Sunfish generally don’t get enough credit. They were the “first fish” for many of us. Their colors rival any tropical species. Ounce for ounce, most of them put up quite a fight. Despite all that, they are often lumped together as one fish, or even overlooked altogether. Here’s an individual look at some of the major players and their characteristics.
The Bluegill is probably the most widespread and commonly encountered sunfish. A small mouth, solid black “ear”, and subtle blue shading on the lower part of the gill cover indicate a Bluegill.
A red and white trimmed “ear” and yellow to orange spots across the sides give away the Pumpkinseed’s identity. During spawning season you may see lots of blue coloration as well. See the close up pic at top.
The Redbreast Sunfish is most often caught in flowing water. Its orange to red breast, long black ear flap, and reddish highlights to the tail and soft part of the dorsal fin are good identifiers.
Predictibly, Rock Bass are most often found in rocky rivers or lakes. Red eyes, and black dotted lines on a golden brown background are a sure sign of a Rock Bass.
The aggressive Green Sunfish uses its large mouth to eat most any bait or lure that you put in front of it. A greenish overall color, with blue dots along the sides, and bright orange anal and pelvic fin are the best indicators of a Green Sunfish. They produce a large and beautiful hybrid when they cross with a bluegill.
The large eyes give the Warmouth the nickname goggle eye. Mottled sides and a large mouth are also good indicators of a Warmouth.
The Redear is often called shellcracker for its love of mollusks. As the name implies, the Redear Sunfish has a short red tipped “ear” on the operculum. Faint vertical bars are generally present . This one is the heavyweight of the sunfish world, with a record well over 5 pounds.
The Longear Sunfish is the true jewel of the sunfish world. If the spectacular coloration isn’t enough, look for a long black ear flap trimmed in white.