April 26, 2023
By Lynn Burkhead
There are a lot of things that Oklahoma is well-known for around the nation. Among them: windy plains, Sooner football and huge whitetail bucks. What you may not know is how great the panfish fishing is in the state, with some of the best bluegill, sunfish and crappie fishing you'll find anywhere in the Lower 48.
Still, it was a bit of a surprise this week when the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation announced that youth angler Cord Smith had broken the state record for redder sunfish, or shellcracker, with a 2-pound, 5.6-ounce catch that beat the previous record which stood for nearly 50 years. The Cheyenne, Okla., angler caught the fish in a pond near Strong City in the semi-arid far-western part of the state, where tornadoes, rattlesnakes and red-dirt roads are more common than big sunfish. Much of Oklahoma's prime fishing spots are in the east.
Nevertheless, there are obviously good fishing holes elsewhere, as Smith's big shellcracker can attest. The record fish measured 13.5 inches long and had a 13-inch girth, according to the ODWC. The previous record, caught Nov. 5, 1973 by Ruby Lee Farmer at a Logan County pond, weighed 2 pounds, 1.25 ounces.
While shellcrackers can get bigger than Smith’s record catch, it doesn’t happen very often. In fact, a glance at a list of world-record and state-record redears maintained by the Hooked In Fishing website shows that only 14 redear larger than Smith’s record have been caught.
That includes the current world record, a massive 6-pound, 14-ounce shellcracker pulled from Arizona's Lake Havasu on May 4, 2021 by Thomas M. Farchione. As we reported on that shellcracker, it is one of several giants pulled from the Arizona reservoir, redears that grow to outlandish sizes due to several factors, including the presence of quagga mussels as a food source.
Still, it’s really something when a shellcracker pushes beyond the two-pound mark, as Smith’s fish did only a few days ago. A shellcracker doesn’t have to be anywhere near a world record to draw a reaction from the panfishing crowd. In fact, a Mid-South guide friend of mine who likes to chase big bluegills and shellcrackers on his three-weight fiberglass fly rod, probably let loose a low whistle before he texted me "That is a huge redear!"
Indeed, it is, and it’s prime time right now to get out and chase these hard fighters that typically stay a little deeper than other sunfish throughout the calendar year. Redears move shallower in the springtime for the spawn, making the next month or two a good time to target these well-liked sunfish.
That even gets fly anglers into the shellcracker game each spring, with a chance to catch a spunky redear on the long rod.
Spawning action for redears typically takes place on the full and new moon cycles of April and May, and in some areas of the country, early June is also prime. As a developing El Nino comes on in the weather world, a good amount of rainy, cloudy, cool weather is happening around portions of shellcracker country and that can cause the species' spawning activities to stretch a little deeper into the summer than would typically be the case.
Where can you catch your own giant shellcracker? If you’re not on that short list of those getting an invite to a certain western Oklahoma pond, it’s worth noting that the species is abundant in many other spots, too. Some waters in East Texas are good for redears, with famed big-bass water Lake Fork also producing some great redear action in the spring. In other parts of the country, there's Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and the St. Johns River complex come to mind, along with Santee-Cooper in South Carolina, Clarks Hill in Georgia, Dale Hollow, Kentucky, and Reelfoot in Tennessee, Eufaula and Guntersville in Alabama, and, of course, Lake Havasu.
So, as springtime continues to take hold across much of the country and the best fishing of the year ensues, congrats to Cord Smith on his new Oklahoma state record.
And if you’re reading this, why not grab a light spinning rod or a fly rod yourself, and head out the door for a little shellcracker catching activity? Because maybe there’s a record-sized panfish waiting to be caught by you too.