A late friend used to enjoy telling women a joke ending with the punch line, “The smallmouth bass is the male, and the largemouth bass is the female.”
Not true, of course, but some sunfish family members have smaller mouths than do other family members.
The bluegill has a smaller mouth than does the green sunfish, and this is a major clue as to the size morsels bluegills want both in natural forage and in fishing baits.
Bluegills, Lepomis machrochirus machrochirus, whereby Lepomis is Latin for scaled operculum, or ear flap, and machrochirus means large hand, either in reference to the size of the pectoral fin or that a keeper bluegill is often the size of a large hand.
The bluegill is the panfish of summer and of brisk ice fishing outings. Many people earned their fishing chevrons by seeking bluegills. A large angling portion remains hooked on ‘gill fishing for life.
The #1 panfish in popularity in Wisconsin, bluegills are called bluegill sunfish, northern bluegills, sunfish, common bluegill, strawberry bass, blue sunfish, sunfish, pale sunfish, chainsided sunfish, roach, dollardee, sun perch bream, blue bream, bluegill bream, coppernosed bream, and blackear bream.
True bream, Abramis brama, are not bluegills, since they are a deep-bodied, but thin, yellowish gray fish found in Europe and Asia.
Bluegills dine on plankton and aquatic insects. Minnows, if small enough, fool some ‘gills into biting, but red worms, pieces of night crawlers, garden worms, various grubs including those from acorns and blackeye Susans, are effective.
Find healthy, green aquatic plants; expect bluegill action.
Pumpkinseeds, Lipomis gibbosus, with Lipomis being the scaled operculum, and gibbosus referring to the nearly full moon body shape, are snail crushers preferring cool ponds and lakes, at least for warm water loving sunfish, and shade. The males are aggressive nest protectors.
Smaller than bluegills, pumpkinseeds provide countless fine fish fries.
Nicknames for these colorful sunfish consist of pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow sunfish, common sunfish, sunfish, round sunfish, punky, sunny, sun bass, pond perch and bream.
Orange spotted sunfish are more numerous in southeast Wisconsin than is commonly known by anglers. These orange bellied sunfish that are not as gaudy as are pumpkinseeds, but they do have red or orange tips on their “ears.” They look like bluegills having a more rakish forehead. See flank view--above.
Nicknames for this tasty sunfish include orangespot, redspotted sunfish, dwarf sunfish, pigmy sunfish, and erroneously, a pumpkinseed.
These fish reach keeper size in southeast Wisconsin, and they provide variety in any panfishing outing.
Often being smaller than bluegills, with many welcomed exceptions, “orange spots” feed on insects and were once thought by biologists Barney and Anson, in 1923, to be excellent in controlling the mosquito population.
Orange spotted sunfish are ideal as forage fish for their larger centrachid (sunfish) relatives
The northern longear sunfish isn’t a popular sunfish with anglers because of its small size. These sunnies prefer warm spawning temperatures of 74 – 77°F, and anytime from June to early August is fine with these rascals. They are active on warm afternoons.
The main difference between the central longear sunfish, Lepomis megalotis megalotis (Rasfinesque), which inhabit Ohio south of Lake Erie – Ohio River divide down to Louisiana, is that our northern longear sunfish, Lepomis megalotis megalotis (Cope), has its ear flap extending upward at a nice, rakish 45º angle, a large red spot within the white border, in place of several red polka dots, and by being the smaller of the two subspecies.
Our northern longear sunfish is widely scattered throughout Wisconsin but not in the Superior drainage basin. These fish were more abundant, but they do not tolerate siltation. Like pumpkinseeds, snails form a large portion of their diets. They grab the snail’s foot and crack-the-whip sideways to fling off the snail’s shell.
Common names for the northern longear sunfish include northern longear, Great Lakes longear, longear, blue and orange sunfish, and erroneously, a pumpkinseed.
Many of the sunfish family hybridize, so identification is sometimes difficult.
Watch for part four in this series. It’ll be Crappie Time!!!
First in the Sunfish Series: Meet-Mr--Mrs-Centrarchidae-aka-the-sunfish-family
Second in the Sunfish Series: Sunfish-with-big-mouths
Milwaukee Fishing Examiner
L.A. Van Veghel