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Native Redear Sunfish Build Nests for Spawning Season

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Picture this. A cold, brisk Pacific stream rushing towards the Columbia River out of some high, snow covered peaks. Millions upon millions of fish rushing upstream with all their might. They jump over waterfalls, scale rapids, and fight with every ounce of their being to get to their ancestral waters to lay their eggs and ensure the survival of their species.

What I’ve just described is my take on describing the annual migration of salmon and steelhead along the Pacific Coast as they spawn in streams and rivers in mountainous terrain. You’ve probably seen photos or videos of this annual event. No doubt it is impressive stuff.

Well, believe it or not, Floyds Fork has a similar event – and it is occurring right now!! We are in the middle of the spawning season for some of our most interesting native fish – redear sunfish. These popular gamefish are super fun to catch on light action fishing equipment, and many a Kentucky youth found one of these at the end of their pole when they caught their first fish.

Right now they are busy building their nests, also called “redds”, and guarding them. Go to just about any bridge over Floyds Fork right now when the water is clear, and look for the circular pot marks on the river bottom. These are nests. If you look really carefully, you’ll see a fish guarding the nest. This is the male. He builds the nest, attracts a female who lays her eggs, which he then fertilizes. It’s then his job to guard the nest and eggs until they hatch. If you watch long enough, you’ll likely see him aggressively go after any fish or crayfish that wanders nearby. Below is a photo of some redds that I took from Pope Lick Bridge entering Pope Lick Park.

Sure, it’s not salmon or steelhead. And we don’t have any grizzly bears going after these little guys while they spawn, but the spawning habits and behaviors of the sunfish are just another natural cycle that is unique to our part of the world and is something that makes living in the bluegrass such a great outdoor experience.

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