compete with larger males to spawn and instead of growing, they devote their energy to spawning at younger ages.
You can end up with more eaters that are good and good for you. A lot of people who eat fish find sunnies to be delicious, even giving walleyes a run for their money. In the words of Jon Hansen, a fisheries management consultant for the DNR,
“We encourage anglers to keep sunfish under 7 inches and consider releasing the ones 9 inches or larger. This is opposite what many anglers grew up hearing but it’s good news for anyone who wants high odds of bringing home a meal of local, healthy food.”
The DNR adds fish are a good source of protein. For pregnant women, fish contain healthy fats that are important for a developing fetus and eating fish can lower the risk of heart disease.
So, bring the net for when you hook one of those monster 9-inch bluegills to selfie and release. But, don’t forget to toss those cute little 5-inchers in the bucket for the candlelight dinner when you get home.