John's Journal...

The South's Best Shellcracker Holes

Florida – Lake Tarpon and Lake Guntersville Shellcrackers

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: I like to catch plenty of fish that fight hard, test my tackle and my angling skills and taste delicious when I eat them. These characteristics describe the shellcracker (redear sunfish) with its nicknames of stumpknocker and yellow bream. The South homes some of the biggest shellcrackers, so named due to the grinding teeth in their throats that crush snails, shells and mollusks, in the nation.

When you’re searching for a shellcracker lake that you can depend on to consistently produce plenty of big shellcrackers, look at Lake Tarpon in southwest Florida located in northern Pinellas County near St. Petersburg, Florida. “This 4,500-acre lake is home to plenty of shell beds,” Jeff Willitzer, biologist for the southwest region of the FlClick to enlargeorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Wakeland, Florida, explains. “For the last seven years, Lake Tarpon has consistently produced large shellcrackers year round. We have a lot of submerged vegetation and quite a few shell beds in 6- to 8-feet deep water, which is ideal habitat for shellcrackers. Our average shellcrackers are 8- to 10-inches long, but some anglers catch crackers up to 12-inches long.”

Red wigglers seem to be the preferred bait. You can catch a limit of 50-fish per person as only shellcrackers, only bluegills or a mix of shellcrackers and bluegills. Another lake that Willitzer suggests for big shellcrackers is Lake Panasoffkee located in north central Florida.

To learn more about Tarpon Lake, visit

For more information about Lake Panasoffkee, check out Click to enlarge

Lake Guntersville:
Alabama has several lakes that home excellent shellcracker populations, including the Warrior Reservoir in west Alabama, the Yates Reservoir, Lake Martin and Wilson Lake. “But if I had to pick one lake that has historically produced plenty of shellcrackers and bluegills, it would be Lake Guntersville,” Nick Nichols, assistant chief of fisheries for Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, says. “Guntersville is a large lake with a lot of shallow-water over-bank areas, hard grassy bottoms and tremendous amounts of aquatic vegetation. The shellcracker, which gets its name from eating shells and mollusks, really thrive in aquatic vegetation. Guntersville also receives plenty of fishing pressure, so there’s quite a few shellcrackers caught there every year.”

Click to enlargeAnother area that historically produces quality shellcracker populations is Oak Mountain State Lakes. Many shellcrackers bed in the middles of these lakes on humps coming off the bottom or in the sandy area around the old swimming beach. Another hidden honey hole is Lake Gant on the Conecuh River, which is only about 4,500 acres and located north of Andalusia. This lake has a high catch rate and produces some really-large shellcrackers. Because it’s small and out of the way, this secret shellcracker hole is one most locals prefer to keep to themselves. Yates Reservoir is another sleeper lake that’s located near the town of Tallassee. Because of its low fertility and shad population, it’s become ideal habitat for big shellcrackers.

To learn more about Lake Guntersville, go to, or,

Tomorrow: Mississippi – Tippah County Lake

Check back each day this week for more about "The South's Best Shellcracker Holes"

Day 1: Shellcrackers at Santee Cooper
Day 2: Lake Tarpon and Lake Guntersville Shellcrackers
Day 3:Mississippi – Tippah County Lake
Day 4: Louisiana – Caney Lake
Day 5: Georgia – Lake Seminole and World-Record Shellcrackers Caught



Entry 401, Day 2