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Getting Back Into Native Fishkeeping -- Bluegill & Other Tankmates?

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#1 technotite

  • NANFA Guest
  • Maryland Heights, MO

Posted 05 October 2021 - 01:09 AM

As a child, under the assistance of my father -- who was an avid fish-keeper in his adolescent and early adult years -- I kept both tropical fish tanks, as well as native Missouri fish tanks.


I particularly loved my Missouri native tank -- with a Slender Madtom (noturus exilis) that my dad and I caught in a little ditch-hole that was located along the shoreline of the Meramec River. The little ditch seemed to get fresh water even though it looked muddy -- so I suppose that's why a madtom felt comfortable there. We were walking along a paved road parallel to the Meramec River and wanted to go see the river. When we walked downhill towards the river -- we saw something that looked like a tadpole or snake or something....we saw it swimming around 'happily' in that 'ditch-hole'.


Upon carefully catching it in a net -- my dad named it 'TV-Cat' -- because we thought it was a baby channel catfish. Upon reading the 'Introduction to Missouri Fishes' booklet that was and is freely given away at many state parks and conservation sites in Missouri -- I quickly found out that my newly captured friend for my native tank was not a channel catfish...but a little madtom.


I'm 23 now -- and am trying to get back into the hobby to keep myself occupied -- and have something that I enjoy to do. For me -- it helps take stress away from the everyday monotony of adult life.


To start off -- I began running a 20 gallon with a selection of topminnows, darters, and other beautiful fish from Missouri.


Upon observing the behavior of the juvenile bluegill -- I have noticed he is quite a bully to the other minnows and such. After a large swath of deaths and trauma that could not be explained by microbiological, parasitic, or chemical imbalances in the tank -- I strongly suspected he was responsible.


Today I decided just to sit back and watch intently what the bluegill was doing. It was truly engaging in incredibly aggressive behavior. I have lots of blackspotted topminnows in the tank -- and some are quite small. The bluegill was making aggressive chomps at these little guys. If they hadn't noticed him -- they could have easily been bit-in-half.


After I got home from work today -- I noticed that same little topminnow that had been running from the bluegill was coiled around the filter intake with a giant gash in his side. The bluegill was responsible.


I figured it was time for a water change anyway -- so I setup a spare 10 gallon on the stand below my 20 and drained half the water into it and placed the bluegill in there.


What should I do with the guy? What kind of fish like to hang with neurotic juvenile bluegill?


Thank you.




Edited by technotite, 05 October 2021 - 01:13 AM.

#2 centrarchid

  • NANFA Guest

Posted 05 October 2021 - 08:40 AM



I work with bluegill a lot at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO. Mostly it is geared towards use as food-fish, although the efforts involves the entire lifecycle where everything can be done in aquariums if need be. Usually it involves ponds too. I suggest working with a larger aquarium and getting a dozen or so really small bluegill and letting them grow up with you current fish if it is not big enough to eat them. Then play around with ways to feed them. You will find their social interactions are surprisingly complex and you can see parts of their language. You can also breed them easily in a 55-gallon tank with minimal effort and even raise fry in the presence of the father if all other fish are removed. Bluegill are surprisingly easy to train as well.


Tankmates that make for good comparisons are redear, warmouth, green sunfish, and rockbass that all occur near you. I have also kept redspotted sunfish them with good results. Regardless of species, when managing social issues, more fish is better in tight confines so long as filtration / water quality is adequate.



Find ways for people not already interested in natives to value them.

#3 centrarchid

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Posted 05 October 2021 - 09:26 AM

Down the road you might consider the other types of bluegill. They have some interesting and consistent differences when compared to Northern Bluegill of Missouri.


Feel free to contact me via private messaging for more rapid and complete discourse.

Find ways for people not already interested in natives to value them.

#4 swampfish

  • NANFA Member

Posted 06 October 2021 - 09:32 AM

Centrarchid provided excellent advice. If you don't want to maintain a large tank, keeping the bluegill by itself is an option. Usually, it will focus on you and act somewhat like an aquatic puppy dog, particularly if you are in the same room several times per day. Occasionally, you get a loner that mostly ignores you, but they are the exception rather than the rule. 


Another option is to maintain at least three evenly-sized bluegill or mix of sunfish in the same tank. They will spend much of their time watching each other, maintaining an uneasy truce. If one attacks another, it exposes itself to another fish. The more sunfish in the tank, the better. As Centrarchid says, when you get about a dozen, their behavior changes into one of cooperation, but that requires a larger tank. 


A third option is to rehome the fish. MASI, Missouri Aquarium Fish Incorporated, is a large St. Louis area tropical fish club that has many members interested in native fish and also an active fish rehoming service. Contact them through their web site. 


Phil Nixon


#5 Fleendar the Magnificent

Fleendar the Magnificent
  • NANFA Member
  • Ohio

Posted 11 October 2021 - 07:02 PM

I keep a 3.5" Northern sunfish in my tank along with a rainbow darter, 3 spotfin shiners and 2 bluntnose minnows. For awhile I was having some aggression issues, but the sunny seems to have chilled out a bit. At this time I have them in a 16 gallon bow front but I am changing that to a 29 gallon that has heavy structure with driftwood I found at the lake yesterday, rocks and artificial plants. I think that giving the sunfish more structure as well as room will help aggression issues, and the structure gives the other fish more hiding spots. I would LOVE to have live plants, but my rusty crayfish mow them to the roots and kill them.


That being said, what they said is better advice than mine. I'm no expert, but have kept sunfish for around 15 years or so in tanks. Keeping only one individual, or keeping a number of them in a bigger tank will eliminate the aggression by being alone or disperse the aggression among several. A key importance here is that they MUST be close to or evenly sized. The bigger will kill the smaller. I suggest catching them as small juveniles. All of the sunfish I have caught and kept I caught at 1" or smaller. They adapt to tank life much better, faster and easier than semi-adult to adult fish do. The current Northern Sunfish I have now  was 3/8" long when I caught him.


Happy, safe and legal collecting.


The Grumpy Old Man.

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