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The Truth about Coppernose Bluegill in Tennessee Ponds

A couple months ago a man from west Tennessee contacted us about the possibility of stocking his new three-acre pond.  In the course of our conversation, he asked for references from pond owners we have done work for, which we gladly provided.  A couple days later one of those references happened to call us to let us know he needed some more fish food; he mentioned that the gentleman from west Tennessee had called him.  He also mentioned that the gentleman had asked if coppernose would survive our winters, because another hatchery had told him coppernose wouldn’t do well in Tennessee ponds.

Coppernose are a substrain of bluegill native to Florida, and as such, they certainly have a northern limit, just as Florida largemouth do: if you live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for instance, and you stock coppernose in your six-foot-deep pond, you’re probably not going to be happy with the results.

If, on the other hand, you happen to live in the great state of Tennessee, and you stock coppernose into your pond, you have the potential to end up with some very big bluegill.  If you’re one of those anglers for whom big bluegill are not just an afterthought but the primary goal for your pond, you’re cheating yourself if you don’t stock coppernose.

How much of a difference do coppernose make in a Tennessee pond over the northern-strain bluegill which are native to our waters?  Two weeks ago we electrofished one of the ponds we guide on and removed approximately 100 bluegill ranging in size from three to nine inches; most of the fish were in the eight- to nine-inch range, certainly acceptable-size bluegill, and big to many anglers.  Why did we remove them?  They were northern-strain and we did it to make room for approximately 150 coppernose that we transplanted from another pond on the same property.  The pond we added the coppernose to has been our second-best trophy bluegill pond for close to three years now, and typically coughs up at least one bluegill 10″ or better every time we take a guide client there.  But its ‘gill population has been comprised almost entirely of northern-strain up until now, and the fishing is so far behind our best pond, in which coppernose make up a sizable portion of the population, that after six years we could no longer ignore the superiority of coppernose in our waters.  We intentionally left the pond that just received the transplant, entirely northern-strain for the first four years we worked with the property, as an experiment to see whether there really was a major difference.

So what about this claim from one of our competitors that coppernose can’t hack Tennessee winters?  It’s hard to know whether they really believe that, or were just trying to get the sale at any cost; they raise northern-strain at their facility, so perhaps they believe it.  Our two largest competitors both stock coppernose exclusively (even if their coppernose aren’t all the way coppernose – read my blog on choosing a company to stock your pond).  We have stocked coppernose in Tennessee ponds for several years now, and have only observed winter-kill once, when we stocked 500 3-4″ coppernose  into a very shallow (six feet at its deepest spot) pond in mid-October, and two weeks later a cold snap came through before the fish had had a chance to acclimate to the pond.  Apart from that one instance, we have seen them thrive in a wide range of pond sizes and depths; and their growth rate and top-end potential is dramatically superior to that of northern-strain bluegill.  Here are a few pieces of evidence for your consideration:

coppernose in net coppernose 2 May 25 10 in coppernose 3 May 25 10 incoppernose May 6 2015  bluegill 2 May 2 2015 coppernose-May-17-2014   1.6-lb.-bluegill-May-2015coppernose-5-june-3-2013-re