Throughout his years of fishing, Jake Lusk occasionally would catch a species of sunfish that just seemed to fighter a lot harder than the other ones he was catching.
And, quite often, this species was bigger.
So the Sedley, Va., native and resident decided to start targeting them.
He quickly learned that the redear sunfish is something special.
“I’ve been fishing hard for about 10 years,” the 27-year-old Norfolk Shipyard electrician said. “I guess I started fishing for shellcracker seriously about two years ago.
“I’d be looking for bluegill and perch and slip up and catch one. It was just something new, but since I’ve been learning more about them and having more success, I’ve really gotten into them.”
And he’s gotten quite good at catching a species old-timers call a stump knocker, because it often is found around old underwater timber.
The name shellcracker comes from the fish’s fondness of small, freshwater mussels.
And the water supply lakes in Suffolk near his home are full of both.
“I’ve been catching bigger and bigger ones as I’ve gotten better with perfecting the equipment and technique that catch them the best,” he said.
But nothing like two days a week apart last month.
On one afternoon, he and another boat caught eight fish that weighed more than a pound, earning citation awards from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Because of up and down weather, he had to wait a week to hit the lakes again and finally got a one-hour window of daylight one afternoon.
“I finished with seven bigger than a pound and a half and one was a pound and three quarters,” said Lusk, who also hunts. “There were a lot of them just over a pound.”
And to set the record straight, shellcracker can be more than little panfish. The International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record is a 5-pound, 12-ounce giant — that’s right, read 5-12 — caught in Lake Havasu. North Carolina’s record is 4-15 and came from a pond in Edgecomb County. Virginia’s big stumpknocker came from a private pond and weighed 4-12.
Lake throughout the region often produce 2-pounders and, locally, the goal of every shellcracker fisherman is to one day boat a 3-pounder or bigger.
Part of Lusk’s success comes from the kind of microlight tackle he uses.
Frustrated with the market, he decided to get back into rod building and now makes 7.5-feet ultralight rods with an extra long butt to help him fight bigger fish. Fishing for crackers often produces some nice-size catfish.
He uses small reels with a good drag and 6-pound test line.
But his real secret is the use of MicroWave guides. The invention of Doug “The Bass Professor” Hannon, the guides are nothing like the ones typically found on a spinning rod. Instead, the first guide actually is a guide within a guide and the design takes out the big loop line makes coming off a spinning reel. The rest of the guides are very small, like those on a baitcasting rod.
The setup — light line, a long, light rod, and the guides — mean greater distance and accuracy when casting.
“I like to sight-cast the beds a lot and if you get too close you spook the fish,” he said. “So accuracy from a distance is important.”
Lusk also throws incredibly light one-twentyfourth ounce jigs tipped with red wiggler worms.
It’s finesse fishing at its finest.