The song Good Timin’ by Jimmy Jones didn’t have shellcracker fishing in mind, but the lyrics certainly apply. “A timin’ is the thing, it’s true. Good timin’ brought me to you.”
To catch nature’s most-perfect nutcracker, the redear sunfish, aka shellcracker, stumpknocker and bream, fishermen must have good timin’, because once the panfish finishes spawning, it’s almost impossible to catch.
“The best time for shellcrackers in our area is from April through June,” said Rusty Bowers of Albemarle, N.C., who got hooked on shellcracker fishing at nearby Lake Tillery while playing hooky from school with his brother, Rosco. “I’d recommend fishing during the full moons in April and May.”
Around full moons, males create nesting colonies, with the females visiting to lay eggs. The spawning activity usually takes place in around a foot of water.
While spawning, shellcrackers prefer hardbottoms, feeder creeks, shallow stumps, roots and elodea grass.
Shellcrackers don’t stay shallow very long, so fishermen must take advantage of the moment. They can be stacked in a creek one day and gone the next with the slightest weather change.
Once shellcrackers finish spawning, they return to water 25 to 35 feet deep, and they’re harder to find.
In clear water, shellcrackers can be caught by sight-fishing, using night crawlers, crickets, red worms or 1/16-ounce jigs. Otherwise, free-lining a worm without a float or weights is productive.
“I always key on wood,” Rusty Bowers said. “Fish any tree roots or stumps in shallow water.”
Unlike other sunfish, shellcrackers are particular about what they strike.
“You can’t catch many shellcrackers going down the bank tossing a bobber and bait or artificials,” Rusty Bowers said. “They’re bottom-feeders and want the bait right near the bottom. If the bait’s too high, they won’t bite it. They also prefer natural bait.”
Bait presentation is critical, too.
“If you wad up the worm on a hook, you won’t get bit,” he said. “The worm must hang straight. They won’t hit tiny pieces of worm either, so use half or a whole night crawler. The point of the hook should be barely exposed.”
If it’s windy, Bowers crimps a BB-sized split-shot on the lines.
Shellcrackers are found in waters with aquatic clams, snails and black-and-white mussels, which they can crack open in a jiffy. Tillery, Tuckertown and Badin are productive shellcracker waters among the Yadkin River lakes.
Shellcrackers are not puny fish. Rusty Bowers said Tillery has good numbers of 2-pound fish, with his best weighing 2 pounds, 13 ounces. The state-record shellcracker of 4 pounds, 15 ounces came from a private pond.
They’re spirited fighters on light tackle.
“It wouldn’t do for them to get to be the size of a bass because they really pull,” Rosco Bowers said.