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Sunfish


Name: 
Sunfish
Other Names: 
Perch
Bream
Sun Perch
Bluegill
Redear
Scientific Name: 
Lepomis macrochirus
Characteristics: 

Sunfish are a wide variety of small fishes, in southern states, simply referred to as "perch", though technically perch are not sunfish at all, but they are a family of fish that include walleye, sauger, and yellow perch.

Of the many sunfish, bluegill are the most prized in sport fishing. Bluegills may be distinguished from others by the dark spot at the base of the dorsal fin, vertical bars on their sides, and a relatively small mouth. The spiny dorsal fin usually has 10 spines (but may have as many as 11 or as few as 9), and is broadly connected to the soft dorsal. The anal fin has three spines. The back and upper sides are usually dark olive green blending to lavender, brown, copper, or orange on the sides, and reddish-orange or yellow on the belly. Colors are more intense in breeding males, and vertical bars may take on a reddish hue.

Fish Habitat: 

Warmouths inhabit swamps, marshes, shallow lakes, slow-moving streams and canals with soft, muddy bottoms. They prefer to stay around aquatic vegetation, stumps, and snags and under the banks of streams and ponds. They have more tolerance for muddy water than most species.

Bluegills prefer the quiet, weedy waters where they can hide and feed. They inhabit lakes and ponds, slow-flowing rivers and streams with sand, mud, or gravel bottoms, near aquatic vegetation.

Redear are found in almost everywhere, often near grasses. Redear spend a great deal of time offshore in open water, particularly in the winter. In rivers they prefer quiet waters and have a tendency to congregate around stumps, roots and logs.

Fish Habits: 

Bluegill Sunfish

Bluegills begin spawning when water temperatures reach about 70°F. Spawning may peak in May or June, but continues until water temperatures cool in the fall. Because of their long spawning season, bluegills have very high reproductive potential, which often results in overpopulation in the face of low predation or low fishing pressure. Nests are created in shallow water, one to two feet in depth. Gravel substrate is preferred. Fifty or more nests may be crowded into a small area, thus creating a spawning bed. Males guard the nest until the eggs hatch and fry leave. Young fish feed on plankton, but as they grow the diet shifts to aquatic insects and their larvae. Up to 50% of their diet may consist of midge larvae.

Redear Sunfish

Redear sunfish often utilize snails as a major food item, hence the common name "shellcracker." However, insect larvae and cladocerans may also be found in their diet. The species is usually found near the bottom in warm water with little current and abundant aquatic vegetation. Redears normally reach sexual maturity by the end of their second year. They spawn during the warm months of late spring and early summer, and in deeper water than most other sunfish, congregating in spawning "beds." Nests are saucer-shaped depressions in gravel or silt, and are sometimes so close they almost touch. There are usually one or two peaks of activity during spawning season. Few individuals survive more than six summers.

Fishing Tactics: 

Although less than one percent of licensed anglers say they "prefer" to catch sunfish, bluegill and other sunfish are nevertheless a vital part of many freshwater fisheries nationwide. Many pre-license age anglers begin their fishing careers by bank fishing for bluegills and other sunfish. Bluegills provide plenty of fight, pound for pound. The largest bluegill on record was 4 pounds 12 ounces, landed in 1950 from Ketona Lake in Alabama.

Unlike some other sunfish species, redears rarely approach the surface to take flies or other artificial top baits. They may, however, be readily captured using natural bait such as earthworms and grubs. Redear are often taken in early summer when they are concentrated on spawning beds.

Distribution: 

Bluegills appear to have been native to the eastern half of the United States, southeastern Canada and northeastern Mexico, exclusive of the coastal plain north of Virginia. Today, as a result of countless intentional as well as no doubt unintentional introductions, bluegill are found throughout the US and northern Mexico, as are many varieties of sunfish.

Redear sunfish were originally found in the southeastern US from Texas north to a line even with southern Illinois and east to the Atlantic Ocean. As a result of introductions, the range has been expanded and now extends west into New Mexico and north into Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.